Prodding from a library colleague led Pam DeFanti Robinson on an adventure that’s put her at the heart of influencing young lives — just in a different classroom than originally planned.
Robinson currently serves as the director of the University of South Carolina School of Law pro bono program. Before law school, Robinson’s path was elementary education. The Rhode Island native came to South Carolina as a teen during her father’s relocation with DuPont. With no ties to Clemson, she applied because a summer program had piqued her interest. After teaching in Atlanta and outside Washington, D.C., life brought her back to South Carolina, where she settled in Camden as a children’s librarian. “I knew I needed to go back and get another degree,” said Robinson.
A colleague challenged her to try law school. Robinson stayed around USC’s law school after graduation to assist with projects. A conversation over a cup of coffee with her dean was how the pro bono program idea started — the first of its kind in the state and the nation. Now she’s opening doors for those who need legal aid and students who need guidance navigating careers. The program is open to all law students who are willing to volunteer to work on everything from filing taxes to translating documents to Spanish.
“[Pro bono] doesn’t mean for free. The phrase is part of a Latin phrase meaning ‘for the public good.’ Sometimes [services] are free or low cost for people who can’t afford an attorney for whatever reason,” she said. “When you’re in law school [students] can’t practice law, or give legal advice, so we go right up to the line of what’s legal.”
Robinson says every class is different and offers a different skill set and potential for what they can accomplish that year, but the one-on-one experience the program offers showcases the breadth of the law and what a potential practice can entail.
And even though her students are bigger than first-graders, she still gets tickled when her students have “eureka” moments. “That’s such a good feeling to say, ‘Hang in there, you can do that,’” she said.
“We can’t, as law school and law students, solve all the problems of the community, but we can be there as part of the solution,” she said.