Cynthia

A Staff Paralegal

One case I worked on involved an elderly woman being defrauded from her home. I knew there were bad actors in the real estate space, but I didn’t realize how sophisticated the scams were. It’s an issue that will affect the seniors in Bayview the most. The lengths that people will go to rob senior citizens of their property, it’s incredible.

“I worked for eight years as a litigation paralegal. Sure, the pay was great, but the amounts the large companies would fight over only affected the bottom line. At the end of the day, only the shareholders cared. You would see your cases in the headlines and it was thrilling to go to trial but at the end of the day, none of it mattered. I wanted meaning in my work, so I took a 50% pay cut to work in legal aid.

Before, I wasn’t being challenged. Now, I’m being challenged every day. I have to learn new things and new processes all the time. I’m exposed to areas of law I’d never encountered and I’m learning so much!

One case I worked on involved an elderly woman being defrauded from her home. I knew there were bad actors in the real estate space, but I didn’t realize how sophisticated the scams were. It’s an issue that will affect the seniors in Bayview the most. The lengths that people will go to rob senior citizens of their property, it’s incredible.

I’m a San Francisco native and I’m proud to say I live in Bayview. Being able to help my neighbors, that’s what I really love. Seeing clients in my neighborhood and knowing Open Door Legal was able to improve their lives, that’s what makes my job so fulfilling.”

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.