Graduating J.D. student finds her “why” at St. Mary’s Law

May 19, 2022

Rosa Peterson donated time to various organizations during her studies

by Cristy Lindberg 

Few represent the Marianist value of service more than St. Mary’s University School of Law third-year J.D. student Rosa Peterson. 

Peterson, scheduled to graduate from the St. Mary’s University School of Law this Saturday, has donated her time to various organizations during her studies at St. Mary’s. She’s worked as a student attorney in the law school’s Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, served as associate editor of The Scholar: St. Mary’s Law Review on Race and Social Justice and has been student coordinator for the Pro Bono Program for the past two years. 

As an undergraduate at Liberty University, Peterson majored in Paralegal Studies with minors in Business and Criminal Justice. Her family is from San Antonio and St. Mary’s University’s reputation for supporting the local community was a big part of why she decided to attend. Her daughter is also enrolled in St. Mary’s as an undergraduate student studying Mechanical Engineering.  

At 41, Peterson is not the typical law student. She decided to become a lawyer after attending a divorce-related proceeding at the courthouse, and seeing many others who were intimidated by the legal process. 

“When you start law school, you have to realize why you’re here. And you have to hold on to that no matter what.”

Rosa Peterson

“Just to see how many people didn’t have legal representation was very upsetting to me. Because I felt like it was something that all individuals should have fundamentally, as a right,” Peterson said. “So, I decided then that I would come to St. Mary’s, and I’d become an attorney. And then I would form a nonprofit that would kind of target the underrepresented populations: the elderly, disabled and minorities.” 

Peterson became interested in the Pro Bono Program during her first year at St. Mary’s Law and originally planned to just do her required 30 hours of community service in the program. However, she quickly fell in love with it. Ultimately, she earned 1,047 hours and the Pro Bono and Public Service Certificate. 

“When you start law school, you have to realize why you’re here. And you have to hold on to that no matter what,” she said. 

Peterson believes the most important thing law students can do in finding their own why is realize the reason for attending law school in the first place. For Peterson, her reason is pro bono work and the hope of one day helping others as a licensed attorney, driving her to push through the rigors of the law school experience. 

“Law school can get dark and get really heavy. It can get really hard,” she said. “But in the Pro Bono Program, I found my why. So, every time things would get hard, I would find myself thinking, ‘This is why I’m here. I’m here because in three years I’m going to sit for the bar. I’m going to be able to do this and I’m not going to have to have an attorney sign off. I will be the attorney.’”  

“I get to help people and I know that everything I’m doing within the classroom is going to help somebody when I’m done.”

Rosa Peterson

Gregory Zlotnick, J.D., Director of Pro Bono Programs at the St. Mary’s School of Law, praised Peterson’s commitment to the University’s Marianist values and noted that she also served more than 440 recorded hours as a remote mentor and tutor with an international school in the Dominican Republic through which she tutored both young students and their parents in English.  

“In her three years at the School of Law, Rosa Peterson has exhibited an unsurpassed commitment to social justice, student engagement and academic excellence,” Zlotnick said.  

Beyond her commitment to service, she also encourages others to get involved.  

“The breadth and depth of Rosa’s engagement with public service, and her willingness to organize and lead her classmates, speaks to the spirit of servant leadership that defines her efforts,” Zlotnick said. 

Peterson has left a significant impact on the St. Mary’s Law community and looks to continue to serve others as a lawyer in the future. She plans on practicing criminal and immigration law along with eventually establishing a nonprofit providing legal representation to those who are underrepresented. 

“I get to help people and I know that everything I’m doing within the classroom is going to help somebody when I’m done,” Peterson said.

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