Patrick Roberts: A Solid Combination

Written by Bob Friedman
Photography by Catherine Davis

Wake County attorney Patrick Roberts danced smoothly around the ring at Jawbreakers Boxing Gym in Raleigh as he pounded training mitts worn by trainer Remy Fullwood. Roberts is getting back into his regular training routine after a long hiatus while the gym was closed during COVID.

“Boxing for most people is just brutal sport,” said Roberts, “but there’s so much strategy involved. There’s footwork. There are combinations. There’s countering. There’s figuring out your opponent’s weaknesses, so you can attack those weaknesses without being attacked yourself.”

Former professional boxer Fullwood is the owner of Jawbreaker and the son of former Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Fullwood. In the ring surrounded by Muhammed Ali posters, Fullwood said Roberts’ best punches are his left hook and solid combination.

On a global scale, a solid combination describes Roberts as a man, a boxer, and a lawyer.

Patrick Roberts launched his Raleigh-based criminal defense firm in 2007. He now has 10 attorneys working in offices in six cities handling criminal law, family law and estate planning. In 2019, he founded a personal injury practice with Ranchor Harris, an attorney he met through a mutual trainer. The criminal law practice handles large cases such as drug trafficking, murder, and a heavy emphasis on sex crimes. The personal injury firm does catastrophic accidents, trucking cases and wrongful deaths. The firm is also active in the burgeoning Camp Lejeune water contamination litigation.

Boxing for most people is just brutal sport, but there’s so much strategy involved.

Roberts training at Jawbreaker Boxing in Raleigh with owner, Remy Fullwood

I Grew Up in Hell

Roberts and his mother, Ruby, moved from Jamaica to the East New York section of Brooklyn before Roberts entered first grade. His father, a plumber, was already living in the U.S. with his children from a previous marriage, including Roberts’ older brother, Perry. Roberts’ father was an alcoholic and an abuser. The abuse was a daily occurrence.

One day after school, Ruby and Patrick escaped to an apartment in the neighborhood. Ruby couldn’t afford the apartment initially, but the landlord took pity on her and allowed her to move in with no security deposit until she could find steady employment. Once Ruby found employment, Patrick’s older sister, Sharon, joined them.

It was the height of the crack epidemic. Half of the buildings on their street were burned out and being used as crack houses. A 2014 documentary described the neighborhood as having the highest murder rate in the country during the late 1980s.

“I grew up in hell. It was violent and drug infested,” said Roberts. The risk of getting jumped was a common occurrence. The night a friend was murdered, he heard the gunshots.

Every neighborhood had a gang with slingers on every corner, but Roberts was able to avoid getting caught in the life.

“The neighborhood kind of shielded me. Everyone knew from an early age that I was smart. People would know from the neighborhood that I was Perry’s little brother. Word on the street is you leave that one alone.”

The family lived in a tiny apartment. His mother worked two jobs as a nurse’s assistant. Roberts said his mother pushed him and his sister to excel in school. “I just wanted to get out alive. Mom had bigger goals,” said Roberts.

 

Sign Me Up

When Roberts was in high school, he would sometimes catch a train up to Poughkeepsie to see his sister, who was at Vassar College on a scholarship. “It was cool. Nobody was fighting. People were happy, friendly, interesting. It seemed like a different world. So, I said, ‘I can do this,’” recalled Roberts.

During his freshman year in high school, an African-American man came to his class who had gone to school at Cornell, played basketball, and worked on Wall Street. At the time, Roberts had heard of Wall Street, but he had never met anyone who worked there.

“He talked about making $100,000 a year. I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but it was a nice round large figure. The man put up a graph of how much a high school grad made versus a college grad. That was all I needed to see. It was big enough,” said Roberts.

He started preparing for college by looking at the highest paying professions. “In my research, chemical engineering was the highest paying salary I could find. Chemical engineers were making $56,000 a year at the time. That seemed incredible to me. ‘Four years of school, 56 grand?’ Done.”

Roberts attended Johns Hopkins University on a scholarship, where he majored in chemical engineering. During a Heat Transfer II class, “A guy who had gone to Hopkins came to class. He wrote $ 256,000 on the board and said this is the average salary of a patent attorney in the United States. I raised my hand. ‘Are you saying that if you go to law school for three years after studying what we study now, I can make $256,000? … Sign me up.”

Roberts earned his Juris Doctor from Duke School of Law and joined a law firm in San Diego as a patent attorney. After failing the California bar twice, he decided to move to North Carolina, where his mother had settled.

He took a job at a small firm in Jacksonville, NC. The day after Roberts was sworn in as a lawyer, he handled his first criminal trial – an attempted murder case involving a Marine-involved shooting. “From there, I was pretty hooked.”

Roberts said making the leap from chemical engineering to the law was not as much of a stretch as it might seem. “It’s challenging in a different way than, say, engineering or math. It’s puzzle solving, reading individuals, reading people. You had to read the jury and remember different aspects of their lives to give them something to latch onto in your argument that would help them remember why they should acquit your client.”

Competition Is Fuel

In criminal cases, Roberts said he competes against the prosecutor. In personal injury cases, he competes for clients with large personal injury firms with big TV budgets.

“I see the world in terms of competition. I’m driven by competition. Competition is fuel. Competition is life,” said Roberts. “I don’t compare myself to the kids I grew up with. I beat those guys the day I graduated high school. I want the guy who was at top of my class at Duke; that’s who I wanna beat.”

Some of the fire that rages in Roberts’ gullet was fanned by Gerry Spence, the self-styled Wyoming trial lawyer who successfully represented Karen Silkwood, and Randy Weaver (Ruby Ridge), among other high-profile clients.

Roberts attended Spence’s Trial Lawyers College in Wyoming. “He is driven by childhood trauma, so we can relate,” said Roberts. “I absolutely love that guy as a person and as a lawyer. Gerry Spence is a master at understanding people. He teaches not only understanding the individual by reading his body language but trying to understand the individual from the inside out. You connect with and understand a person from that person’s perspective.”

“To me, practicing law is about practicing people. I practice people. The law is secondary; whether it’s a juror or a DA or a judge or clerk or bailiff, whomever you’ve gotta be able to build rapport with and interact with in order to get things done.”

Street Fighting Man

Patrick Roberts’ office is a boxing hall of fame. There are signed photos, posters, three pairs of autographed gloves, and a speed bag that juts out from the wall. You’d expect to hear the Rocky theme song as Muzak. He’s been to dozens of fights and lists his favorites as David Benavidez, Canelo Alvarez and Manny Pacquiao.

His passion for boxing came from street fighting and defending himself in his neighborhood.

“You either had hands or you ran really fast,” recalled Roberts. He had both but wasn’t afraid to exchange blows with the other kids to defend himself. He learned by watching boxers. Occasionally someone would have an old pair of gloves they would spar with.

Mike Tyson was from the nearby neighborhood of Brownsville. Roberts knew people who knew Tyson. “When Tyson was fighting, the whole neighborhood would get together and watch. It was the only time things were calm.”

Tyson made $20 million a fight in the ’80s. When asked if someone had written that number on a blackboard, would he have become a boxer, Roberts responded. “I wasn’t fast enough. And frankly, to be a boxer, you’ve got to have a true violent streak. I’m a practical man; I’m violent if necessary for self-defense. I’m just not angry all the time; Mike was.”

Another Competitive Playing Field

Roberts has developed a real estate portfolio that includes residential and commercial properties, and four car washes which he said are another avenue for competition. “There’s our car wash, and there’s that car wash down the street. I try to figure out what they are doing right. If it’s a vacuum with a credit card on it, OK, no problem, we will add that. If they have shiny lights, we can do that too.”

About the only time Roberts isn’t in some kind of competition is when he and Sharee are traveling extensively around the Caribbean and Latin America, which they do often.

“The one thing I love about travel is it takes you outside of your element,” Roberts said. “Put me in a place where people speak a different language and live at a different pace, and I can be comfortable in that. But the minute I touch American soil, it’s on.”

“I’m a survivor. A chameleon. I do what is necessary for survival.”

I'm a Survivor

“I don’t really define myself much by what I do. The minute five o’clock comes and I finish my last consult, or I’m out of court, the last thing I think about is the law. I don’t spend any time at all thinking about the law until I have to go back into the office the next day.”

Roberts is comfortable in his own skin but not boastful. He is an easy conversationalist, a good listener, and has a quick sense of humor. Our interviews flowed like a couple of old buddies.

His suits are well-tailored but not flashy. The office walls are lined with boxing art. He drives a nice car but not a fancy one. People ask Roberts where he went to prep school. He laughs.

Considering his childhood, you might expect Roberts to be ostentatious and have a chip on his shoulder. But that’s far from the case. He said, “It’s not about he who has the most toys wins. It’s a matter of securing myself rather than competing with the guys buying the toys. Having grown up the way I did, I’m a survivor. A chameleon. I do what is necessary for survival. I’m an anomaly, but I’m more comfortable with who I’ve become.”

Roberts Law Group PLLC

203 W. Millbrook Road, Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27609
RobertsLawTeam.com

ROBERTS & HARRIS PC

203 W. Millbrook Road, Suite 204
Raleigh, NC 27609
CarolinasPersonalInjuryLawyers.com

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