Christopher Roberts has joined UCLA School of Law as its chief strategic communications officer, overseeing all publications, messages, social media accounts, and more. A veteran in the field, Roberts most recently worked at the University of Texas School of Law and enjoyed an earlier career as an award-winning movie and theater producer. He earned his B.A. from Wesleyan University. In the conversation below, he shares other facts about himself and offers a look at his vision for communications at a dynamic law school in an always-evolving field.
What brings you to UCLA Law?
I’m a huge believer in public education and in law school as an engine for social, cultural, and economic change. Having been at Texas Law for seven years, I think UCLA Law is about the only place that can rival it for the combination of excellence in a public setting and real-world impact on a vibrant and pivotal region of the country. For a person who does communications, who likes to talk about ideas and to show off the real-world impact of a world-class law school, UCLA Law has an embarrassment of riches.
How do you define an effective communications strategy in this era?
For me, there’s not one answer to that question, but I suppose I focus my efforts on two closely related but distinct questions. First, why is the world a better place because UCLA Law exists? And second, why would the world be a poorer place if it did not? Rather than thinking in terms of communicating about events, or people, or programs, I think about communicating a vision of who we are and the role we play in improving people’s lives.
What are the biggest challenges to accomplishing that?
The big external challenge is noise. There is too much in the world, and the answer cannot be to simply talk louder and longer. There is an internal challenge also, which is the sheer volume of what we have going on at the school – it’s that embarrassment of riches I mentioned a moment ago.
Where do you see the law and legal education headed in the next decade?
I’m not a lawyer and so not the most qualified to answer that, but I think anyone can see that automation, artificial intelligence, smart contracts, and other technological innovations will change the nature of legal jobs and the job market. Fortunately, UCLA Law is teaching habits of mind and the capacity for complex, rigorous, deep analysis that cannot yet be automated. So UCLA Law graduates will play a role in programming, managing, or fighting the machines, not being replaced by them. As for legal education, the challenge is to evolve the curriculum to meet substantive demands for new areas of knowledge without chasing fads. Our law school’s administration has proven masterful at making that kind of distinction.
What is the most important thing to know about you?
I take my work seriously, but I do not take myself seriously. If I can’t have fun at work, and crack wise, and be made fun of, I’m not interested.
Okay, challenge accepted! What is your favorite word?
Probably nothing I can reveal in print.
What is your least favorite word?
As a person who loves language, I try to love all words! What I don’t like, and what no one should like, is the abuse or misuse of words, or a failure to make the effort to find the right word to convey meaning clearly, forcefully, and with verve and a bit of musicality.
How does your experience as an entertainment producer still resonate in your work today?
Producing and communicating are much the same no matter what project you’re working on. They’re about recognizing the talents and needs of a diverse group of people and helping them work together to realize a common goal. The world of the law school is every bit as rich, varied, and interesting as the world of entertainment.
Now that you’ve landed in California, what is the best part about living in L.A.?
Being part of UCLA Law, of course! And the weather is a nice secondary benefit.
And speaking of nature, if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
No. Just, no.
It was worth a try. So, um, how about those Dodgers and Mookie Betts?!
I’m from Boston and am a rabid Red Sox fan going back to 1975. And my mother grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. So, I like the Dodgers and love Mookie Betts.