Omar

Former Litigation Attorney

I saw a lot of poverty and economic depression growing up in Ohio. Now that I am a lawyer, I’m able to see how much this experience has influenced me. I want to use my law degree to help low-income communities and to ensure that people, like my clients, get the treatment they deserve.

“I’m from a small town in Ohio right outside of Cleveland. It’s part of the Rust Belt, a pretty low-income area in general. The poverty there has a different feel than the poverty in San Francisco, though a lot of the underlying causes are similar: racial segregation, white flight, old factory jobs that left.

After a while, though, I wanted to get out and see different parts of the country. I went to law school in New York but was eager for another change. That’s when I found Open Door Legal’s website. Their goal of creating universal access to representation drew me in. Now, as a litigation attorney, I’m helping them achieve that goal. I had worked in legal aid before, mostly doing immigration work, but I had never worked for a place that tackled so many different areas of law. I had to learn how to work with a greater variety of cases and clients.

One of my clients was injured in a car accident several years ago. The injuries he sustained made him unable to continue his job in construction. He’s been trying to get his insurance company to pay for his healthcare costs since. Last week, he got the full judgment from small claims court– $10,000! That’s huge; it’s about two-thirds of his annual income. After years, he finally got the compensation he deserved.

Working on this case reminded me why I went to law school. I saw a lot of poverty and economic depression growing up in Ohio. Now that I am a lawyer, I’m able to see how much this experience has influenced me. I want to use my law degree to help low-income communities and to ensure that people, like my client, get the treatment they deserve.”

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.