Rory’s Story

Her daughter’s father threatened to file for full custody


Rory-blurHailey, Rory’s seven year-old daughter, has only met her father a handful of times, not because her mother forbade her to, but because he was not present.

Rory and Justin had never married, but Rory has made an effort to incorporate him into Hailey’s life as best as possible, even if it means building a father-daughter relationship over the phone.

Rory did not fully understand the process of obtaining child support and thus subjected Justin to a sup-par payment plan. Justin was out of state at the time and claimed that child support would hinder his business. For the sake of civility, Justin and Rory came to a verbal agreement: Justin would pay a certain amount each month for child support. Months came and went without so much as a penny paid to support Hailey.

This negligence is further perpetuated by his inconsistent presence. Against her mother’s will, Justin only calls when it is convenient for him. Hailey protests every time she must go with her dad because to her he is just another stranger.

“With the help of Open Door Legal, Rory was able to receive full physical custody and joint legal custody of her daughter.”

Rory’s case was taken in by Open Door Legal because she could not afford a private attorney. Upon hearing that Rory was seeking legal action, Justin contacted Rory and pleaded for a private, verbal agreement. He wants to pay the minimum amount — again. When Rory refused, Justin threatened to file for full custody of Hailey.

With the help of Open Door Legal, Rory was able to receive full physical custody and joint legal custody of her daughter. Justin is also subject to pay a fair amount per month in order to cover his daughter’s private school tuition and medical costs. Furthermore, Rory is relieved to have reached a suitable arrangement for both her daughter and herself.

This story was written by volunteer Jasmine Ayala, April 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.