Alex

A Housing Law Fellow

The people [at Open Door Legal] are wonderful and committed. It feels like it’s becoming an integrated part of the community in a way that’s only been previously dreamed of. The accomplishments are remarkable.

“I’ve had a lot of people help me when I didn’t deserve it. I went to law school so I could pay it back. After the bar, I looked up places where I could work as a fellow. I found Open Door Legal on the web and decided to apply.

The people [at Open Door Legal] are wonderful and committed. It feels like it’s becoming an integrated part of the community in a way that’s only been previously dreamed of. The accomplishments are remarkable.

I do unlawful detainer (eviction) cases, and it involves a lot of moving parts. Health problems, hoarders, abusive landlords, and that’s just the beginning. Many of my clients remind me of where I used to be– except I had support, and they didn’t. I’m happy that we can provide the support they so desperately need.”

Photography © Lauren Lombard

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.