Redefining What It Means To Be A Lawyer
There are a lot of ways to leverage the tools that come along with a law degree. No one illustrates that better than Gina Zapanta ’07, the newest appointee to LMU Loyola Law School’s Board of Directors, who has used her multifaceted perspective on the law to innovate how she builds a legal career and help clients, students and her community.
Zapanta’s interest in law came about in part because of her late father Dr. Richard Zapanta, a prominent orthopedic surgeon, who was a first-generation Latino deeply committed to philanthropy in the East Los Angeles community. Her interest led to a summer job with a family friend and personal injury lawyer Greg Moreno while she was an undergraduate student at USC.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Zapanta secured a role assisting former chairwoman, Maria Contreras-Sweet of ProAmérica Bank, the first Latino-owned bank in the L.A. area, in investor relations. Mrs. Contreras-Sweet later served in President Obama’s cabinet as head of the Small Business Administration.
A year later, Zapanta enrolled at Loyola Law School. “I loved being there,” she said. “I loved the education I was receiving. It was one of the most challenging yet foundational times in my life, especially my first year.”
With the challenges of law school firm in her memory, Zapanta has dedicated herself to helping current and prospective law students navigate their legal journeys. She has devoted much of her time and energy to mentoring students about the many ways they can approach law school – and use their law degrees for the benefit of others.
One of her goals is to support Latina students. “I know what I look like and what I represent,” Zapanta said. Last summer, in honor of the law school’s centennial anniversary, Zapanta and her husband established a $100,000 endowed scholarship to support Latina students who are first in their family to attend law school – an important endowment designed specifically to support Latina students at LLS.
Reconnecting with LLS didn’t stop there. To help further her impact and engagement at the law school, Zapanta welcomed the opportunity to join the law school’s Board of Directors, which advises the dean. “My voice represents a powerful, often-underrepresented majority in our community and I’m proud that LLS is at the forefront of, not only listening, but acting.” she said.
In meeting with students, Zapanta benefits from being able to draw on her own diverse career arc. She is able to talk about how she’s forging a unique path by using her legal knowledge to benefit her family and community – a way to do well while also doing good.
Zapanta’s dedication to helping others runs deep on her resume. She returned to the family business, taking over the business side of her father’s orthopedic surgery practice and expanding it significantly. Using her knowledge of law and lawyers, she shifted the practice to caring for injured patients who were referred by personal injury lawyers and chiropractors and who relied on medical liens for payment.
Recently, after nearly 14 years of developing her business acumen, Zapanta co-launched a successful workers’ compensation practice dedicated to protecting workers underserved by traditional practices.
Her non-traditional path following Loyola Law School provided her with incredible opportunities. “My family leads a big life because of the success we have in the kind of work we do,” she said. “But, I know I did not get to where I am by myself. I stand on the shoulders of men and women who paved a very difficult and lonely path before me and I intend to honor that by continually giving back and serving as a beacon for others who might need that motivation and inspiration to break the mold and keep going.”
Later, her partnership with Michael Alder, a star of the Los Angeles plaintiffs trial bar, brought new ways to assist others. The pair, now married, bonded over their mutual dissatisfaction with how some less scrupulous lawyers were preying on working-class clients, especially the Latino patients Zapanta saw come through the orthopedic practice. She told Alder she wanted to organize pro bono legal services in East L.A. and wanted a highly reputable law firm as a partner.
Their next project was to start their own law firm, ZapantaAlder Law, to represent workers’ compensation claimants who they believed were often being poorly represented.
“My strength is marketing and seeing potential synergies between strategic players. I understand the value of making those connections and ultimately move mountains for everyone involved.”
During the pandemic, the couple created a charity, ZAGives, to support food-insecure communities. It also funded lunches for healthcare workers by purchasing from local restaurants around the county.
With a career that has already broken the mold, Zapanta continues to give back in myriad other ways, charting a course that continues to be pathbreaking and redefining what it means to be a lawyer for others.