As a child, Jeffrey Kwong frequently found himself translating the world for his mother, a single parent who had immigrated to the United States before Jeffrey was born.
“I watched her struggle to work multiple jobs to support the family, while also trying to navigate language barriers so she could, for example, talk to the utility company to dispute a bill,” he said. “It wasn’t just my mom—it was my entire immigrant community. And I didn’t want to sit around and not do anything about it.”
In high school, Jeffrey spent many of his weekends volunteering for a literacy program in his Monterey Park neighborhood, working with immigrants on their language skills while also helping their children with homework. In college, he volunteered at a local community center doing similar work.
Jeffrey heard about NLSLA during his first year of law school at UC Berkeley, when he was searching for a summer internship in legal aid. Although he interviewed with NLSLA, he spent the summer working for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, where he met someone who was struggling to pay for medical treatment for terminal cancer because he had a large amount of child support arrears. Jeffrey helped him navigate the process of adjusting those arrears, and the experience changed the course of his career.
“That’s how I learned about bankruptcy, and how it could be a very powerful tool for giving honest but unfortunate debtors a fresh start,” he said. “There’s a certain stigma about bankruptcy – people think that once you file a bankruptcy petition, all of a person’s debts are automatically discharged. They think it’s a way of dishonoring or breaking agreements. But often, the purpose is to figure a plan that is acceptable to creditors and to the debtor.”
Today, Jeffrey is a partner at Levene, Neale, Bender, Yoo & Golubchik L.L.P., where he represents Chapter 11 debtors, unsecured creditors’ committees, secured and unsecured creditors, and parties in bankruptcy litigation and appeals from a variety of industries.
He also devotes a great deal of time to his volunteer work with the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association (SCCLA), and to a monthly legal clinic that SCCLA runs in partnership with NLSLA. Advocates who have worked with Jeffrey at the clinic have been awed by his dedication and kindness, and in May 2023, NLSLA President and CEO Yvonne Mariajimenez invited him to join the NLSLA board.
“It’s so great to be part of an organization like NLSLA that provides so many different critical services,” he said. “Someone might come through the door seeking assistance for an immigration issue, but also receive help with housing, public benefits, healthcare, or bankruptcy. That kind of holistic service is especially important for people who are trying their hardest to support their families, and who are struggling to survive.”
On October 26th, Jeffrey will be honored with the Pro Bono Community Champion Award for his work with SCCLA and NLSLA.