Legal Services Director Provides More Than Just Advice
March 21, 2017
SHSU Media Contact: Amanda Horn
|Attorney Gene Roberts has combined law, mediation and education into a way to help SHSU students help themselves with navigating legal matters. — Photo by Brian Blalock|
In life, there are opportunities or open doors that come our way. When this happens, it is up to us to decide whether we will take that next step. We may not always know where that step will take us, but that is all part of the experience.
For Gene Roberts, director of the Office of Student Legal and Mediation Services at Sam Houston State University, practicing law was the new opportunity that presented itself.
"I did not always know I wanted to be a lawyer or practice law,” Roberts said. “My initial thought was to be a professor and teach government at a small liberal arts college.”
Roberts explored the idea of practicing law when he was in graduate school at the University of Houston. He was a teaching assistant at the time and found himself with the opportunity to work part-time at a law firm in Houston. To his surprise, he actually enjoyed it and realized his passion for it.
“Some of the folks there were very supportive of me and thought I would make a good attorney,” he said. “So that is when I started thinking seriously about law school.”
After 15 years of practicing law, Roberts planted his feet in the SLMS office. He saw a job posting for the position and thought it had a very unique combination of three things he loved: law, mediation and education.
“I knew that I had experiences in all three of those areas and thought it would be a good way for me to contribute,” Roberts said.
SLMS gives students the legal advice that they might not otherwise have access to as a resource, since an attorney can be expensive. Furthermore it is able to help mentor students through the process so that they can handle a situation legally. Roberts commends SHSU for offering this particular service to students.
“This is a resource that not every university has,” he said. “We are able to show that we can help students focus on their academics and to stay in school to retain them.”
Since the SLMS attorney’s office does not go to court for students, they offer them advice in helping them to handle their matters on their own. They deal with a variety of legal issues, some of which are extraordinarily complex.
“We have students who are in the military and get transferred and they need to have powers of attorney done so that their business can be handled back home,” Roberts said.
According to Roberts, the office can do that for the military students before they get to their base.
Helping students figure out what actions need to be taken and what resources they need, can be a big factor in handling a legal matter successfully.
“For a lot of students, just knowing their options, the game plan for it and how to talk to people is very helpful I think,” Roberts said.
Once Roberts finished law school at SMU he worked in civil litigation and trial work based in Dallas County, but with matters across the state. But as more and more of his cases ended up getting settled through mediation, he recognized that mediation is a great way for people to solve their disputes.
“At the end of the day, a mediated settlement agreement is so efficient—to be able to sit down at a table to talk things out, have a neutral third party there to help facilitate the communications, ask some good questions and help the parties reach a resolution,” Roberts said.
Mediation is an important aspect to the services that are provided to SHSU students because of its emphasis on the importance of listening, being open to others’ ideas, and seeing things from other perspectives.
“A lot of the times when we express our ideas to each other our brains view that as a threat,” Roberts said.
Furthermore, he wants students to practice mediation and to have an open mind to others’ views.
“Part of what the mediation process does is it helps to try and turn that threat into an opportunity for us to understand each other,” Roberts said.
Roberts strives to inform students about conflict resolution and mediation. He believes that if students are taught these terms, they will benefit greatly.
“They will become aware of the alternatives of being adversaries and instead, getting along with each other,” he said.
They will also retain the proficiency of conflict resolution, in which businesses need people to have experience, according to Roberts.
“I think it is a tremendous skill and it is one that work places are begging for people to be trained in,” Roberts said.
Some of the conflict resolutions and other ideas that Roberts and SLMS have brought in to proactively helps students are offered through different workshops.
“That is one of the great things about conflict resolution, even if a student will remember our natural biological inclination is to react and slow down that natural instinct, they will benefit,” Roberts said.
Roberts sees practicing law the same as being an educator. He tries to help his students understand complex legal issues so that they can make a fully informed decision.
“Students are at an age where legally they are adults and are treated like one,” he said. “They are expected to know things that all adults know, but they do not necessarily have the experience that adults have.”
Therefore, Roberts loves to guide students through the decision-making process.
“They can make adult decisions responsibly, professionally and just really figure out what is in their best interest,” Roberts said.
Roberts job is not always smooth sailing. He finds it difficult at times to separate home and work.
“Because of my law license I have to keep things confidential,” he said. “I do not even talk to my wife about things that go on in the office.”
Listening to traumatic stories from students can affect him as well.
“You do hear a lot of heavy, emotional things in this office,” Roberts said.
However, this never discourages him and does not stop him from doing his job.
“Over time you kind of learn how to deal with the emotional toll and try to sleep well at night knowing that you gave the students the best advice that you could and provide them with all the resources that are available,” Roberts said.
Roberts loves that the office of SLMS is small. Because of this, it is easier for his team to talk and work with each other. The nice and supportive atmosphere provides students with comfort.
“The office helps students feel more connected to the university and become more aware of the university resources that are available to them,” Roberts said.
He finds that the stress levels go down for students as well.
“I view this office as a central component to the academic well-being of our students,” Roberts said.
Roberts has always viewed himself as an educator, which helped form his philosophy—to help individuals understand their rights and responsibilities, comprehend the complexities of the legal system and develop a proactive and productive strategy for the situation they face.
“It is a philosophy that I have had for a long time, even when I was in private practice before coming to Sam Houston,” Roberts said.
Roberts is optimistic that more students will come to the office for legal direction.
“To me I am hoping that ultimately we are giving the students a springboard for a successful future,” Roberts said.
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