Roberta Lepre is well-known in Maltese law circles, and beyond. Charismatic and forthright, she is especially renowned for her dedication to victims of violence, as witnessed in the nine years she spent at the helm of NGO Victim Support Malta.
Roberta is very passionate about the law and what it stands for but, looking back, recollects how she nearly veered into another career altogether when she enjoyed working in the media in her late teens and early 20s. Nevertheless, at the last minute, she decided to sign up to the law course at the University of Malta and hasn’t looked back since.
“I love being a lawyer,” she says, “although there are a number of things I find challenging about the profession, including the traditional idea of what a lawyer is supposed to be. I find many lawyers don’t work towards compromise much and believe their approach needs to soften – their point may be right in principle, but that point may not be conducive towards coming to an agreement, which is so important.”
That said, Roberta loves the fact that the law can give people hope if it’s implemented properly; that it can help them find a solution and give order to life. “If people made their own laws there would be chaos – so the law provides information on what is expected from society. What we need more of now is the proper enforcement of that law.”
Like most of us in our careers, Roberta has a passionate love-hate relationship with elements of what she does, and this has inspired her to work within different aspects of the profession. She began working in generic law before joining the Commission for Equality, where she started to focus on equality, discrimination and diversity issues, and also developed expertise in applying for and managing EU-funded projects.
From there, she set up niche consultancy firm Weave Consulting, and her original idea was to promote the concept of diversity in the private sector by helping companies to ensure that they are compliant with equality legislation. “This can be very useful when recruiting people to work in your organisation or to improve community engagement,” she explains, “and the idea was well received by a number of companies.”
Nevertheless, Roberta soon found herself with a different opportunity ahead of her when she joined NGO Victim Support Malta in 2008. “This is an organisation that strives to support victims of crime in the most holistic way possible,” says Roberta. “From legal help to emotional support, it’s a one-stop-shop for anyone who has been the victim of a crime – whether that’s a robbery, a sexual crime, or domestic violence, and regardless of whether the victim is a man or a woman.”
Roberta’s years at Victim Support Malta were spent raising the profile of the organisation and developing its projects. One key milestone was the setting up of the Sexual Assault Response Team in 2013 in partnership with the Government. “This team brings together related Government services, namely medical, police and social work, to offer follow-up services to the victim. The services of a lawyer and psychotherapist are also provided,” she explains.
Beyond that, the NGO also pushed for the adoption of the Victims’ Rights Directive – a new directive that gives victims of crime certain rights, including the right to be protected, the right to information, the right to receive support, and the right to undergo a risk and needs assessment. “There were many moments and successes that I am very proud of, but a simple ‘thank you’ from one of the victims for helping them and making them feel better was more rewarding than anything else,” Roberta says.
Now, having dedicated nine years to the organisation, she has decided to move on. “I loved so many aspects of the job and feel we have achieved so much, but it was also challenging to run an organisation on such limited resources,” she admits. “We wanted to be able to do so much more, and that was frustrating at times.”
On a personal level, Roberta has decided that it’s now time to focus on her own legal career, which she says she has neglected to a certain extent, and is now excited to get back into it. “I thought I was going to have a break over the summer months but I didn’t,” she smiles. “I jumped straight in my new role, focusing on normal legal practice, family law and commercial law.”
Roberta has returned to Weave Consulting, which she is running as a sole practitioner, and she is now looking at growing it into a wider corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultancy practice. “I think Malta is more ready for that now than it was 10 years ago,” she says. “Companies are more receptive to issues of diversity and CSR, and they can see the benefits of incorporating them.”
With that in mind, Roberta is now looking forward to forging a number of different collaborations and to working with interesting people in different parts of the law. “I have worked in one area for a long time and am now keen to experiment in different fields and to see where it takes me.”
This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2017 edition of Business Agenda