By Andrew Cohen
Adjusting to new realities and rejiggered expectations is a huge challenge for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Blake Mollberg ’19, it’s second nature.
Shortly before graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a medical condition re-routed her dream of becoming a pilot and a commissioned officer. True to form, rather than dwell on the disappointment, she took it as “an incredible opportunity for personal and professional growth that only deepened my commitment to public service.”
Mollberg became a social worker, and interned at the Department of Veterans Affairs Combat-Related PTSD Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program in Denver while pursuing her Master of Social Work degree. She later continued her social work career at the VA’s Oakland Outpatient Clinic.
The latest step on her service path began last week, when Mollberg started the one-year Christopher M. Patti Legal Fellowship. Given annually to a recent Berkeley Law graduate interested in public service, the fellowship provides valuable experience in issues faced by public and nonprofit entities. It also honors Patti, an education law leader who served as UC Berkeley’s chief campus counsel before he was killed by a hit-and-run driver while cycling in 2017.
Mollberg will rotate through each of UC Legal’s Oakland-based practice units every three months and also support projects through UC Berkeley’s Office of Legal Affairs. Her rotations will be with Education Affairs, Employment & Governance; Litigation & Capital Strategies; Business, Finance & Innovation; and Health Affairs & Technology Law.
“It’s an unparalleled chance to learn more about the legal issues facing the University of California system while gaining practical experience in such a broad range of areas,” she says. “Having finished law school just before the pandemic, and seeing the challenges it presented for local municipalities in my work as a Bridge Fellow at the Office of the Oakland City Attorney, I became even more interested in the legal issues the pandemic created for public entities.”
An admirable legacy
A member of UC Legal for 27 years, Patti was a constitutional law expert deeply committed to equity and diversity, including providing access to higher education for all underrepresented groups and securing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I remember learning of his tragic passing in law school and reading about his impressive career and accomplishments at the time,” Mollberg says. “But it was during the interview process, when I had the opportunity to speak with some of his colleagues who knew Chris, that I really gained a sense of who he was as a person and the passion he had for public service. I’m honored to carry on his important legacy.”
While Mollberg found her social work efforts rewarding, a nagging urge remained to “effect more change and make more of a difference in the greater community as an attorney.” After a year at Golden Gate University School of Law, she transferred to Berkeley Law.
Legal work and social work may seem like starkly different paths, but every day Mollberg sees her past training provide relevant law-practice skills that she draws on regularly as an attorney.
“While my professional path has taken some unexpected turns, I never fully closed any chapter,” she says. “Each transition — letting go of my military aspirations to be a social worker and leaving social work to become a lawyer — has been an opportunity to continue my professional development and gain more knowledge to be a better advocate in the public interest sector.”
“Having seen so many of the veterans I worked with as a social worker struggle to find or maintain stable housing, I was very excited to actually advocate for clients and represent them in court,” she says. “As a social worker I’d been able to support veterans through challenging times and provide them with resources and referrals, which is absolutely necessary and critical. But finding my voice as an advocate in an area of the legal system where social welfare intersects with housing law was an exciting moment.”
Mollberg gave birth to her first child during law school, and her husband is a UC Berkeley graduate. With their two kids now “among the littlest bears on campus” attending the university’s Early Childhood Education Program, she calls her new UC-focused fellowship “a perfect fit.”