Sumaya

Immigration and Family Law Volunteer

Knowledge is power. For a client to understand their case fully, it’s empowering. It gives them a grip on reality.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The literal language translation itself doesn’t always work. There’s also a cultural part.

I helped in two Arabic-speaking women’s cases. One woman was applying for a visa based on honor-killing; she had married inter-faith. In the U.S., you can marry whoever. In her case, she was seeking asylum because of the danger.

Understanding the culture and society is a huge part of access to the law. Helping them in Arabic gave them the tools to be empowered and have access to more. It gave them confidence to have Arabic representation. If they have questions and concerns and they can’t ask, they are afraid. But with me, when they are intimidated, they could just ask me.

Now they have a better understanding of their cases. They understand the situation, rather than someone just handling papers for them.

I think the subject of the law is so empowering. How to improve societies or develop countries always starts from the understanding of legislation and its problems. It’s important to have knowledge about why things are functioning the way they are.

Knowledge is power. For a client to understand their case fully, its empowering. It gives them a grip on reality.”

Vision Zero Displacement Call-Back
































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.