Law Student of the Year: Katherine 'Kaki' Vessels, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Katherine ‘Kaki’ Vessels came home to seek a career in law after she was inspired by her U.S. Army experiences coordinating and managing the shipment of supplies and equipment at the third largest supply hub in Afghanistan. 

Vessels has explored vast reaches of the legal world. These include joining the research team of Professor David Cohen and Diane Desierto — monitoring war crimes tribunals in Cambodia and Senegal, developing legal protections for victims of human trafficking in Southeast Asia, and improving port operations and security in the Philippines; assisting in the assessment of the Law School’s strategic plan as part of its reaccreditation process; helping to prepare a patent application for recent Richardson graduates; and building the framework for reparations claims for victims of a 1948 massacre of South Korean citizens. 

Coincidentally, the Homeland and National Security Law Review have accepted for publication both the law thesis Vessels completed under the Dean’s guidance this past summer while initiating a trial monitoring program in Africa, as well as her paper using the uncertainty principle to explain shortfalls in the U.S. approach to the prevention of mass atrocities.

While also co-owning a small business with her husband, Vessels has also served as a volunteer at the Law School’s Veterans Clinic, been a research assistant for six law professors, been elected as vice president and senate president for the Law Student Government and served as student representative on the Loan Repayment Assistance Program task force. 

“The list of all that Kaki has done seems incredible; but that is only until you meet her,” said Dean Avi Soifer. “Kaki seems to be an irresistible force, and she does all this and more without ever losing her humanity and her commitment to doing everything well.”

Vessels is now a third-year law student and plans to continue her legal education by seeking a Masters of Law degree at Ateneo Law School in Manila, the Philippines.

Vessels is one of 25 future lawyers honored in the National Jurist’s inaugural “Law Student of the Year” feature