ADZ Law is proud to announce that we are the recipient of the 2021 Elinor Falvey Award given by the Women Lawyers Section of the San Mateo County Bar Association. This honor recognizes a person or organization that excels in maintaining a commitment to advancing the interests of women. Our partners, Tulin Acikalin and Jessica Dayton, accepted the award with the following remarks:
“It is such an honor to be recognized among this list of exceptional women and organizations who have been recipients for the last 35 years. Elinor Falvey was a trailblazer and this award in her name is incredibly meaningful. As we look back to remind ourselves of the prior award recipients, we were struck by the thought that we have personally been present for almost half of them. We also note that we are the first private law firm to be recognized. The prior recipients included bench officers, attorneys, and non-profit organizations. To be recognized as a private law firm confirmed to us that we really did achieve the goal we set for ourselves when we had this crazy idea in 2015.
The A and the D and the Z all came from domestic violence, social justice, and advocacy backgrounds. We were leaders within our organizations, and we were at the forefront of all domestic violence work done in the community. We were on the ground level of the first statewide Domestic Violence Firearms Compliance Unit, which started in San Mateo County. And when the state funding for that critical project ran out, we wrote the grant for federal funding to keep it going. We created the Domestic Violence Pro Bono Project collaboration between CORA, BayLegal, and Legal Aid Society. We were on all the committees. Between our roles, we touched almost every single domestic violence case that went through the court for 10 years, in one form or another. We also became the closest of friends.
After 10+ each years with our corresponding organizations, we brought our dreams to the next stage of our careers. We wanted to create our dream law firm- to us that meant continuing to represent in the righteous cases, to never sacrifice our philosophy, and to run a profitable business. Through countless lunches, dinners, and bottles of wine, we turned our dreams into a business plan.
In addition to representing victims of domestic violence in family law cases, we wanted to branch out to represent victims of sexual assault. We also wanted to pursue tort remedies for these victims. California has the first tort dedicated to domestic violence and almost no one knew about it. We came up with a way to take on these personal injury cases and we learned how to do it along the way.
It was most important to us to stay true to our passion. Some of the first documents we created included our case acceptance guidelines (literally a color-coded flow chart) and our Firm Philosophy.
Today, 5 ½ years in, we rely less on the written guidelines and know we can trust our gut- our current case acceptance guidelines require that a case meet one of the “3 P’s”- (this is something we borrowed from a fellow civil litigator and it applies beautifully) The case needs to make the firm a Profit, the case needs to affect a Policy Change, or it needs to Piss us off.
When we started, it was just the three of us plus one receptionist. We have now grown to a firm of 13, including 7 lawyers, 4 paralegals, and 2 office administrators.
We are so proud to have succeeded in finding a way to keep the lights on, while doing good work. Our family law case load supported us branching out into the civil torts as we had envisioned. In the last 5 ½ years, we have represented in:
- 14 sexual assault cases against Uber
- 2 sexual assault cases against Massage Envy
- 2 adult survivors of child sexual assault against education institutions
- 22 Individual tort cases against domestic violence and sexual assault perpetrators
- 8 legal gender/name change petitions
- 530 family law cases
Nearly all our family law cases have a domestic violence component. What our clients often want, more than anything, is for the perpetrator of abuse to get better and be a good parent. It is our greatest success when we are able to work with opposing parties and counsel to get everyone thoroughly assessed and into treatment, like individual, family, or reunification therapy, using methods like EMDR therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, or get them on medication, or get them education and training. We believe in neuroplasticity and work hard to give families every chance to succeed. The state of California is investing substantial resources into identifying and addressing adverse childhood experiences (“ACES”)—which domestic violence is one—because of the long-term negative outcomes children experience when they have ACES. We are in a unique position as family law attorneys, judges, and court staff, to intercede to prevent further damage and provide treatment to recover from past damage to give families and children the opportunity to thrive.
But not all individuals are ready for personal growth and when they are not, our experienced litigators are ready to use every tool in our litigator’s tool chest to provide safety and demand accountability. We all have a regular trial practice on custody, domestic violence, and property issues.
While many of our clients are high wage-earning executives, doctors, and high-level employees of Silicon Valley tech giants with vast estates, we believe firmly that these remedies and tools we offer should not be reserved to only the wealthy. We provide substantial pro bono assistance in a variety of ways.
We take individual cases pro bono or, when clients have exhausted their ability to pay, we convert cases to pro bono, reduce fees, and offer deep discounts. We have also recently partnered with a business that offers financing for legal fees.
During the pandemic when we knew families were being forced into isolation and child abuse and domestic violence was skyrocketing, we partnered with Bay Area Legal Aid, CORA, and the San Mateo County Law Library to offer free legal advice clinics for survivors. Our attorneys participate in policy advocacy and volunteer work in such organizations as San Mateo County DV Counsel, LPC, Family Violence Appellate Project, La Cas De Las Madres, CORA, Family Justice Center, Trial Lawyers, and Women Lawyers.
Given the deeply challenging end sometimes emotionally traumatic work that we do, listening to stories of child abuse, sexual assault, fear, and powerlessness, we also firmly believe in self-care and have created a supportive firm environment.
We have always been a tech forward, flexible firm who values the diverse experiences of our employees. We routinely hire people with no or little legal or family law experience. We hire mothers returning to the work force who have been the CEOs of their families or former prosecutors. We offer reduced hours and flex hours to accommodate family obligations—whether it is taking a parent to medical appointments or attending your child’s band performance or kindergarten graduation. We supported one of our remote employees working from New Orleans to take and pass the California bar. We have former California Pizza Kitchen servers who have advanced from receptionist to paralegal and office managers. Our philosophy as employers is that you are only limited by your own imagination. We will never limit your advancement.
So, when the pandemic arrived, and more than half of our workforce suddenly had kids at home, we made it work. Everyone pitched in to make sure clients’ needs were met. We did not lay off a single employee due to COVID. We had employees approach us offering to take a pay cut to ensure that no one would be laid off and offering to help each other out when childcare responsibilities got in the way. We also started weekly afterhours happy hours on Zoom so people could remain personally connected—and they were very well attended. And when one of our associates went out on maternity leave unexpectedly 5 weeks early, we did not miss a beat. Everyone pitched in. We provide a substantial benefits program including retirement contributions, health care, and an Employee Assistance program because access to quality mental health services is important when you are doing this kind of work.
We are intentional in creating a workplace that honors vulnerability, hard work, and showing up with your best self every day. This work is not easy and sometimes we fail, but each day we get up and face the challenge. We will leave you with quotes from Brené Brown whose work on vulnerability gives us the courage to run our firm true to our values.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. . . [it is] the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.
To all the members of the ADZ Law team, we salute you! And thank you to the Women Lawyer’s Section for honoring our firm with this award and to each and every one of you for the good work that you do.”