Heidi

Volunteer

Open Door Legal has taught me the power of passion. Passionate people can catalyze change and transform communities. I see that fire within everyone who works here. It is not enough to recognize injustice– to make a difference, you must be dedicated to fighting it.

“I lived in Colorado until I was 12– it wasn’t diverse at all. Both of my parents immigrated from Korea and struggled with English. We were treated differently because of that. I often felt like an outsider.

I hated the unfairness, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Then, I had a breakthrough: I could fight this through the law. Consequently, I worked hard, got into college, and majored in Legal Studies.

In 2017 my friend invited me to go to Open Door Legal’s annual gala. I knew nothing about Bayview and little about legal aid, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I went anyway. I fell in love with the mission of the organization.

My passion for Open Door Legal grew and grew. After the gala, Ivy, a former staffer, invited me to take a tour with ODL around Bayview Hunters Point. While we walked, she pointed out different homes our former clients lived in. I could visualize the impact. In that moment, I knew I had to get involved.

Soon after, I began to volunteer as the People and Marketing Coordinator. In my position, I get to interview volunteers, staff, and clients to find out what Open Door Legal means to them.

Open Door Legal has taught me the power of passion. Passionate people can catalyze change and transform communities. I see that fire within everyone who works here. It is not enough to recognize injustice– to make a difference, you must be dedicated to fighting it.”

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.