“After they stole my truck, I was forced to sleep in a park.”

-Everett

Torts Law

Thanks to a weak system of enforcement, property rights for the poor are frequently ignored. We’ve seen landlords, relatives, and even the government steal or destroy everything an individual owns – and yet the victim is still unable to get help or compensation. If lawyers were available to everyone, we could ensure that all households in San Francisco – rich and poor – could enforce their property rights and have a fair chance to improve their livelihood.

Featured Story: Everett Wilson

Everett is a homeless man who lived in a van. One day, the police came and illegally towed the vehicle – they claimed he did not have vehicle registration when in fact he did. When he showed them the current DMV registration they replied that it was properly a forged document. The van was sold at public auction, his personal property was destroyed, and he was sent a bill by the towing company for $4,000.

Understanding the Issue

Property Destruction

Virtually nobody will help an individual whose dispossessed of property worth $10,000 or less, even if it’s their entire life savings. We’ve seen landlords seize and destroy, without any notice, their tenant’s entire personal property. We’ve seen the government seize someone’s entire life savings without ever opening a criminal case.

Personal injury

Poor households by definition have less earning potential, which means they get much smaller damages when they are injured. For an identical injury, a middle-class person might receive several tens of thousands of dollars, while a poor person would receive a few thousand at most. The small damages available to poor people means that almost no private attorneys will help them, and almost no legal aid nonprofits will help either. This means that when poor people are injured, they have to fend for themselves.

CITATIONS

1. American University, Key Studies and Data About How Legal Aid Improves Housing Outcomes https://www.american.edu/spa/jpo/toolkit/upload/housing-7-30-19.pdf

2. George Washington Law School, In Pursuit of Justice? Case Outcomes and the Delivery of Unbundled Legal Services https://scholarship.law.gwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi

Ever since childhood, our co-founder Adrian has been dedicated to reducing poverty.

He studied systemic poverty in college and went to work in the field for a few years. Eventually, he had a thesis that legal aid was the most cost-effective way to address poverty in America. He wrote up a business plan and used it to apply to law school. 

The idea was to create the country’s first system of universal access to civil legal representation that ensures everyone can obtain timely, competent legal help for any legal issue, regardless of ability to pay. That had never been done before in the history of the United States.

In law school, he met Virginia, our Programs Director. Together, they co-founded the organization, two weeks after Adrian passed the bar.

When we opened we put a sign in the window, and with just that marketing and almost no other outreach we were overwhelmed with requests for help from people with good cases who had been turned away everywhere else.

Our first year we had revenue of $35,000. We would hand shred documents because a shredder was too expensive. Despite the financial challenges, we were able to work on over 280 cases in everything from housing law to family law to consumer law in the first year alone.

The hours were extreme, the pay was low, and the learning curve was steep. Still, we persisted. We knew that almost everyone we helped was not able to receive services anywhere else. Eventually, we attracted the interest of funders. We tripled our revenue for several years in a row. In 2015, we won the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, which enabled us to expand even more. In 2019, we secured additional funding from the city that allowed us to open two new centers in the Excelsior and Western Addition.

As of 2020, our staff has grown to 27 full-time employees. We’ve shown that universal access is possible. Now, we plan to scale city-wide, make San Francisco the first city in the country’s history to have universal access to legal help, and become a model for national replication.