Zulaika

Housing and Family Law Client

One day my landlord told me that she was selling the building. When the new owners came, they said my kids and I had to leave. They wanted to kick me out of my own home. I was lost on what to do: I didn’t want to move, but I didn’t want an eviction on my record, especially when I had done nothing wrong.

As a child, I never had a place to call home. My mom was on drugs and we were constantly moving around. After some time being homeless my two children and I ended up renting a house in Bayview.

One day my landlord told me that she was selling the building. When the new owners came, they said my kids and I had to leave. They wanted to kick me out of my own home. I was lost on what to do: I didn’t want to move, but I didn’t want an eviction on my record, especially when I had done nothing wrong.

I knew I had rights, but I didn’t know how to do something about it. I tried to get help but it didn’t work– it felt hopeless. Luckily, I was referred to Open Door Legal. They took my case and immediately started working on it.

Open Door Legal helped me get $35,000 from the new owners and extend my time in my house so that I could look for a new place. My attorney kept in touch with me every step of the way. It was A1 service.

I had such a positive experience at Open Door Legal that I ended up coming back again for a child custody issue. They helped get me full custody on the day before my birthday. That was the best birthday present I could have asked for. Today, life is still crazy – but now that I have stable housing, these problems feel much more manageable.

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.