Coming from a family of attorneys, Mary Vail developed an interest in politics and public service at a young age. She didn’t want to pursue law for personal gain, however; she wanted to use it toward charitable or governmental service to help her community. To make her goals a reality, Ms. Vail obtained a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1971 and a JD from the University of the Pacific in 1974. That year, she also became admitted to practice in the state of California.
With the conclusion of Ms. Vail’s academic journey came the start of her professional one. She joined Volunteers in Service to American Attorneys and the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation in 1974, and left to become the director of the Women’s Research Center at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department in 1977. A year later, Ms. Vail was hired as a staff attorney for sections and committees by the State Bar of California and as an instructor of sex discrimination and law at Golden Gate University Law School. She quickly garnered a reputation for her drive, focus, and passion, and advanced quickly through the industry. She proceeded to move through positions like field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board, senior staff attorney for the State Bar of California’s Office of Legal Services, chair of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, and member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, among many others. To this day, she remains involved as a member of the Oakland Measure LL Police Commission Selection Committee, the Bar Association of San Francisco, the East Bay Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Neighbors for Racial Justice, and the Oakland Coalition for Police Accountability.
One of the most memorable moments of Ms. Vail’s career occurred when she was the senior legislative counsel for civil rights and legal services for the state bar. They were experiencing Regan cuts to the legal services corporation and civil case legal aid, and they had an interest on legal trust accounts legislation that provided a second source of revenue for legal aid organizations. Ms. Vail was instrumental in getting a senator in Oakland to carry the bill, which eventually got passed. She is very proud of her work there, as well as of her work to enhance and reform the civilian oversight of police departments.
When Ms. Vail has spare time, she enjoys gardening, reading, and domestic travel. She is also a feline and Lhasa Apso dog guardian and a local political advocate.