High heels and Birkenstocks—those are the philosophical shoes that University of South Carolina School of Law’s Pam Robinson, Pro Bono program director, feels honored to fill. An outstanding example of both confidence and modesty in the area of public service, it is no surprise that Robinson received the South Carolina Women Lawyers Association (SCWLA) Foundation’s annual Martha B. Dicus Award for Public Interest Law. Robinson, on the other hand, was anything but expecting it. In fact, she wasn’t even aware of her nomination.
“I am surprised, but thrilled, to be in the same category—or in the same ‘high heels’—as Martha Dicus and Sue Berkowitz, the first recipient of the award in 2013. To have my name attached to them is a real honor,” said Robinson. “Although, I suppose it would be more like wearing the same Birkenstocks with those two, as they’re both humble models for the types of public advocates that I wish for my students to be.”
The award, named after the late Martha B. Dicus (1949 – 2012), was created to recognize the recipient’s distinguished and noteworthy service as a practicing lawyer using law and advocacy in public service to advance justice and social change in the lives of vulnerable individuals and communities. Robinson, who knew Dicus and admired her enthusiasm for helping others, has always had a similar passion for public interest.
“It’s just part of my DNA, I guess you could say. I was a school teacher before I was a lawyer and I’ve always believed in leading by example. I couldn’t ask my students to do pro bono work and be involved if I didn’t show them that I was involved in it as well. Public service was sort of automatic. I want it to be automatic for them too. I want it to be just part of who they are as a lawyer,” said Robinson.
Usually the one giving out the awards, Robinson is humbled by her opportunity to receive this one. In true Robinson fashion, she is already thinking of how this experience will help her encourage her students to implement the same service in their careers.
“I’ve learned over the years that when students see an award being received, they kind of perk up and go, ‘Oh, maybe this is someone I ought to listen to.’ If receiving this award causes them to say that, then it’s a good thing. ‘Oh, she does have something to tell me. Her experiences are valuable and I have something to learn from that.’ That would be a great thing.”
Ultimately, Robinson is hopeful that one day she’ll award one of her students the same honor for their pro bono work. Until then, she plans to continue working with students and instilling in them a similar passion to do the right thing.
“I think you learn from history. We learn from those lawyers that have been behind us. You have to have models and people you can look up to. I’ve never thought of myself as one of those, but it’s nice to be among that group. It’s nice to carry a small torch.”