Building economic stability in low-income communities

LaShayia never thought one dentist appointment could change so much

When LaShayia’s dad died, she lost her best friend. She also lost her insurance. When she got a serious toothache, she went to the only dentist she could afford to have the tooth pulled. After the procedure, LaShayia knew something was not right. She realized they had pulled the wrong tooth.

When she told her dentist, they refused to compensate her. LaShayia called a dozen private attorneys, and they all turned the case down because the payout wouldn’t be high enough.

Lashayia found Open Door Legal. We took her case, and in the end got the dentist’s office to pay for the entire procedure, the new implant she’d need, plus additional funds for pain and suffering. Now, she and her daughter can finally relax. 

The problem

For low-income people, a wrongful debt, an injury, or a malpractice case can ruin their economic well being. For private attorneys though, the payout isn’t high enough to take on the case. Since most non-profits do not take consumer cases, low-income people are unable to seek recourse.   

Our solution

Provide universal access to all consumer civil litigation problems so that low-income people can effectively defend their rights.

 

More than 1/3 of low-income people struggle with a consumer legal issue

According to the Legal Services Corporation, over one-third (37%) of low-income households have experienced consumer and finance problems in the past year.¹ The most common issues in this area include difficulties with creditors or collection agencies (affecting 16% of households), having utilities disconnected due to nonpayment or a billing dispute (14%), and having problems buying or paying for a car, including repossession (8%).

%

Percent of low-income families that struggle with a consumer issue each year

Help more families like LaShayia’s

Meet our consumer law clients

Read more consumer stories here.

Cheyanne’s Story

Roland’s Story

Robin’s Story

Our consumer law outcomes

Learn more about our outcomes here.

Thousand dollars awarded to our clients

Thousand dollars of debt cancelled

Families served

Explore our other areas of law

CITATIONS

1. Legal Services Corporation, 2017 Justice Gap Report, 
https://www.lsc.gov/media-center/publications/2017-justice-gap-report

CITATIONS

1. American University, Key Studies and Data About How Legal Aid Improves Housing Outcomes https://www.american.edu/spa/jpo/toolkit/upload/housing-7-30-19.pdf

2. George Washington Law School, In Pursuit of Justice? Case Outcomes and the Delivery of Unbundled Legal Services https://scholarship.law.gwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi

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.