A Suffolk Law School professor whose teaching on gender studies and human rights led to an award-winning documentary on sex trafficking in New England was honored on October 24 with the Women’s Bar Association’s top award for pioneering women lawyers.

More than 400 turned out to honor Professor Emerita Kate Nace Day Wednesday night as she received the Lelia J. Robinson Award for lifetime achievement during the WBA’s 40th Anniversary Gala at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. The award is named for the first woman to be admitted to the Massachusetts bar.

“These are very difficult times and days for girls and women,” Day said in a pre-ceremony video. “Every celebration of women is also a moment of remembrance, because we didn’t get here without someone else’s sorrow.”

On stage, Day saluted her students, the women of Suffolk Law, and the victims of sex trafficking who trusted her to tell their stories. She thanked the cinematographer and editor on her first film, “A Civil Remedy.” The documentary, which also won the 2014 Exceptional Merit in Media Award (EMMA) from the National Women’s Political Caucus, deals with the story of an American girl who was trafficked for prostitution in Boston at age 17, escaped to her family, and survived to finish school and become an anti-trafficking advocate. Day’s was the first independent documentary film to receive an EMMA; other EMMA winners that year were the BBC and Inside Edition.

The Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys awarded the film production company Day founded with her husband, Suffolk Research Professor of Law, Russell G. Murphy, with its 2014 Media Award, in recognition of her effort to use the civil justice system to get redress for trafficking survivors. The film was also named an Official Selection of several film festivals, including the United Nations Association 2014 International Documentary Film Festival, the 2014 Through Women’s Eyes International Film Festival, and the Anthology Film Archives’ NewFilmmakers 2015 Film Series.

“I hope that hearing directly from an American girl who was trafficked for sex in Boston will awaken people to the fate of thousands of American girls, help us all see these victims as the girls next door, and inspire changes in our culture, our politics, and our civil and criminal laws," Day said.

While the film won Day global recognition, it was the students who inspired her, she said.

“Women law students were the gift of law teaching,” she told the crowd. “I wanted them to love becoming women lawyers.”

And love it they did.

Four of the students in Day’s feminist legal theory class, on hand to watch their mentor receive recognition, said their professor was an inspiration to them and to others.

“Kate really gave me a way to think and talk about the law in a way that related to me. She absolutely changed my school experience,” said Marcie Vaughan, one of six women students and Day admirers who call themselves “The Fems.” Vaughan now specializes in sexual harassment cases thanks to that feminist legal theory class and Day’s inspiration. “She gave us all a different perspective,” she notes.

Long before the #MeToo movement, the six students would meet Day for class, where they would discuss feminism and the law.

“It wasn’t your common course,” said Svetlana Moldavskiy, recalling those days 12 years ago. “She connected to us all on a personal level. To me, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of law school.”

“She’s such a huge part of our path,” said Fionnuala Girard. “She was always cheering us on.”

Day continues to inspire with ongoing human rights work designed to bring traffickers to justice and to shine a light on the experience of victims of sex trafficking.

“What’s remarkable about Kate is she’s made such a strong impact on others and she remains so humble,” said Women’s Bar Association President Meredith Ainbinder, who presented Day with the award. “She’s made a tremendous impact on young women in their careers.” Past winners of the WBA’s Robinson Award include Suffolk Law Clinical Practitioner Christine Butler and Senator Elizabeth Warren.