Karina’s Story

Karina* needed help to protect her daughter

KarinaKarina always wanted a family to call her own but didn’t opt to do things the traditional way–she fell in love, had a daughter, but never got to wear the ring.

Like every couple, Karina and Julio had their share of ups and downs. Karina’s aunt was generous enough to provide them with housing. One night, however, things escalated in the shared home when Julio and Karina’s aunt got into a heated argument that left Karina fearing for her aunt’s life. 

Seeing the hostile situation, Karina decided to get the police involved. Julio ended up hurting Karina in an attempt to stop her from reaching the police. Despite Julio’s forcible resistance, Karina was able to eventually contact the police and obtain an emergency restraining order on Julio.

The restraining order did not do much to soothe her worries because before Karina knew it, Julio had found ways to contact Karina and let her know that he wanted to be a part of his daughter’s life. In an attempt to try and fix things with the man that was once the love of her life, she decided to allow Julio to see their daughter after the restraining order had expired.

 “With the help of Open Door Legal, Karina was able to achieve the goal she wanted: keeping her child protected both mentally and physically.”

Things were proven to be futile when she realized that Julio was now affecting their daughter’s well-being due to his refusal to properly supervise her. Karina’s daughter also wanted to stay with Karina. It was when her daughter’s well-being became an issue that Karina began to take action and grasp both of their futures into her own hands by contacting Open Door Legal in pursuit of getting full and legal custody of their daughter in addition to a permanent restraining order on the father.

Open Door Legal was able to get a court hearing for Karina’s case which resulted in sole physical and legal, a temporary custody order, and help to the father to get on the right track through parenting classes and mediation with Karina.

With the help of Open Door Legal, Karina was able to achieve the goal she wanted: keeping her child protected both mentally and physically. Since the hearing, Karina’s daughter’s academics have improved tremendously and she has even undergone therapy to help her move on to a brighter and safer future.

This story was written by volunteer Emily Rivera, March 2016.

*The name and photos have been changed to protect the client’s identity.

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.