Jim had been trying to create a will for a while.

In fact, in 2001, he drafted his own version but couldn’t find an affordable lawyer to help him make it official. 15-years later, Jim found himself 63 years old, unmarried, and without children. Even so, there were people in his life for whom he wanted to leave a better world. He often thought of his house in the Bayview and of his roommate and nephew that lived there. What would happen if he died? Would they be able to afford the rising rent in San Francisco? When Jim looks back now, he can still feel the weight of those questions. “The will loomed over my head for years! Everything in the city is so expensive, and I wanted to get it done before I couldn’t anymore.”

The will loomed over my head for years! I wanted to get it done before I couldn’t anymore.

Then, out of the blue, Jim found his answer. “It was a Wednesday,” he remembers. Jim had just checked in for his Uber shift when his first passenger stepped in his car. Her name was Rose, and as it turned out, she worked for a nonprofit legal clinic called Open Door Legal. Goldman could not resist asking if they worked on wills. When she said “yes,” his heart nearly leaped out of his chest. Here was the service he had never known to look for.
Jim didn’t wait to set up an appointment with Open Door Legal. He stopped by that week and began working with our co-founder, Virginia Taylor. “Virginia was awesome, and everyone was so cordial. Turns out I even went to high school with one of the attorneys.” Two months later, Virginia finalized Jim’s will. Jim knew exactly how his legacy would have a profound impact on the people he loves. “It’s a huge relief, especially as my health issues intensify.” Since that day, Jim has showered the Open Door Legal team with kindness by bringing cookies to the office and even becoming a donor.

It’s a huge relief, especially as my health issues intensify.

Jim continues to be proactive about “getting his affairs in order”. With the will taken care of, he’s moved on to renovating his home and taking care of his garden. He often encourages his friends to be proactive as well by referring them to Open Door Legal. “What you guys do for the community is so important. Keep up the great work!”

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.