As the nation’s first all-voluntary program, the Pro Bono Program has long been a point of pride for the School of Law, as has its director, Pamela D. Robinson. She has been recognized both locally and nationally for her work, most recently being named the “2016 South Carolina Lawyer of the Year” by South Carolina Lawyer’s Weekly.
What was your reaction when you heard that you had won Lawyer of the Year?
The British word “gobsmacked” pretty much describes my reaction. I was most appreciative of the honor as I was able to share the experience with students, past and present. The realization that a state employee in the public service sector was being recognized did not sink in for a few days. The entire 2016 Leadership in Law Class was amazing, and I was honored to be a part of such an accomplished group.
The Pro Bono Program is almost 30 years old. How did it begin?
The seeds of the idea were planted through a conversation with former dean John Montgomery. He had recently returned from a meeting where another dean was talking about mandatory pro bono! Our reaction was about the same: What? We needed to be more realistic. We knew what would work in S.C. and what would not. I called the ABA and AALS, but this was so early that there were no models. They said it was a great idea and to let them know how it worked out. It’s funny because now the ABA has an entire Center for Pro Bono able to advise.
You were once an elementary school teacher. What led you to a career in law?
Simple — I came to law school on a dare. After teaching first grade and working as a children’s librarian, I realized I had to have a graduate degree to move up. A friend thought I could use my organizational and teaching abilities to solve problems and a law degree could greatly enhance my skills. I decided that if USC accepted this Clemson girl, I was going! I still consider myself a teacher. I just don’t have to fit in those little first grade chairs!
How has pro bono changed during your career?
For all that it has changed — with technology and the demands of each generation — the core idea that you are making a difference for people has not changed and never will. The success of the Pro Bono Program has always come from the amazing work of thousands of students learning the value of service and putting pro bono into action.
When you’re not organizing pro bono opportunities, how do you like to relax and unwind?
Knitting, painting and learning to cook different world cuisines are high on my list. I am also a huge consumer of written material on a plethora of topics-politics, travel, fiction, history- the list goes on and on.
Anything else you’d like to add or make sure is included?
The success of the Pro Bono Program at USC has always been because of the amazing actions of thousands of students. I am a bit like the wizard behind the curtain, moving the parts around so that things function smoothly. As I said recently “ I organize chaos”. The reality is that the long history of the program is about students learning the value of service and putting pro bono into action.