Everett was homeless and living in his van when a cop showed up and demanded to see his registration. Everett had kept his van’s registration current, and showed his official notice of registration to the cop, who claimed that it could be a forgery and proceeded to ticket the van. A week later, the same cop returned and, still claiming that Everett did not have registration, towed the van – seizing everything inside that Everett owned.

Everett went to the police department’s towing office to contest the tow, and they illegaly refused to recognize his notice of registration or call the DMV to verify his registration. Instead, they claimed that their computer system identified his car as unregistered and refused to release his van and all his property to him.

Everett became very depressed and started sleeping in parks, turning to alcohol for solace. One day, while sleeping in a park, he witnessed a gang shoot-out in the middle of the night. After the incident, a dectective approached Everett to take a statement, and told Everett to call him if he ever needed anything. Well, Everett did call him about the van that had been illegally seized some months back – and the detective actually called the DMV, verified that Everett had current registation, and filled out a vehicle release form.

But when Everett went to the vehicle lot to get his vehicle, he was told that the vehicle had been sold at public auction and all his property had been destroyed by the city. Worse still, the towing company sent him a bill ordering him to pay for over $3,000 worth of towing fees.

Everett then filed a claim against the city, which was summarily rejected. He approached five different lawyers and was declined representation. He went to every legal aid non-profit he could find and was turned down for help at all of them.

Finally, Everett came to us for help. We immediately filed a lawsuit on Everett’s behalf in small claims court, wrote a court brief for the judge, prepared exhibits, and helped Everett understand what to say in court. When the city arrived in court to defend the lawsuit, all the city’s agent said was “Your honor, I have no idea what is going on in this case – I was just told to deny the claim.”

We won in small claims court. We then began working with Supervisor Malia’s office to get the city to pay all the towing fees. After several more months of advocacy and threatened lawsuits, the city finally agreed to pay all towing fees.

Client’s name and/or photo was changed at his request to protect his identity.


Posted on

May 5, 2015

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.