In Pursuit of Power

“I just wanted to be powerful!” remembers alumna Theona Zhordania, of her childhood dreams of becoming a successful businesswoman and attorney.

However, female leadership roles were few and far between in her native Republic of Georgia and the Soviet agenda did not exactly allow for a budding businesswoman’s passion for power to flourish. “I wanted to become a leader, but it’s very difficult for women to do so in Georgia, especially back then,” Zhordania laments.

“Back then” refers to the time between 1921 and 1991, when the country was annexed by the communist rule of the Russian Empire. Luckily for the daughter of two physicists, her mother the vice minister of education in Georgia, there wasn’t a lack of role models in her life. When the regime collapsed, Zhordania was 11 years old and, by the time she was 15, had set her sights on studying in the United States as an exchange student.

“There was not as much freedom and not as many opportunities in Georgia as there are in this country,” says Zhordania, who faced a language barrier and spent six months transitioning from speaking the English she was taught in her hometown school to the American vernacular. After a total of 10 months studying in both Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Monica, California, Zhordania went back to Georgia to graduate with plans to return to California for college.

“I think my parents were supportive of me coming out here for a year, but not really to move and stay here forever!” laughs the determined transplant. “Middle Eastern families . . . they want you to be close to home.” Zhordania chose to study linguistics first as a community college student at Santa Monica College, then as a transfer student at UCLA, where she graduated summa cum laude in 2003.

“I love languages and the major seemed like a very interesting subject for me. It’s all rule-based, so you learn certain principles and then analyze how languages are structured as opposed to just memorizing.” When she was offered a scholarship to continue her studies in UCLA’s linguistics PhD program, Zhordania declined, knowing “I always wanted to go to law school.”

Zhordania followed through on this desire by applying to Pepperdine’s JD/MBA program. “I thought that I’d get my law degree and have that as a tool, but I really wanted to work at a corporation. I wanted to be a businesswoman.”

While fond of business aspect of the program, she found her legal studies to be a particularly satisfying endeavor. She credits her MBA curriculum with helping her gain skills in collaboration and consensus-building and the law school for stimulating her individualistic work ethic. “You learn a lot about businesses, finance, accounting, and marketing in the program. As an attorney, in order to have your own clients, an MBA is definitely useful.” It was the pairing of the two that was ideal for Zhordania, who discovered a thirst for the more specialized career path of corporate law.

She immersed herself in the opportunities unique to the program, such as mock trial, “the best experience I had in law school.” After giving a successful opening statement in her first year on the stand, professor Robert Cochran urged her to pursue litigation, insisting that she was meant for the courtroom.

“It was so much fun competing,” explains Zhordania. “That’s what I love about practicing law: it’s so much fun being in a courtroom!” The fervor with which she captivated the mock trial arena carried through to her professional life post-graduation, where she soon found herself thriving in the legal world.

“I love arguing, I love trials, and I love depositions,” she admits. “But most of all, I love being in court—I enjoy responding to other side’s arguments and coming up with creative ideas.”

In 2009, as a second-year associate at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, it was Zhordania’s quick thinking that allowed her to successfully defeat a high-profile, $80 million child support claim arising out of a surrogacy contract. Zhordania’s clever statute of limitations defense strategy led to the victory that resulted in a published decision in her client’s favor in Farb v. Superior Court, 174 Cal. App. 4th 678 (2009). As a result of that and various other career triumphs, she was recently selected by the Los Angeles Daily Journal and the San Francisco Daily Journal as one of California’s “Top Five Associates to Watch in 2012.” In April, she was also named among the “50 Fast Track Lawyers” by The Recorder.

Today, Zhordania practices at Mckenna Long & Aldridge, a Los Angeles-based firm positioned at the intersection of law, business, and government where the corporate attorney continues to hone her passion for the law.

“Don’t go to law school unless you really want to practice and know that you would love practicing law,” she advises to aspiring attorneys. “I think it’s a challenging career, but if you really love what you do, it’s a guarantee for [personal] success.”

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