Leading Ladies: Patricia Roberts nurtures leaders as the School of Law Dean

May 08, 2023

Focusing On Mission

by Leticia Romero

When Patricia Roberts, J.D., first came to understand injustices, she was 12 years old. After finding out that some innocent people go to jail, she resolved to become a lawyer and help right some of those wrongs.

Patricia Roberts, J.D., Dean of the School of Law at St. Mary’s University

“Ironically, I only practiced criminal law for about a minute, but it made me want to go down this path of ensuring that there would be justice for all,” Roberts said.

Roberts was the first in her family to go to law school, an experience that has helped in her role as Dean of the School of Law at St. Mary’s University, where about 25% of first-year J.D. students identify as first-generation. 

After earning her bachelor’s from what was then called Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and graduating from William & Mary Law School, both in Virginia, Roberts practiced law for a few years before returning to William & Mary to begin her more than 20-year career in legal education.

When applying for the dean position at St. Mary’s in 2020, Roberts said she was moved by the institution’s emphasis on the Catholic and Marianist mission and later became a Marianist Educational Associate. 

“I feel very confident that this is exactly where God intended for me to be,” she said. 

Roberts said she has seen the number of women in academic leadership positions in law schools increase and will continue to as they graduate more women. 

More than 50% of the St. Mary’s Law student population identifies as female and 45% as Hispanic, which Roberts said creates role models who can pave new ways forward.

“The women who came before reached a hand back to pull me up, pull me along, and I want to make sure that I do that not only for our students, but also for our colleagues.”

Patricia Roberts

To meet the needs of the law school’s diverse students and serve the community, Roberts and her leadership team embraced a variety of efforts. Some of the highlights have included partnering with the Lawtina Network registered student organization to host a unique national conference for Latinas at various stages in their legal careers and their allies, as well as starting the First-Generation Law Student Pre-1L Boot Camp to prepare first-generation incoming J.D. students for legal studies.

Roberts said the women who preceded her enabled the opportunities she has today for leadership, and she hopes to invest more into fostering servant leaders in her next term as dean.

“The women who came before reached a hand back to pull me up, pull me along, and I want to make sure that I do that not only for our students, but also for our colleagues,” she said.

Read more about the women leading the way at St. Mary's University

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Since joining St. Mary’s University as Dean in 2021, Rowena Ortiz-Walters, Ph.D., said her mission is to find ways to be inclusive by fostering a program that welcomes students from all backgrounds. 

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