About the Buhai Center


We protect victims of domestic violence and improve the well-being of children living in poverty. With the help of volunteers, the Buhai Center provides free family law assistance and legal education to low-income Angelenos. We strive to empower people in need and assure them meaningful access to the courts.


We aspire to create a community where poverty is not a barrier for those seeking to resolve critical family law matters.

About the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law

The Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law (The Buhai Center) was founded in the early 1980s by the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Since its inception, the Buhai Center has served as a cornerstone of family law and domestic violence assistance for low-income Angelenos.

Who We Help

Utilizing volunteers comprised primarily of lawyers and law students, the Buhai Center provides free direct legal assistance to over 500 low-income persons and 650 children annually. Through its community outreach, legal education, and referral efforts, the Buhai Center impacts thousands of individuals each year. The Buhai Center handles the most personal and important legal problems an individual can face – issues regarding personal safety, the well-being of children, and a family’s economic security. The majority of individuals who come to the Buhai Center are mothers, victims of domestic violence, and living with their children, and earn an average of $1,523 per month. They often arrive at the Buhai Center desperate, confused, and in grim circumstances. The Buhai Center’s pioneering methods of in-depth legal advice and counsel empower people in need, making them a full partner in presenting their cases in court. The success of the Buhai Center’s program has led to its adaptation by other institutions and agencies in Los Angeles.

Beyond the Doors of the Buhai Center

In addition to its ground-breaking legal advice and counsel program, the Buhai Center works with volunteer lawyers who represent low-income litigants facing barriers preventing them from effective self-representation. Further, in response to community needs, the Buhai Center has engaged in numerous advocacy and system-level change projects. For example, the Buhai Center has advocated for child support reform, which helped improve state and local government collection programs, and launched one of the first joint endeavors with a domestic violence shelter to serve survivors, an innovation that earned national recognition. The Buhai Center has a community college outreach project to connect its services to low-income students, many of whom are parents, who face barriers to their education because of family problems such as domestic abuse. The Buhai Center continues to be active in other systemic reform efforts to help guarantee access to the courts for low-income litigants. Additionally, the Buhai Center authors a well-regarded publication, “California Family Law Basics,” which it uses to train lawyers and paralegals through its continuing legal education programs.

History of the Buhai Center

Founded in 1982, the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law began as a co-sponsored project of the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (BWL), the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (WLALA), and the Los Angeles County Bar Association. In 1981, due to federal funding cutbacks, the largest legal aid program in Los Angeles closed its family law program. Envisioning the impact this action would have on low-income women and children, WLALA, under the leadership of Patsy Ostroy, and BWL, under the leadership of Mablean Ephriam, came together to form a joint project offering assistance for low-income persons in Los Angeles County.

Thus, the “Family Law Project” was born and opened its doors in late 1982 at a location on Central Avenue in South Los Angeles. A fundamental tenet of the Project was self-help: teaching low-income persons to prepare their family law cases and represent themselves in court, with much of the assistance provided by volunteers. Although now commonplace, it was a revolutionary concept in family law at the time. In 1984, the Family Law Project was re-named the “Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law.” During that time, the Los Angeles County Bar determined to join the two other pioneering bar associations as a sponsor, resulting from the efforts of Susan Stockel, an early Buhai Board member. In 1985, WLALA and BWL achieved national recognition as recipients of an award from the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations for establishing the Buhai Center in a historic ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court. Now an icon in family law, the Buhai Center is truly the product of countless individuals: its founders, boards, staff, volunteers, donors, and others, who have worked together to create a living and ever-growing institution dedicated to helping those without the means to engage a lawyer.

Who Was Harriett Buhai?

Harriett Buhai (1916-1983), a woman whose life was marked by activism on behalf of people in need, had a distinguished career spanning over 50 years of American political history. As a certified family law specialist, Harriett provided pro bono legal assistance to families in South Central Los Angeles and was an active member of WLALA. Harriett was at the forefront of attorneys representing low-income women at low or no cost. After her death on December 9, 1983, colleagues and friends at WLALA proposed that the fledging organization, “Family Law Project,” be renamed in her honor. In November 1984, the California Secretary of State registered the new corporation as the “Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law.”

Today, the work of the Buhai Center stands as a testament to this dynamic woman who, in the words of Judge Isabel R. Cohen (Ret.), used her legal talents and “gave them away free, without reward except that which comes inwardly to a person of values who does right in disregard of popular opinion and public appeal.”