Ruth and Wilber

Ruth and Wilber own a beautiful house in Bayview, where they have lived for decades after their marriage. The couple, however, had much to worry about in the past year. Wilber’s deteriorating health peaked since his first stroke and the day he was diagnosed with cancer. Concerned about her husband and her estate, Ruth foresaw the pain and the costs her grandchildren would endure on the day they inherit her property. Probate court would be expensive, time-consuming, and an unpleasant way to honor hers and Wilber’s life.

To avoid such pain, Ruth came by Open Door Legal and asked for an attorney. Together with Wilber, she wanted to make a will and a living trust to leave their estate to each other and then to their three grandchildren. Fortunately, Open Door Legal is one of the very few organizations that do estate planning for low-income families. Gibson, one of our staff attorneys, took on Ruth’s case and started gathering all the necessary documents to make her wish come true. Gibson drafted a Grant Deed and a Revocable Trust, which distributed Ruth and Wilber’s assets equally amongst her grandchildren.

A couple of months after Ruth first entered our office, the court successfully accepted and validated her will and her living trust. Probate court and unforeseeable legal disputes do not cross Ruth’s mind anymore. She is grateful for Open Door Legal and glad she can spend time with her loving husband without having to worry about their estate.


Posted on

July 16, 2015

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.