By Marc Rapport
Izaak Walton wrote “The Compleat Angler” in the 17th century. The University of South Carolina School of Law has only been presenting its Compleat Lawyer awards since 1992 but they, too, have become a tradition. They’re the highest honors bestowed by the state’s flagship law school.
“Recipients are individuals who have made significant contributions to the legal profession and exemplify the highest standards of professional competence, ethics and integrity,” said the university, which will host the 2016 Compleat Lawyer Awards Dinner tonight at the Capstone Conference Center in Columbia.
As in years past, the 2016 winners were nominated by peers and then chosen by a blue ribbon panel — in this case, the president of the South Carolina Bar, the chief judges of the state’s two highest courts, the co-chair of the alumni council and the law school dean.
“I think these awards illustrate how important our graduates are to the community,” said Dean Robert Wilcox. “Each year I’m struck by the levels of achievement among our award winners. They’ve all had profound impact on the profession and on the community, even among our youngest recipients, and there’s always the promise of more to come.”
There actually are awards given in four categories: platinum for 31 or more years in practice, gold for 16 to 30 years in practice, silver to 15 or fewer years in practice, and bronze to third-year students at the school. (The students will be recognized May 6 at the Law School’s commencement.)
Each Compleat Lawyer brings his or her own unique talents and passions to the legal profession, their own mix of drive and service and ambition, and their own idea of gain.
Walton himself wrote nearly 400 years ago: “He that hopes to be a good Angler must not only bring an inquiring, searching, observing wit, but he must bring a large measure of hope and patience. ... Doubt not but Angling will prove to be so pleasant, that it will prove to be like a virtue, a reward to itself.”
Below is a glance at how three Compleat Lawyer honorees have turned their early passions into careers of legal service that have proven to “be like a virtue, a reward to itself.”
Neil Robinson came by his passion for representation early. “My first realization that there was a legal profession occurred when I was 12 years old and tried to unionize the paper boys for The State newspaper, seeking better working conditions and more pay for delivering the morning and afternoon papers. That effort lasted less than a week,” said the Dreher High School product who graduated from the USC School of Law in 1973.
The seasoned Nexsen Pruet attorney has long focused on real property work. That’s included coastal resort development such as Wild Dunes, Kiawah, Seabrook, Edisto and Daufuskie islands, and moving inland to large community developments, including Rivertown and Dunes West.
“More recently, substantial time has been devoted to helping new industries locate to South Carolina, including Boeing and Mercedes,” Robinson said. “My transactional practice has allowed me to develop long-lasting relationships with many of the business leaders in South Carolina, and to play a role in the development of significant projects which create jobs and economic prosperity.”
He also finds the Compleat Lawyer award a significant milestone. “To me, the Compleat Lawyer designation is a tremendous honor that validates a 40-year body of work and community involvement unlike any other award. One only has to look at the list of previous honorees to feel both humbled and honored.”
Rosalyn Woodson Frierson serves the legal community and the community it serves by helping to ensure the wheels of justice turn at all. The A.C. Flora High School graduate completed law school at USC in 1992 and is now the state court administrator and director of court administration.
Frierson worked as a legislative budget research analyst before going to law school as a natural progression to her work studying state statutes and proposed legislation. Now she works for the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, managing court administration staff. She’s responsible for coordinating state judicial functions with county courts, and for developing procedures to implement Supreme Court rules, policies and state law. And she serves as a substitute municipal court judge in the Capital City.
Frierson’s influence goes beyond state lines: “In my involvement with the Conference of State Court Administrators and National Center for State Courts, I have the opportunity to address the improvement of state court systems nationwide with the goal of developing a more just, effective, and efficient system of justice.”
The veteran court administrator said: “Being chosen as a Compleat Lawyer serves as humbling recognition that my contribution to the legal community is making a positive difference. It’s truly rewarding to be recognized for upholding the highest standards of professional competence, ethics and integrity, as well as for my many years of civic involvement.”
She’s also passing it on. “It gives me great pleasure as a mentor of law students and young lawyers to serve as a positive role model and to encourage others to pursue the profession,” Frierson said. “I’m also pleased to know that I’ve had a positive influence on my son, a recent law school graduate. It’s most satisfying to watch the growth of young lawyers that I have mentored over the years and observe their development and commitment to the profession.”
Robert Goings’ passion for performance has gone from stage to courtroom. The 2006 law school graduate has gone from singing at church to school plays at Union High School and Wofford College to representing clients before judge and jury.
“The courtroom has become my stage,” he said of representing a range of clients, from accident victims to banks and other businesses. “Being a trial lawyer has allowed me to marry my passion and my profession. The challenge of a trial lawyer is that my audience is always changing. The juries are never the same, the judge is always different, and the facts and the witnesses are never static.”
He added, “The one thing that never changes is my desire to tell a story, to connect with the jury, and to be authentic, truthful and compassionate in the courtroom as I represent my client to the best of my ability.”
Goings said he also learned young about some other things. “My granddaddy—a hard-working dairy farmer and a man of the utmost integrity— taught me from an early age that treating people right, being honest, and doing good by others was a non-negotiable.”
That includes clients and peers, Goings said. “In law school, I was quick to learn that how you act towards your classmates will follow you into your career, because our South Carolina legal community is tightknit and your reputation and how you treat others is paramount. Unquestionably, the past recipients of this award are a testament to those truths.”
Goings also said being recognized as a Compleat Lawyer at this relatively early point in his career motivates him to continue to improve his own skills and commitment as an attorney and to improving the profession itself.
Published in April 11, 2016, print issue