UCI Law Helps Combat Elder Abuse

Nov. 8, 2016

Over the past two years, UCI Law students have gathered at Santa Ana’s Central Justice Center to provide pro bono counsel to elderly individuals afflicted by abuse.

A collaboration with O’Melveny & Myers LLP, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, and Orange County Superior Court Judge Kim R. Hubbard, UCI Law’s Elder Abuse Clinic focuses on protecting seniors and dependent adults from abuse and neglect.

According to the National Council on Aging, one in 10 Americans over age 60 will suffer some form of elder abuse. Such elder abuse cases are complicated, emotionally challenging, and can oftentimes place elders’ homes and life savings at risk.

O’Melveny & Myers attorneys provide direct supervision to UCI Law students, who together have staffed more than 100 sessions since the Elder Abuse Clinic’s inception in September 2014. Students perform intake interviews, prepare declarations and other required court forms, and provide parties with the information they need to present a clear case for or against a restraining order. Once filed, clients usually are scheduled to appear a few hours later in front of Judge Hubbard.

For their role in helping establish the Elder Abuse Clinic and for staffing it with attorneys who provide an invaluable service to underrepresented members of the community, O’Melveny & Myers was honored with the Award for Outstanding Community Service at the LASOC Voices For Justice Dinner last month. Anna Davis, Director of Public Interest Programs at UCI Law, presented O’Melveny & Myers with the award. Attorney Ashley Pavel of O’Melveny & Myers accepted the award on behalf of the firm.

“I could not have hoped for a better attorney partnership,” said Ms. Davis. “Not only did the O’Melveny attorneys model great lawyering for UCI Law students, but they also show by example that they make time for pro bono. Week and week they are there to serve seniors and adults at risk. From that first Friday clinic on September 19, 2014, O’Melveny has been 100 percent engaged. I cannot imagine a better partner for UCI Law, for LASOC, and especially for the litigants that they serve.”

Students who have participated in the Clinic spoke to the value of working so closely with clients in need.

“People come in and are very upset and they don’t have any idea of how to deal with their frustration,” said Tiffany Yim (2L), student leader for the Clinic. “Being able to help them and say ‘we can get you this in four hours’ makes them so relieved and thankful.”

“It makes you feel important to help someone through the legal process,” said Jonathan Santiago (2L), student leader for the Clinic. “When dealing with elder abuse, I feel like I have to lend legal guidance and be a counselor. It feels good to know that you not only provided a legal service, but that you were there for someone emotionally as well.”

Clients have included a 92-year-old man who had more than $100,000 taken from his account, an elderly couple seeking protection against an alcohol and drug-abusing granddaughter, and a 95-year-old man who was a victim of neglect and theft by his caretaker.

Clients also include those responding to a restraining order. Sometimes, Santiago explains, a person may be unjustly served a restraining order by other family members looking to then take advantage of an elderly family member.

Students also relish the opportunity to work closely with seasoned attorneys. O’Melveny & Myers attorneys are hands-off during intake interviews, Yim explained, but will review students’ work and ask additional questions before any forms are officially submitted. In-between servicing clients, students are able to connect with the attorneys.

“It’s very encouraging to find that private firm attorneys will take the time out to do a service like this,” Santiago said. “They’re very helpful because you come across something every session where you’re unsure of what to do and they’re nice in helping you.”

“It’s sometimes difficult for students to meet attorneys in a casual capacity, but in this situation you get to know the attorneys organically,” Yim said. “It’s nice to have an opportunity to pick their brains about their careers and their ideas about the law.” 

"The Elder Abuse Clinic helped me prepare for life after law school by giving me the opportunity to interact with parties during such a tumultuous and critical part of their lives," said Jamie Sutton '16, now working at Greenberg Gross LLP. "Without doing pro bono with the Clinic, I would not have had that direct client interaction that makes legal work so much more meaningful. It is always important to remember the cause—helping the client when they need your help the most—and the Elder Abuse Clinic was the perfect way for me to get exposure to that during law school."

About UC Irvine School of Law

Ranked No. 4 overall in the National Jurist 2016 list of Best Schools for Practical Training, and No. 2, behind Yale, for the ratio of clinic positions, UCI Law is a visionary law school focused on training talented and passionate lawyers and driven by professional excellence, intellectual rigor, and a commitment to enrich our communities through public service. UCI Law is a collegial environment, and our faculty comprises accomplished, nationally ranked thought leaders from around the country with a broad range of expertise. In the 2015 study by University of St. Thomas School of Law, the UCI Law faculty ranked No. 6 in the nation in scholarly impact. More about the Law School is available at law.uci.edu.