Paul Loh didn’t spend much time thinking about public interest law when he was making his way through law school. Loh, who now serves as NLSLA’s board president, grew up in the South Bay suburb of Torrance, far away from the hardships that plague so many people living in poverty in Los Angeles.
“I had never dealt with people on the far end of the spectrum – people living on the margins,” Loh said. “It was only later that I saw how hard it was for so many people just to get through the day.”
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1992, he spent a few years with a white-collar criminal defense firm in Beverly Hills, and then joined the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office because he wanted to spend more time in the courtroom.
It was during his four years as a public defender that Loh saw the devastating effects of economic and social injustice.
“I had clients who were homeless, and so many of their crimes were the result of living on the street,” Loh said. “I kept thinking, ‘Why can’t we intervene before this becomes a criminal justice issue?’”
Loh went on to found his own firm – Willenken LLP – that is now a nationally recognized litigation boutique representing fortune 500 companies. In 2012, his friend Richard Tom, a longtime NLSLA board member, encouraged him to get involved with NLSL’s work.
“I was really impressed by the high level of advocacy,” Loh said. “I thought, ‘Wow these guys are really good lawyers.’”
Loh recognized some of the same issues he had seen as a public defender.
“I started understanding more about what [NLSLA] did and it kind of took me back,” Loh said. “These were the advocacy efforts that maybe would have prevented some of those people from landing on my case file when I was a public defender.”
Loh, who joined the board in 2012, and became President in 2018, is especially excited about NLSLA’s growing advocacy efforts to prevent and address homelessness.
“NLSLA has always done eviction defense, which in my view is the most effective homelessness prevention,” Loh said. “But we now have a larger concentrated effort to both prevent and address homelessness, which I believe is the most pressing issue of our time.”
“I know people have a lot of choices about where to invest in philanthropy,” Loh Said, “I choose to support NLSLA because I believe their work really makes a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable people living in Los Angeles County.”