From Gerontology to Attorney: Volunteer Spotlight on Peilin Ngo

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Peilin Ngo pictured left, Jill Hiraizumi pictured right.

Our Volunteer Spotlight allows us to highlight the amazing work our volunteers do for the community every single day. This month’s spotlight is on Peilin Ngo who has been a volunteer with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County’s (LASOC) Senior Citizens Legal Advocacy Program  and Elder Abuse Workshop since August 2015.

Peilin developed a deep passion for working with the elderly after witnessing the challenges of the aging process through a close family member. Upon obtaining her Master of Arts in Gerontology at San Francisco State University, Peilin started working as a Social Worker at an adult day health care center. But when it came to helping seniors, Peilin found there were limitations to her role. “As a Social Worker, I felt my ability to help my clients was hamstrung by my lack of knowledge about the legal process,” explains Peilin. “I would find myself referring clients to other organizations. ‘I can’t help you, but you can contact this attorney’ type of thing. I wouldn’t know what happened to my client and that really bugged me.”

This frustration motivated Peilin to go to law school to acquire additional skills and knowledge to better assist the senior population. “I wanted to see how I could make a difference for my clients in a bigger way,” affirms Peilin. While enrolled at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Peilin met Bill Tanner, an LASOC Directing Attorney, who came to the campus to talk about LASOC’s programs and services. This is when Peilin first heard about the Senior Citizens Legal Advocacy Program.

“I was very interested in the program,” remembers Peilin. “I always wanted to work with low income populations, especially seniors.” So after graduating from Whittier Law School in 2014 and passing the bar exam, Peilin started volunteering with the program.

“Law school doesn’t teach you practical aspects of practicing law,” reflects Peilin. “I was hoping that by being at LASOC and working with seniors I would be able to not only learn the legal process but also work with my desired client population on a legal level.”

Whether by meeting with her clients at LASOC or visiting them in senior homes or at their residences, Peilin’s heart for working with the elderly was evident. “Peilin is very passionate about helping our clients,” says Laura Luu, an LASOC Staff Attorney who works closely with Peilin. “There are many seniors who can sleep better at night because of her assistance.”

A particularly memorable client Peilin worked with was Sandra,* an elderly woman involved in a debt negotiation case. Sandra had a large credit card debt and had been paying a private attorney to assist her. But when Sandra ran out of money, her attorney abandoned her. With no resources or knowledge on what to do about her situation, Sandra called LASOC hoping someone, anyone, could help her. Peilin took on Sandra’s case and helped her prepare for her hearing. “The judge determined Sandra’s bank account contained exempt funds, and therefore, could not be garnished or levied by the creditors,” recalls Peilin. “Sandra was facing serious health issues at the time, so when her case had a positive outcome she was so relieved. I went to visit Sandra at her house after the hearing, and she had prepared a huge hot pot dinner for me. She was so thankful; I won’t forget her.”

While volunteering at the LASOC Elder Abuse Workshop, Peilin met her future business partner, fellow Whittier Law School alumna, Jill Hiraizumi. Both quickly bonded over their shared a passion for working with low income seniors. “It’s funny because I didn’t know Jill while she was at Whittier because she was a year ahead of me,” explains Peilin. “We just started talking a lot; she wanted to do estate planning and I wanted to get into elder law. One thing led to another, and now we are doing estate planning together!”

This year, Jill and Peilin formed Hiraizumi & Ngo, LLP, an estate planning, probate, and trust administration firm based out of the OC Community Law Offices, an extension of LASOC which sits adjacent to the LASOC headquarters in Santa Ana.

“My connections with LASOC have allowed me to get advice on not just legal issues, but also on how to be a better attorney. Whenever I have a question, Bill and Laura have always opened their doors to me,” says Peilin.

“Mentorship is huge here,” says Bill. “It’s not just about what our volunteers can do for us, but it’s also about what we can do for them. How can we help them in their personal and professional goals to make them better attorneys and advocates?”

“It seems things have just fallen into place for me,” smiles Peilin.

When Peilin is not volunteering or working, she likes to spend time with her family, her two cats, and her dog.

If you are interested in volunteering with LASOC, contact us at give@legal-aid.com.

 

*Name has been changed to protect identity.