Ange

Paralegal

For example, one Friday, around a quarter till five, everyone was about to head out for the weekend. In walks a client in tears; her husband had abused her. She tried to get help from multiple other legal aid organizations but they all turned her away. We were her only option left.

“My parents immigrated to California from Mexico. I was born and raised in the Bay Area, so I’ve seen the changes in San Francisco’s culture first hand. The people who make the community feel distinct are now being priced out.

Originally I wanted to be a police officer; I thought it was the best way to make a difference. After enrolling in some criminal law classes, though, I changed my mind. I saw a lot of abuse within the system, and it seemed that arrests weren’t getting to the root of the communities’ problems.

I started to look for a job where I could address the source of people’s problems, not just provide band-aid solutions. That’s when I found Open Door Legal. I’ve been a paralegal here for almost 3 years still, every day brings new challenges.

For example, one Friday, around a quarter till five, everyone was about to head out for the weekend. In walks a client in tears; her husband had abused her. She tried to get help from multiple other legal aid organizations but they all turned her away. We were her only option left.

We got to work and booked her an emergency intake. I saw this client in her most vulnerable state.

Now, years later, we’ve gotten her a divorce, custody of her kids, and financial compensation. I’ve also been able to build a relationship with her and her family. It’s incredibly moving to see someone’s life transform like that.

Sometimes when I’m working with clients, especially Spanish-speakers, I picture my parents, who risked everything in order to give my brothers and me better lives. No one should have to be in that position. I am so grateful that I get the chance to pay it forward and help my clients live their safest and happiest lives as well.”

Photography © Dale Tan

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.