Harold

Consumer Law Client

That’s when a debt collector showed up at my work saying I owed over $23,000– I had no idea what he was talking about. Still, my wages were being garnished; I wasn’t sure if I could make rent.

“I grew up in Hunter’s Point. It hasn’t always been easy– from a divorce in the ‘90s to messy family finances, I finally thought in 2017 I had everything sorted out. That’s when a debt collector showed up at my work saying I owed over $23,000– I had no idea what he was talking about. Still, my wages were being garnished; I wasn’t sure if I could make rent.

I knew I needed help. My brother suggested I check out Open Door Legal. I went and the receptionist told me that they handle cases like mine all the time. ‘If you’re really serious about addressing this issue’ she said, ‘you’ve got to make an appointment.’ That’s when a light came on– she really knows what she’s talking about.

My attorney Philip and I got right to work. We realized that my original debt was only for $11,000 and that despite our best efforts the only path out was declaring bankruptcy. I was finally about to move on– until Philip informed me that, to my surprise, I was still married. It turns out that what I thought were divorce papers 20 years ago were really papers regarding my ‘ex’ wife’s debts.

Sometimes there are seemingly unsolvable problems that keep you awake at night and have a tendency to make you depressed. But the lawyers at Open Door Legal put my mind at ease and helped me face my problem head-on.

Thanks to their help, I’m now legally single, and on the path to financial stability. And it’s clear what has been missing from my life: a partner to share it with. I intend to change that soon.”

Photography © Maya Galicia-Canto

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.