Former Family Law Fellow

After we won, the client pulled us aside. “Never forget,” she told us, “that you saved a little girl’s life.”

“I’ve always dreamt of being an attorney. Law just made sense to me. While in school, I was offered an externship in the family court; I accepted, despite knowing very little about what it entailed.

Family law fascinated me. Surprisingly, there seemed to be many opportunities for second chances. You can receive a court judgment about custody, but if one of the parents changes, the judgment can change too.

While waiting for the results of my bar exam, I wanted to keep giving back to my community. A friend told me about Open Door Legal– it sounded like a perfect fit! I started working on family law cases with Anna.

In one case, we helped a grandmother who was trying to become her granddaughter’s guardian. Her daughter was a drug addict, and the child’s father lived with a sex offender.

Our client had struggled with addiction in the past, and she didn’t want her granddaughter to grow up in that environment. This was her opportunity to give her a better life.

After we won, the client pulled us aside. ‘Never forget,’ she told us, ‘that you saved a little girl’s life.”

I thought I knew the legal world like the back of my hand. Open Door Legal showed me I was wrong. The work we do here changes lives.

You really have no idea what sort of impact you’re making until you’re there, listening to people tell you what this work has meant to them. We give people second chances.”

Photography © Kimberly Pye

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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.