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Columbia Business Monthly

Former Gov. Dick Riley Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Aug 24, 2018 12:36PM ● By Kathleen Maris

The American Lawyer, a leading national law magazine and the publisher of annual rankings of law firms in the United States, has awarded former U.S. Secretary of Education and South Carolina Governor Richard W. Riley with its 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award.

The awards, now in their fifteenth year, honor men and women who have had extraordinary careers at some of the country’s most prominent law firms and other legal institutions, and whose public service contributions have had far-reaching impact.

Riley is being honored for his wide-ranging achievements in improving education in South Carolina as its former governor ((1979-87) and throughout the United States as a former Secretary of Education during the Clinton Administration (1992-2001). The other honorees are Cesar Alvarez, A.B. Culvahouse Jr., Jamie Gorelick, Warren Gorrell, Eric Holder, and Mary Ann Hynes. They will be recognized at an awards ceremony in December.

“Throughout his career, Dick has improved education for Americans by changing policy so that generations of students have the instruction, resources, and opportunities to learn and succeed,” said James K. Lehman, managing partner of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, where Riley is a founding partner. “Dick has worked tirelessly with people from all walks of life to raise the standards for education in America.”   

As Governor of South Carolina, Riley initiated the Education Improvement Act, which was called “the most comprehensive educational reform measure in the U.S.” in the 1980s. Due to the success of his education initiatives, President Bill Clinton chose Riley in December 1992 to serve as his education secretary. During Clinton’s first term, Riley helped launch historic initiatives to raise academic standards, improve instruction for the poor and disadvantaged, expand grant and loan programs to help more people go to college, prepare young people for the workforce, and improve teaching.

During Clinton’s second term, Riley helped win a historic FCC ruling giving schools and libraries deep discounts for Internet access and telecommunications services (the E-rate) and major improvements to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Riley’s multiple  accomplishments as Education Secretary include winning more federal support to help all children master the basics of reading and math, make schools safer, reduce class size in grades 1 to 3 by hiring 100,000 more skilled teachers, modernize and build new schools to meet record-breaking enrollments, make post-secondary education more affordable, and promote lifelong learning.

After he stepped down from the U.S. Department of Education in 2001, Riley rejoined the law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP. Since then, the firm took on the State of South Carolina in a pro bono case that challenged the funding of the state’s public schools and the adequacy of its overall education system. The state Supreme Court found the entire public education system to be constitutionally lacking. Since the decision, the South Carolina legislature has been examining the court’s opinion in anticipation of passing remedial legislation.  

Riley created Nelson Mullins’ affiliate EducationCounsel, a mission-based education consulting firm that combines experience in policy, strategy, law, and advocacy to drive significant improvements in the U.S. education system. At 84, he continues his education advocacy with the same passion he has had throughout his career.

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