When Christine M. Roach graduated magna cum laude in Legal Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1976, she had no way of knowing where she’d be professionally nearly 30 years later. She couldn’t have foreseen that she would be a founding member of her own law firm, or a recognized bar leader through her many public service appointments. But Roach had always been told that she was smart and armed with common sense.
“The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UMass Amherst encouraged me to be a free and critical thinker, and to understand the exercise of power in our society,” Roach reflects. “My mother had already taught me to question authority, but college taught me not to be intimidated by privilege. And I am particularly grateful to my predecessors who made it possible for women to be taken seriously in the legal profession.”
Roach is a firm believer in the importance of critical thinking to the social sciences—and to a satisfying work life. “The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences teaches critical thinking in a highly intelligent and responsible way,” she reflects. When asked to become a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board in 2003, she agreed. “I work long hours. To achieve balance, I am not afraid to say no to people, to projects, or to ideas that do not reflect my priorities and values. I said yes to Dean Rifkin because Janet, an early and powerful role model for me, remains a dear friend. I wanted to help her raise money and visibility for the college. I hope to give back some of what UMass gave to me.”
Roach’s rise in the legal profession did not happen overnight. After college she needed a job. Heading to Boston, she landed a spot as a paralegal with North Suffolk Legal Assistance. As manager of a large caseload of elderly clients, she advised them about government benefits, housing, consumer problems and wills, and represented them at administrative hearings. Roach immersed herself in the issues. She really liked the thought process of lawyering and the nature of her work, but didn’t like getting paid significantly less than the lawyers. She realized it was time to go to law school.
At Harvard Law School Roach found it was not the traumatic experience she had been warned to expect. “I was able to maintain a somewhat normal life. UMass had already taught me how to read and research case law, and because I had been out of school for three years, I was less vulnerable to the socialization process.” The experience went well, resulting in a JD, cum laude, in 1982. Along the way, Roach worked on the Harvard Women’s Law Journal, first as a student author, then as articles editor, and ultimately as editor-in-chief. She also gained research and practical experience in employment discrimination law and federal criminal litigation issues. “The opportunity to serve as law clerk to a federal judge was a singular privilege,” Roach remembers of her time in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts the following year. “David Nelson was an extraordinarily wise and dear man; he is the mentor for everything that has followed in my life as a lawyer.”
Following her clerkship, Roach was a litigation associate at the Boston law firm of Widett, Slater & Goldman, where she focused on commercial litigation before becoming an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) in the Civil Division in the Office of the United States Attorney in Boston in 1987. There she met the colleagues who would inspire her to embark on a lawyer’s greatest adventure.
In 1989 Roach and four other AUSAs made history by starting Kern, Sosman, Hagerty, Roach & Carpenter, P.C., the first all-woman law firm in Massachusetts. Concentrating in civil business litigation practice, with an emphasis on employment defense, banking, real estate, and bankruptcy-related disputes, the group also handled constitutional tort defense for public agencies. Over the years the name of the firm has changed several times: Sosman has become Justice Sosman of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; Kern is a judge of the Massachusetts Superior Court; and Hagerty has joined another Boston firm. But the commitment of the lawyers at Roach & Carpenter, P.C. to the private practice of law and public service remains the highest caliber.
October 12, 2005