Each year, the AALS Section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities recognizes two outstanding law school professionals who have dedicated themselves towards increasing access to justice through the law school environment and inspiring similar efforts from others. The Deborah L. Rhode Award is awarded to a full-time faculty member or Dean who has made an outstanding contribution to increasing pro bono and public service opportunities in law schools through scholarship, leadership, or service. The Father Robert Drinan Award is presented to a full-time faculty or staff member at a law school who has forwarded the ethic of pro bono service through personal service, program design, or management.
This year, the Section is thrilled to honor Dean Erwin Chemerinksy with the Rhode Award and Pamela DeFanti Robinson with the Drinan Award.
Erwin Chemerinsky is Dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. Prior to his position at Berkeley, Dean Chemerinsky taught at University of Southern California Gould School of Law and DePaul University College of Law, as well as served as a visiting professor at UCLA School of Law and Duke University School of Law, before becoming a tenured professor at Duke. In 2008, he was hired to start University of California, Irvine School of Law. Throughout the establishment and early years of running the law school, Dean Chemerinsky was instrumental in creating a culture of pro bono service. Thanks to Dean Chemerinsky, UCI Law now has one of the most robust pro bono programs in the country.
Dean Chemerinsky’s support of pro bono and public service in the law school setting is extraordinary. As Dean, he stresses the importance of pro bono and public service before students even arrive at Berkeley, telling them “if you are not interested in doing pro bono or public service work, do not come to this law school.” He expects every student to engage in pro bono every year. And he puts money where his mouth is by prioritizing the school’s pro bono and public interest programs. Upon arriving at Berkeley, he made the Pro Bono Program Director a full-time position. He has strengthened the school’s summer funding program and ensured that every 1L is awarded $5,000 for summer public interest work, and every 2L student who received a grant their first summer may receive $6,000 their second summer. He has also increased funding for post-grad public interest fellowships to $55,000 and created a travel fund for students to attend public interest career fairs and interviews—despite budget deficits in the wake of COVID-19.
Dean Chemerinksy is not only a well-known legal scholar and advocate, he is also a treasured classroom teacher. He exposes students to public interest ideals and then provides experiential opportunities throughout law school for them to develop the tools to carry those ideals forward. He engages in significant pro bono work himself and includes students in these efforts. In the words of a former student, “I can think of no one who embodies Berkeley Law’s public service mission like Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.” Many others agree, reiterating “It is impossible to imagine a Dean being more supportive of pro bono.”
Last but not least, Dean Chemerinsky is a true ‘mensch’—humble, sincere, honorable, and kind.
Pamela Robinson has been the Director of the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program since she founded it thirty-one years ago as the nation’s first voluntary pro bono law school program. She is a visionary, a leader, and a counselor to countless students and peers. Her lifetime of achievement forwarding the ethic of pro bono service is unparalleled.
Throughout the University of South Carolina School of Law Pro Bono Program’s history, Pam has established a number of pro bono projects that have provided significant hands-on experience for law students and greatly benefited the community. She nurtures projects over the years while also constantly embracing change, ensuring the Program remains relevant for students and the community. Her latest innovation is the Palmetto LEADER—aka a “justice bus.” A few years ago, Pam had the idea to create a bus that would provide much needed legal services to rural South Carolina communities. In particular, Pam wanted those communities to have access to pro bono assistance for creating simple wills. And once Pam has a plan, according to her students, “she is unstoppable.” She found funding, figured out everything else the bus would need, and now it is on its way to serving South Carolinians. (Editor’s note: see the article in this newsletter about Pam’s bus for more information and pictures!)
Pam is a role model for her law students and pro bono professionals nationwide. She participates in all the Pro Bono Program’s projects alongside her students and she also engages in public service outside of the Program. For example, she has been a Court Appointed Special Advocate since 1988, and she also arranged for the county to conduct guardian ad litem training at the law school, successfully training many law students. Over the last three-plus decades she has relentlessly worked to improve access to justice throughout South Carolina. As Betsy Goodale, Director of the South Carolina Bar’s Pro Bono Program, noted, she is “one of the most—if not the most—well-respected and well-informed pro bono advocates and practitioners in the State of South Carolina.” She is also a leader in countless associations and organizations, including the AALS.
Pam always makes time to help you, whether you are a client, student, or colleague. She consistently demonstrates compassion and empathy. Regardless of what career path they choose, “[i]t is a rare alumnus of the University of South Carolina School of Law’s Pro Bono Program who does not credit Pam with providing crucial guidance during law school and beyond,” said Goodale.
The Rhode and Drinan Awards will be presented virtually on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at 12:15 PM. Professor Deborah Rhode will be presenting the Rhode Award to Dean Chemerinsky. Pamela Robinson will receive the Drinan Award from William Hubbard, Dean of The University of South Carolina School of Law.