Mary

Volunteer

I’ve always advocated for the well being of families in my classroom, so my next challenge seemed obvious: fighting for them in court.

“I moved across the country– from Texas to San Francisco– to pursue teaching. After working in an elementary school for 10 years, I wanted to find another way to help out families.

When I found out I was pregnant, one of the first things my husband and I did was set up a trust for our children. We did this so that if anything happened to us, there would be a plan in place to make sure our kids would be okay.

This sort of planning is crucial, yet it’s so inaccessible for many people in San Francisco. I’ve always advocated for the well being of families in my classroom, so my next challenge seemed obvious: fighting for them in court.

While I was still in law school, I heard Adrian present about Open Door Legal. I was moved– this was exactly the sort of work I’d dreamed of doing. I had to get involved.

I worked on Estate Planning cases, where I helped families just like mine plan for their children’s futures.

Now, I have two twin boys and have helped countless families in Bayview make sure their hard-earned homes can go to those they love most in the world; their children.”

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.