Shirley’s Story

Shirley Is Determined

To Help Her Grandson Thrive

Shirley took Anthony into her home at just six months old. 12 years later, Anthony’s talents began to attract the attention of everyone – from athletic recruiters to his unstable mother. Shirley knew that in order to keep her grandson safe and give him the opportunities he deserved, it was time to seek legal guardianship. Open Door Legal partnered with her to make that dream come alive.

For twelve years, Shirley has raised her grandson like her own child. At just six months old, Anthony’s father died and his mother was sent to prison. Shirley raised him in their stead. She never sought adoption or guardianship out of respect for her daughter.

As the years passed, Anthony grew into a bright and joyful young man. He excelled at whatever he set his mind to – be it public speaking, science, tennis, basketball, acting, or football. By middle school, recruiters were beginning to take notice. Anthony joined exclusive traveling sports teams that gave him the chance to see the world. He also received offers to act in films and to speak in front of city officials. “He had become a shooting star,” Shirley beams. Soon, Anthony’s estranged mother began to take notice as well.

“I couldn’t help him do the things he wanted to do or become the person he wanted to be.”

That’s when Shirley began to wonder if she needed to become Anthony’s legal guardian. Without guardianship, Anthony’s options were limited. Shirley was unable to sign the forms necessary for Anthony to travel with his team or take part opportunities that needed a parent’s consent. “I couldn’t help him do the things he wanted to do or become the person he wanted to be.” Equally as concerning, Shirley couldn’t protect Anthony if his mother suddenly returned. That’s when Shirley realized that unless she became his guardian, Anthony’s future would be very unstable.

Soon after, a friend told Shirley about Open Door Legal. Shirley was hesitant about visiting the office at first. “I hated going down to Third Street because I could never find any parking.” One day, however, she drove by the office and saw a parking spot directly in front of the office. “A nice man was sweeping the leaves out in front. He offered to park my car for me and helped me get connected to the attorneys.”

“The attorneys were so nice and accommodating. I could tell that they were in it to win it.”

That day, Shirley opened her case with Open Door Legal. “The attorneys were so nice and accommodating. I could tell that they were in it to win it.” The following eight months flew by. By January 9, 2018, Open Door Legal had won the case. Shirley was now Anthony’s official guardian.


Anthony and Shirley were overjoyed. “I immediately felt a great peace about it,” she remembers. “Anthony jumped up and down and said, ‘We won? We won! We won!’ On the way home he asked me, ‘It’s just you and me now, huh Granny?’ and I said, ‘Yes baby. It’s just you and me.’”

I’m so at peace now. Whatever [Anthony] sets his mind to, he’ll accomplish. He’s going places. I just hope I get to see it.”

Today Anthony and Shirley are headed for great things. Now that she’s his official guardian, Shirley has already signed off on Anthony’s trip to Canada to play with his sports team. This semester, Anthony was awarded honor roll at his school. He told Shirley that he wants to go to college and become a doctor. “I’m so at peace now. Whatever he sets his mind to, he’ll accomplish. He’s going places. I just hope I get to see it.”

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.