Pro Bono: A Synergy Between Professional and Philanthropic Interests

Tom-ElkeThe Justice & Diversity Center’s (JDC) Volunteer of the Month for May is Tom Elke, who has represented low-income tenants pro bono since 2011 through JDC’s Eviction Defense Project. A native San Franciscan, Elke hopes to protect vulnerable community members in a changing city from losing their homes and leaving San Francisco.

Elke had always wanted to be a trial attorney, and began his career as a district attorney for Napa and Santa Clara Counties. He then followed his father into plaintiff’s personal injury law, where he enjoyed being in court often. Feeling drawn to help less advantaged people access the same resources as wealthier and more educated people, Elke opened a landlord-tenant law firm with Alex Merchant in 2013. Elke is also on The Bar Association of San Francisco’s Executive Committee for the Solo and Small Firm Section.

Elke first learned of JDC’s Eviction Defense Project while at housing court, waiting for the court to call his law-and-motion matter. He began taking on full-scope representation for low-income tenants because “volunteering was a synergy between [his] professional interests and philanthropic leanings.” He once got a landlord to dismiss a case to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent by producing at settlement conference the postmarked envelope showing the tenant had sent rent within the three-day grace period but the landlord improperly rejected it. The tenant would not have thought to bring the envelope, but it saved his home.

Elke notes that, similar to this case, many other JDC Eviction Defense cases that he’s taken have issues stemming from lack of access to resources underlying their legal issues. He thus appreciates that JDC provides holistic services, giving clients both legal and social services.

Because of skyrocketing rents in San Francisco, Elke and his law partner have almost more business than they can handle.

Outside of his busy practice, Elke enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, ages 4 ½ and 3.

JDC’s Eviction Defense Project offers both full-scope and limited-scope ways to help low-income San Francisco residents. To learn more, visit or email