When the UWI St Augustine campus approached Dr Alicia Elias-Roberts to join its Faculty of Law teaching staff in 2011, she saw an opportunity. Today, that faculty is one of the few in the world to offer oil and gas law as part of its curriculum.

The Guyana-born legal scholar was appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Law in August 2023. With a Master of Laws (LLM) in Energy and Environmental Law, and a PhD in Offshore Energy Law and International Law, oil and gas is one of her specialisations, and she shares, a particular favourite. Dr Elias-Roberts was inspired by her parents to pursue her law career.

“I was always opinionated,” she says.

She loved to read, and her father found her very articulate even at a young age. “He would always say I liked to argue my positions.”

She went on to complete her Bachelor of Laws (LLB) at the University of Guyana, and then her general LLM at Oxford University. While at Oxford, she embraced an opportunity to participate in a project hosted by the Organisation of American States.

“They were looking to develop persons in energy and the environment,” she explains. That experience led her to a second LLM, this one in Energy and Environmental Law at the University of Houston.

She then became CARICOM’s International Treaty Law Expert, providing legal opinions, drafting treaties and advising governments on the registration of those treaties.

“All the while,” she says, “I would be teaching at the University of Guyana.”

‘I always wanted to be a teacher’

Despite her parents’ thoughtful advice, she couldn’t ignore her calling. “As a young girl, I always wanted to be a teacher,” she reveals, adding that as an undergrad, she’d find herself reteaching class lectures to her peers during study groups.

There are some, she says, who think less of teaching and believe the fallacy that “those who can’t do, teach”. For her, teaching is meaningful.

“One of my role models is Oprah Winfrey,” she shares. As a high school student, she would devour the Oprah Show, soaking up the lessons on living her best life. She’d take notes and get the books Oprah recommended, searching for something bigger. She wanted to make a positive impact and build “a life of purpose and meaning”.

Destiny called when she graduated at the top of her LLB class at the University of Guyana and was asked if she was interested in returning to the university to teach.

“I jumped at it,” she says.

Dr Elias-Roberts taught in the University of Guyana’s Law Department for 10 years, eventually becoming the Head of the Law Department.

In 2011, she left to join UWI St Augustine’s Faculty of Law, where the LLB was being offered at the campus for the first time. She was ready “to be part of something from the foundation”, something she could help “establish and develop”.

“The UWI never had courses in oil and gas law until I developed them,” she says. Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, the then Dean of the Faculty of Law, was instrumental, encouraging her to develop the courses, as well as conferences and workshops that would be run by the faculty.

“There are many law schools around the world, but few that do specialist education in oil and gas,” Dr Elias-Roberts says.

Developing Oil and Gas Law Education for T&T and the region

She explains that, prior to UWI’s course offerings in oil and gas law, the region’s attorneys had to enrol at universities in other parts of the world – such as the universities of Dundee and Aberdeen in Scotland, for example, or others in Houston, Texas and Calgary in Canada – to attain specialised training. With the importance of oil and gas in Trinidad and Tobago’s industry and economy, making training available at home made sense.

Among Dr Elias-Roberts’s first tasks was to meet with oil and gas industry stakeholders and insiders – lawyers who practised in the area, as well as attorneys-at-law from BP, Shell, and Petrotrin (when it was still in operation) for their views on what training should be focused on. Any courses developed, she knew, would need to be relevant to the industry.

She designed the courses and implemented them, and as UWI’s Faculty of Law grew, so did its oil and gas law offerings. What began with outreach initiatives, workshops, and conferences, expanded to include a third-year optional course, and now a postgraduate diploma and master’s programmes.

Her experience and expertise also grew with the faculty. During this time, she attained her PhD in Offshore Energy Law and International Law from Queens College.

Among her other legal specialisations are environmental law, human rights, energy (oil and gas law), and other areas, including constitutional and administrative law. In addition to government bodies, she provides and continues to provide “consultancies and legal advice to various international organisations, companies and stakeholders”, including Guyana’s World Wildlife Fund and the Government of Guyana’s Public Procurement Commission.

“I’m seen as an expert who can look at laws and treaties and see what is needed within the legal framework to fill those gaps,” she explains.

She likes to simplify the law and says that being able to use her training to help others gain that understanding is empowering.

Making Law accessible to others

“I find that quite impactful... that I can facilitate that knowledge and awareness. I love the work I do.”

There’s a theme to Dr Elias-Roberts’s interests and work – creating impact through knowledge. It should come as no surprise then, that despite her list of accomplishments and various roles, she holds teaching dearest.

“It’s the thing I come back to,” she says.

Just a few months into her role as the Dean of UWI St Augustine’s Faculty of Law, Dr Elias-Roberts is already building on her reputation of creating positive change and, she notes clearly, on the foundation that Professor Bell-Antoine laid as a former dean.

In the works are the development of a new pre-law programme and outreach training activities in various areas, including human rights, industrial relations law, sports law, and intellectual property; efforts to expand the faculty’s reach, both regionally and across the globe; and continued outreach to communities through legal aid and human rights clinics.

One of her top priorities however, is to consult with her colleagues every step of the way. “I am the first among equals,” she declares.

Dr Elias-Roberts takes inspiration from her mother, a woman whose philosophy was to simply live with integrity and be grateful for all that life has to offer. Of her own legacy, she says, “I would like to be remembered as somebody who made a positive impact.”

Serah Acham is a writer, editor and MFA Creative Writing student at The UWI St Augustine.