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Alumna Reveals the Secret to Success

Patti Zlaket

Patti Zlaket ’09 always believed a law degree would afford her opportunities to do many things, even if she never practiced law in the traditional sense.

“My father is a lawyer, and so I grew up with an appreciation of his profession,” reveals Zlaket.

Before that, however, Zlaket had other ideas. She wanted to perform. After majoring in theatre at USC, Zlaket focused on music—writing, producing, performing, touring, and recording.

“I wouldn’t trade that time for anything, because it allowed me to develop my craft and really explore my passion for music,” says Zlaket, who still performs at local venues in North County San Diego about once a month.

In her 30s, Zlaket began to crave more, and thoughts of law school surfaced once again. “That idea had always been there, tucked way back in my mind, and over time the voice that pushed me toward law school got louder,” she recalls.

Living in San Diego, California Western was the logical choice for Zlaket. “I had heard good things about the school, and they accepted me, so the decision was easy,” she says.

Zlaket loved law school. She loved the learning, the energy on campus and the fact that she had easy access to the very talented faculty there.

“I remember Judge Alex McDonald, who has since passed away, telling me that you get as much out of law school as you put into it,” she says. “He was right. I put my heart and soul into that experience, and I still receive the benefits from that to this day.”

But the greatest lesson of all Zlaket learned from her time in law school was that failure really does lead to success.

Zlaket’s moment of truth came with the Bar exam. “The first time that I took the Bar, in February 2009, the pass rate was 33 percent,” she remembers. “I did not make that tight cut, and I was devastated. I felt like a failure, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to rise above that feeling.”

But rise above it she did. Zlaket retook the exam in the summer of 2009 and passed.

Her secret to success a second time was the help of a great tutor and an incredibly supportive network of family and friends. The tutor was key to her passing the Bar admits Zlaket. “I needed more individual feedback, and I needed to focus more specifically on the areas where I struggled. That test is such a monster, and I needed to figure out how to attack it better. Understanding the law was not my problem. My problem was figuring out how to best deliver my answers on that test,” she says.

Studying for that test and retaking it after having failed the first time was one of the hardest things Zlaket has ever had to do and for the longest time she didn’t want to talk about that experience.

Today, she realizes that that was part of her career journey and she is very proud to share it. “The toughest things you go through in life really do make you stronger. And I would not be where I am now in quite the same way if I had not gone through that experience,” admits Zlaket.

In addition to studying, her advice to law students facing the Bar exam is to stay healthy and stay in touch with family and friends, so you don’t feel totally isolated.

“Also,” Zlaket adds, “I’d say that you have to keep a sense of humor about it. It’s a test. It’s a test that you can take again if you need to. If you don’t think the others have had to do that, all you need to do is go online to see how many great leaders, lawyers, politicians, and the like have had to take that test more than once. So take a deep breath and keep some perspective about it all!”

Giving back to Cal Western comes easily to Zlaket. She is involved with the Alumni Association and enjoys speaking to students and new lawyers. She is also an active member of California Western’s Council of Visitors.

“I believe Cal Western is the best law school in San Diego, and one of the best in the nation, but not enough people recognize us as such,” states Zlaket. “I think that is starting to change, and I want to be part of that change.”

Today, Zlaket and her father are partners in their law firm handling personal injury cases. “I like helping the ‘underdog,’” says Zlaket with her trademark exuberance. “In personal injury cases, the everyday person is almost always the underdog, because he/she is going up against very powerful insurance companies. I like fighting to help make my clients whole again after something awful has happened to them.”

Patti Zlaket wouldn’t have it any other way.