Anne

Community Affairs Intern

Open Door Legal doesn’t help the community as outsiders; they’re integrated into the community. They have shown me what it means to be empathetic and understanding. I’m able to see what it looks like to treat people as humans and to serve, respect, and represent people even though they may not have a ton of money or power.

I grew up in San Francisco, in the Excelsior District. When I was nine, my church moved to the Bayview, so I started coming more and eventually moved here. As I grew familiar with the community, I began to notice how much inequality surrounds the justice system. I wanted to help even the playing field, right here in my own backyard.

When I heard about Open Door Legal through my church, the mission seemed impossible: how could an organization provide free legal services to everyone who walked through its doors? It felt like the solution to the injustice I had seen. Now I’m interning with them over the summer, researching the relationship between homelessness and legal aid and the ways in which universal representation can improve the lives of those who have been displaced.

Open Door Legal doesn’t help the community as outsiders; they’re integrated into the community. They have shown me what it means to be empathetic and understanding. I’m able to see what it looks like to treat people as humans and to serve, respect, and represent people even though they may not have a ton of money or power.

Working at Open Door Legal has only increased my passion for public interest law; now, I plan to pursue it as a career. Bayview is such a communal neighborhood, but it remains notoriously underserved. I hope that by helping to provide legal services, I can give back to this community as much as it has given me.

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.