For Alumnus Patrick Kelly '69, Public Service Takes Center Stage

Patrick Kelly feels strongly enough about giving back through legal service that he was willing to forego a life playing guitar for well-known musical groups to pursue it. Instead, he made public service a through line of his long legal career and a campaign platform in his recent successful run for president of the California State Bar.

Kelly, who was a professional musician before enrolling at Loyola, still calls members of the Beach Boys friends and plays occasionally with the band. But his primary passion remains the law. As senior managing partner and director of litigation at Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP, he handles some of the firm’s biggest cases, focusing on defending corporate officers and directors, insurance companies in bad-faith litigation, ski resorts in liability lawsuits, lawyers and accountants.

Serving the public was not always at the forefront of Kelly’s mind. “When I got out of law school my goal was to do one thing: win cases. Period. The end. There was no other agenda,” he said. But strong mentors transformed his thinking. “They taught me another agenda: community service, equal opportunity, professional excellence, access to justice for all of our citizens. They taught me that there is more to it than just winning cases.”

While Kelly loves the art of courtroom battle, this member of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers finds greater satisfaction in the cases he keeps from reaching the courtroom. And he plans to use his leadership position to encourage more attorneys to resolve cases through negotiation instead of litigation. “A lot of cases end up taking clients’ money and making them mad at each other by walking the long litigation road when the better public service would have been to try and help the people come together at the outset.”

Kelly has served on a laundry list of boards and task forces aimed at helping attorneys and those they aim to serve. A past president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, he was chair of the committee that founded the organization’s magazine, the Los Angeles Lawyer. He served as a member of the board of trustees of the California State Bar and was on the founding editorial board of the California Lawyer. He also served on the board of directors of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, among many others.

 Kelly entered Loyola with his sights set on entertainment law. But he chose a different path upon graduation, becoming a lawyer for the Southern Pacific Railroad. “I had a lot of offers,” he said. “I picked the one that would give me the most trial experience the quickest.” Later, Kelly teamed up with Loyola classmate and friend Larry Feldman ’69 at a Los Angeles plaintiffs’ firm. He found defense firms a better fit and moved on a few years later. But he savors the lessons he learned from representing clients on both sides of the aisle. “I have this philosophy that people should be treated fairly,” he said. “I will always insist that my clients offer what I in my heart believe is fair in a given case.”

 In the years since he graduated, Kelly has retained strong connections to the Law School, where he served on the Alumni Association Board of Governors from 1974-1980 and earned the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2010. He sits on the board of the Law School’s Advocacy Institute, a center that emphasizes practical skills-training initiatives such as the Semester-in-Practice program and the Civil Litigation & Advocacy Concentration.

“I think the gift Loyola gives to its students is the ability to go to a first-rate intellectual law school while at the same time gaining practical experience and guidance at the very highest level,” he said. “I think Loyola is the best law school around for that very reason.”

 Kelly is a firm believer in practice—a philosophy he honed while working in music. “It teaches you preparation,” he said. “You can’t play a good song unless you prepare for it and practice. The Beach Boys’ harmonies? They worked for hours to get them right.”