People of SU

Alumni Spotlight: Archie Roundtree, Jr., ’18 JD

Written by Tina Potterf

April 17, 2023

photo of Archie Roundtree, an alum, in Los Angeles.

Image credit: Yosef Kalinko

A Q&A with this year’s Outstanding Recent Alumnus.

Q. What brought you to Seattle University School of Law?

“I was drawn to the Seattle University School of Law because of its strong commitment to student success. I saw the support the university was willing to give students through the Access Resource Center (ARC), which supports a pathway to a law degree for students from historically disadvantaged and underrepresented communities. I am the first attorney in my family and knew I wanted an environment where I felt supported through the process. I am impressed by the history of what (law professors) Paula Lustbader and David Boerner began with ARC and where (ARC director and associate professor) Jeffery Minneti is taking the program. My success is forever tied to the support I received beginning with my first day of law school.

“I am a creative writer at heart. I was awed with the local and national reputation of the Legal Writing Program. It was a privilege to have Professor (Deirdre) Bowen as my instructor. She motivated me to explore my writing creativity and set the foundation for exploring my analytical curiosity. I was fortunate to be published in the Seattle Journal for Social Justice and the Construction Law Section of the Washington State Bar Association, while competing in both regional moot court and national alternative dispute resolution competitions. 

“The university is also uniquely situated in one of the technology epicenters in the country. I am fascinated by intellectual property and entertainment law. Having a background in the arts, I wanted to explore the uniqueness of the area. Understanding the business complexities of entertainment law, I looked forward to classes that would put me at the center of it all. Taking Intellectual Property and Cyberspace Law Modern and Beyond with Professor Steve Tapia allowed me to put a legal context to my real-world experience. He brought the intricacies of the profession into his classroom. 

“The professors expressed genuine concern for my personal and professional well-being, which meant a lot as I navigated my way through the rigors of law school. It was their balanced approach to teaching that provided the stimulus for a successful law school journey. I chose Seattle University School of Law because of its student-centered focus and was pleased to encounter some great professors and mentors.”

What drew you to study law? 

“I was drawn to study law because of the many conversations with family and lack of legal representation in the minority communities. A seed was planted by both grandparents. 

“I truly admire my grandmothers for their love, wisdom and interesting stories. I learned the meaning of persistence, discipline, and empathy. Their legacies were not only being great cooks, but a life filled with service to others. I recall my granny always taking the time to make me understand the importance of family. She is the heartbeat that to this day lives within me. She constantly admonished me to stay in school, do my homework and stay out of trouble. I was only about 9 at the time when I told her I wanted to be a lawyer. I put my suit on for summer camp, she looked at me and said, ‘You are destined to be great at anything you set your mind to. Keep going no matter what hardships may come, God and family will always be with you.’

“I recall stories of my grandmother engaging in community work. She helped a disabled girl gain access to hospital care, assisted homeless families to obtain housing and rallied for new books and fair treatment in public schools. We talked about the crime in the neighborhood, importance of education and to fight for what is right. I vividly recall my grandmother’s advice, ‘Put God first. You will be the first in your generation to gain the education to fight the many injustices.’

Tell me about your first role or where you practiced law following graduation from law school. 

“My first role after law school was working for Bet Tzedek Legal Services as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Elder Justice Program. 

“Bet Tzedek Legal Services is a nonprofit law firm in the heart of Los Angeles, focused on LA County residents. The staff are a group of talented and gracious advocates who are rooted in caring for the community. Bet Tzedek engages in community lawyering, legal services, legal education and outreach and structural policy change. Equal Justice Works is a nonprofit organization that brings together an extensive network of law students, lawyers, legal services organizations and supporters to promote a lifelong commitment to public service and equal justice.

“In my role at Bet Tzedek Legal Services as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Elder justice Program, I provided legal services to senior homeowners who were victims of fraud and elder abuse, to preserve their home ownership and home equity. Examples of such abuse is deed theft, home improvement scams, including green-energy improvements financed through the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program (PACE)), solar energy and home alarm system scams, creditors that use unsecured debts to force the sale of a home or other emerging issues. I further expanded Bet Tzedek’s capacity to provide victim-centered direct legal services in historically underserved areas of Los Angeles County, including in rural areas such as Palmdale and Lancaster. 

“In addition, I conducted presentations on elder abuse fraud impacting homeowners, home equity protections, crime victims’ rights, civil legal options and social service resources. I provided outreach and training throughout Los Angeles County and Antelope Valley to effectuate change within the community through presentations. My outreach resulted in opportunities to present on housing matters with community stakeholders, including the White House, the National Center on Law & Elder Rights/Justice in Aging, high schools, law schools and many more. My work impacted more than 2,000 people during my two-year Fellowship in the middle of a pandemic. The presentations expanded from local, to regional, to national speaking platforms.”

Currently you work as an Equity Attorney at Justice in Aging in Los Angeles. Describe this role and the type of legal services you provide through this work. 

“Justice in Aging is a national advocacy organization with the mission of improving the lives of low-income older adults. For 50 years, we have used the power of law to fight senior poverty by securing access to affordable health care, economic security and the courts for older adults with limited resources. Our mission is to secure the opportunity for older adults to live with dignity, regardless of financial circumstances—free from the worry, harm and injustice caused by lack of health care, food or a safe place to sleep. We focus on the needs of low-income communities that are most marginalized and excluded from justice such as women, people of color, LGBTQI+ individuals and people with limited English proficiency.

“In my position with Justice in Aging, I work to advance equity for low-income older adults across the nation by pursuing systemic change in law and policy to improve the lives of older adults who have been systemically barred from accessing wealth, education, employment, housing, health care and other services. I am able to combine policy and legal advocacy, outreach and training to support the community. I work across the organization to implement the Advancing Equity in Aging Initiative. This initiative focuses on older adults of color, older women, LGBTQ+ older adults, older adults with disabilities, and older adults who are immigrants or have limited English proficiency, with a primary emphasis on advancing racial equity. I develop strategies to advance research and analysis on issues pertaining to equity and aging. Simultaneously, I partner with advocates serving older adults and people with disabilities to center Justice in Aging’s advocacy in community lawyering principles. With a passion for intergenerational communication, I develop trainings and provide technical assistance for the legal services, aging and disability networks on issues of equity and older adults.”

Undoubtedly you have positively and profoundly impacted so many lives with the engagement in communities that are underserved or don’t have access to legal services and advice. Why is this important to you? 

“We live in a time where certain segments of the population may see only a glimpse of the systemic oppression that some live with their entire lives. The trauma and marginalization experienced by communities of color cannot be turned off with the flip of a switch. Many live with systemic barriers they find inescapable. I saw my grandparents  traverse a life that did not afford them opportunities that I am blessed with today. All they wanted was for their kids to have the same opportunities as everyone else. The community around me constantly pushed me to understand there was more work to do. The sacrifices of the generations before me allowed for the opportunity of becoming an attorney. I am standing on generations of hopes and prayers. 

“With all that said, I am only a vessel to advocate for communities that do not have the opportunities to speak. I am only a few years into this legal journey and had the chance to speak from local, regional and national platforms. I utilize every space possible to truly implement community lawyering and intergenerational communication. These platforms are meant to do the good work. The communities I serve need me to be present and vigilant. I do the work truly to speak for those who are not in the room, because systems have not given them their fair access.”

Shifting gears, it’s my understanding that when you were in law school you spent time mentoring young people including through the Black Law Student Association, university activities and church. Can you talk a bit about volunteerism and how it influenced the work you do today? 

“Volunteerism is ingrained in my family. I watched my father and many family members serve in the armed forces. They had a strong commitment and dedication to true service. Moreover, I grew up in the church where I would tutor other youths, clean up local community areas and sing in the choir. I also partnered with a nonprofit agency that works in the high schools to ‘build partnerships for positive and healthy youth development.’

“We are all part of a much larger puzzle and each of us has a small part to play. While working with the Black Law Student Association, I volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House to help make a difference. I also secured sponsorship from a regional clothing retailer who worked through BLSA to donate a large quantity of shoes to a nonprofit organization supporting children experiencing homelessness. Volunteerism is intertwined with social justice advocacy, which requires activism on behalf of those whose voices go unheard. So yes, volunteerism has a big influence on the work I do today.”

Your engagement with the SU School of Law continues through mentorship of current law students. What’s that experience like to pass on your wisdom and experience to the next generation of lawyers? 

“I think it is important for each of us to pay it forward—what you receive from one, you give to another. The mentors in my life changed my career trajectory. Everything I learned from my mentors I want to pass on to my mentees, so they can pass it on to those who follow. I try to give my truth, so students can see it is okay to be their authentic selves. I advise current law students to balance themselves in a holistic manner. Also, it is important to nurture your mental, physical, social and spiritual health, to find the right balance that allows you to maximize your strengths. It is my hope the mentees accept their authentic selves and become the best attorneys and advocates they can possibly be. 

"When mentoring students, we both learn from each other. The next generation of lawyers are a powerful bunch. The law school students coming into practice were educated through a pandemic, remote learning and civil unrest, while maintaining a full academic workload. The new class is ready for anything and is the definition of resilience.”

What was it like to speak at the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable and how did this invite come about?

"I would first like to say I am extremely grateful to the Biden-Harris Administration for allowing me the space to speak. Also, a special thank you to everyone within the Administration that helped convene the first session. It was an amazing experience to speak before the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, White House Counsel Dana Remus, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and all 33 administration officials. The panel members were phenomenal. I am forever thankful for the opportunity to add my voice to the conversation with the four panelists. Anytime someone asks me about that day I am still shocked. The best way to describe it is a wonderful dream you hope you do not wake up from.”

What advice would you give current and soon-to-graduate SU students (in law school and campuswide)? 

Advice #1: The work of the self is the hardest work. You will traverse this life and realize there is so much to accomplish. You will be happy, frustrated, excited, nervous, confident and at times totally confused. It is not easy to accept yourself with all your perfect imperfections. Some days you may combat accepting yourself wholeheartedly, trusting yourself or even taking care of yourself. These days you will be tested but understand we all are constantly learning. You will understand slowly making mistakes is part of life and society’s demands are unending. Make sure to forgive yourself and keep moving forward. The best true goal is to strive for inches of improvement. Because most importantly, we all must love ourselves.

Advice #2: My advice to current and soon-to-graduate SU students in law school and campuswide is to be open and welcoming to the path that finds you, for that could be the path that takes your career to new heights. Be open and your purpose will be revealed.”

What does it mean to you to be named the Outstanding Recent Alumnus? 

“I am truly humbled by the honor. However, I must continue to express that this recognition is the manifestation of so many people who spoke into my life. I would never have predicted or imagined this outcome. There were times I wanted to just give up because of the challenges, trials and tribulations. This award is for my grandmother and granny who never were able to receive a full education because of systemic issues that hindered them. It is for my parents who pushed me when I did not have the strength to push myself. It’s for my brother that showed me the power of voice through music. It is for the teachers and professors who spoke into my life and understood I needed encouragement. It is for my aunts, uncles and cousins who allow me to lay back to just be me. It is for the prayers from my church family that got me through the rough days. It is for my friends who tell me to just have fun when I need to rest my brain. It is for my colleagues who allowed me to be authentically myself within the space of the law, so I could accept my crinkly, curly, thick hair and my artsy nature. Yes, I might be the recipient of the award and I graciously accept. However, I will always remember this is also for the community that supports a young African American attorney who became the first lawyer in his family. This is only the beginning.”

When you aren’t practicing law, what do you do in your free time? 

“My main two passions are hiking and live music. Now I will forever miss the hikes in Seattle, but fortunately I found my way to some great hiking trails in Southern California. I try to get some fresh air to truly allow myself to find my inner peace. It is nice to go to the gym, but I enjoy switching life up with a hike a few times a month. It is nice to be away from technology and not hear the newest alert on my iPhone. 

“Now the musical arts have always been my passion. I enjoy writing music and allowing myself to get immersed in the lyrics. I am always involved in different musical endeavors and glad it will continue to be an outlet for me. The arts have continued to open doors that I will always appreciate.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

“I’ve been blessed as my career continues to include numerous panels and engagements. I have landed my voice to speak to youths on living a healthy lifestyle. I add my views and voice to crowds on the business of the entertainment business. Simultaneously, continuing my efforts to speak on multiple local, regional and national stages. No matter the stage, I am always a resource for the Seattle University community. Feel free reach out to me on LinkedIn at Archie Roundtree Jr.”

This is an extended version of a story that originally appears in the spring edition of Seattle University Magazine, out now.