$1M given to William & Mary Law School for new atrium

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Penny Commons, named for Pamela Jordan Penny ’77 and James D. Penny J.D. ’83, will be a meeting place for law students working in clinical areas as well as a unique venue for evening events, dinners and receptions. (Courtesy photo)
Penny Commons, named for Pamela Jordan Penny ’77 and James D. Penny J.D. ’83, will be a meeting place for law students working in clinical areas as well as a unique venue for evening events, dinners and receptions. (Courtesy photo)

A modern atrium space for law students called Penny Commons will be a part of the new wing of William & Mary Law School, thanks to a generous $1 million commitment from Pamela Jordan Penny ’77 and James D. Penny J.D. ’83.  

Penny Commons will be a meeting place for law students working in clinical areas as well as a unique venue for evening events, dinners and receptions. It will have a two-story glass wall that looks out onto a new courtyard and garden. Penny Commons will be located inside the Hixon Center for Experiential Learning and Leadership, which will be the new wing of the law school. The center is slated to open in early 2017. 

“Penny Commons will be a marvelous addition to the law school,” said Davison M. Douglas, dean of William & Mary Law School. “Jim and Pam Penny continue to support the law school in extraordinary ways, and play a major role in helping the law school train the next generation of citizen lawyers.”

The 12,000-square-foot Hixon Center will include a new courtroom, classrooms and faculty offices. Penny Commons will connect the Hixon Center with the current law school building. The Hixon Center will also provide more clinical space for law students to practice their craft before entering the real world — a key focus of the law school. 

“We are very much aware of the law school’s priorities,” Jim Penny said. “One of those priorities is to add more clinical space and court space so students are better prepared to practice law. We find this to be compelling and want to support that effort.” 

The couple believes that giving to bricks and mortar provides a long-term benefit to the university, and that a great learning space can inspire scholarship in students as well as professors. 

“It’s important for alumni to give back in order to encourage William & Mary students to also give back to the university when they graduate,” Pam Penny said. “It’s also important to keep William & Mary progressing forward. We understand how essential private funding is to William & Mary due to the decline in public funding in recent years.”  

The Pennys, who now reside in Williamsburg, previously lived in Houston. Pam Penny is a member of the Women & Philanthropy Leadership Circle and Mason Accounting Programs Board. Jim Penny is currently chair of William & Mary Law School’s Campaign Steering Committee. He is also a past president and former trustee of The Marshall-Wythe School of Law Foundation. 

Pam Penny retired last spring as executive vice president and chief accounting officer of HCC Insurance Holdings, Inc. She previously was senior vice president and controller of American General Corporation and an audit partner at KPMG. Pam Penny was recently named an honorary alumna of William & Mary Law School. Jim Penny retired in 2015 after practicing as a tax attorney at Vinson & Elkins for more than 30 years.    

Providing a high-caliber educational experience for students is a top priority of the university’s For the Bold campaign. Penny Commons will not only bolster the learning environment of the law school, but also provide an improved infrastructure for William & Mary.

“Penny Commons represents the educational mission of the university by creating an environment for law students to thrive as they prepare to practice law in the real world,” said Matthew T. Lambert ’99, vice president for university advancement. “The Pennys’ commitment is an extraordinary example of alumni enriching the William & Mary experience for our students.”