Keoni Souza received his bachelor of arts degree in social sciences from the University of Hawaiʻi — West Oʻahu. He later went on to attend the University of San Francisco where he earned both his law degree and a master in business administration degree. He now runs his own law firm where he helps families protect everyone and everything they love through estate planning.
How has your UH education helped you in your career?
Without my UH education, I would not have the career I have today. No other local educational institution was more accommodating to the realities of non-traditional students — working full-time, not fresh out of high school, etc. — than UH, specifically UH West Oʻahu. I don’t think I would have graduated if it weren’t for the teachers and the programs in place at the time.
Describe your career path. How did you end up doing the work you’re doing today?
Growing up, I was always interested in social justice. While at UH, I interned at the American Civil Liberties Union as their first public education intern and really enjoyed diving deeper into the issues. After graduating, I continued working for a couple of years, then went to law school in California.
After my first year of law school, I had the opportunity to attend business school concurrently so that I could earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in addition to a Juris Doctor (JD). I already had an immense course load but attended anyway. The decision paid off as business school gave me the skills I need to run my business today.
After graduating from law school and business school, I moved back to Hawaiʻi because my mom became suddenly incapacitated and required 24-hour care. I worked as a Legislative Attorney at the Hawaii Legislature drafting and reviewing proposed laws for the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. After that, I worked at a private law firm in downtown, but the traveling, long hours, and cases were less than satisfactory. The experience forced me to really consider if the work I was doing aligned with the reason I went to law school — to help people — and the direction I wanted my career to take.
Consequently, I opened my own estate planning law firm so that I could make a real difference in the lives of my community and never looked back.
What do you love most about your work?
I love that I get to help families protect everyone and everything they love through estate planning. After experiencing my mom becoming suddenly incapacitated when she was just 52, I am passionate about helping other Hawaiʻi families avoid all the stress, expense, and heartache that comes with not having a plan in place. As the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This is a horrible truth, yet it is easier to avoid than you might think. I love that I can give families peace of mind.
Who would you say was your most influential mentor while in college?
Professors Falgout and Mironesco were my favorite teachers. It was clear that they were very knowledgeable and passionate about their subject areas and this made for an enjoyable and productive learning environment. I received the Social Sciences Outstanding Student award at graduation in no small part because of their wisdom and guidance.
What advice would you give students to help them prepare for their career?
Have a strong work ethic. Be dependable, responsible, and motivated. These qualities will take you far in school and ultimately in your career.