Spencer

Volunteer

I believe that everyone with a legal need deserves a lawyer no matter who they are or what situation they’re in. If you don’t have a way to enforce your rights, you don’t really have them. I hope that the work I’ve done for Open Door Legal brings San Francisco one step closer to creating true equal protection under the law.

“Last year, I had a deposit dispute with my landlord. I decided to file a claim, thinking it would be a breeze. The case took 8 months to resolve and was surprisingly pricey. The difficulty of this process seemed to deter many people from filing claims at all. Dealing with this situation made me realize how complicated the court system is. I wanted to make it easier for people to protect their rights.

In response, I founded a company called LegalWin. Our goal was to simplify the filing process for small claims cases, so they could be done online and at a low cost.

Still, there was so much more that needed to be done to make the law accessible for San Francisco’s poorest residents. After spending hours researching volunteer opportunities, I found Open Door Legal.

I reached out to Adrian and offered to help ODL with programming and engineering. He was in, so I built a system that matches pro bono lawyers with cases in their areas of expertise. This system makes it easier for volunteers to get involved in our work.

I believe that everyone with a legal need deserves a lawyer no matter who they are or what situation they’re in. If you don’t have a way to enforce your rights, you don’t really have them. I hope that the work I’ve done for Open Door Legal brings San Francisco one step closer to creating true equal protection under the law.”

Photography © Dale Tan

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.