Anca

Estate Planning Attorney

In every elderly client, I see my own parents and grandparents. I get to learn about their lives and their families. In many ways, Bayview is similar to my home in Romania: access to legal aid is limited, and if we don’t help, no one else will.

“I’m from Romania originally but moved to the U.S. in 2001 to study law at Hastings. Growing up in a communist society, I saw a lot of injustice and corruption all around me. People would go to court but never actually achieve anything because the entire system was stacked against them. I hated that. These people had no one on their side.

After law school, I worked for a bit in the corporate world. It wasn’t for me, though, because I had to go against the little person. I didn’t want to fight for people with power; I wanted to fight for those without it. I had seen so much unfairness growing up, and it reminded me too much of that.

I left the corporate world to pursue estate planning. I’m working on establishing my own firm, but right now I’m a contract attorney at Open Door Legal. I help clients with wills, trusts, and power of attorney. It gives them peace of mind when they know what will happen after they die.

I just opened a probate case for one of my older clients. Probate is long and tedious, but I knew that if I didn’t help, no one else would. He could lose everything, including his house, and end up homeless. I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t help him.

In every elderly client, I see my own parents and grandparents. I get to learn about their lives and their families. In many ways, Bayview is similar to my home in Romania: access to legal aid is limited, and if we don’t help, no one else will.”

Photography © Jona Bocari

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.