Alumni-Built Legal Aid Nonprofit Competes for Top Google Prize

Bayview/Hunters Point Community Legal is finalist in Impact Challenge

By ARVIN TEMKAR, OFFICE OF MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS Posted Wed, 09/30/2015 - 10:56

A legal aid organization founded by two USF School of Law alumni has been named one of the most innovative nonprofits in the Bay Area by Google — and could win a $500,000 grant, if it garners enough public support.

Bayview/Hunters Point Community Legal (BHPCL), which provides free legal assistance to residents of one of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods, is among 10 finalists in the Google Impact Challenge, a competition created to recognize nonprofits that develop creative solutions to Bay Area problems.

The top four winners, chosen by public vote, will receive $500,000 grants, while the remaining six will get $250,000. Bay Area residents have until Oct. 20 to cast their votes online, in bus stops, or on “digital paper” billboards in stores and food trucks. 

What if your employer refused to pay?

Bayview/Hunters Point Community Legal was founded two years ago and is the country’s first “universal access legal aid provider,” meaning it guarantees residents living in the 94124 zip code free legal representation on every viable legal problem they face, says Adrian Tirtanadi JD ’12, founder and executive director. Legal assistance is an often-overlooked part of social justice, he says. 

“Without legal representation you essentially have no bargaining power,” Tirtanadi says. “Imagine if your employer never paid you — how would you force him to without a lawyer? You could try, but you’d be very ineffective.”

Bayview-Hunters Point residents can go to the center for help with illegal evictions, employment issues, child custody cases, and more. The nonprofit is currently handling more than 100 open cases in over a dozen areas of law, and is expanding its services to two more zip codes.

BHPCL is also testing a community development program to help local businesses and entrepreneurs, who may be ineligible for traditional loans, access capital.

Tirtanadi hopes the publicity from the Google Impact Challenge will bring in new donors who can help support the nonprofit on an ongoing basis.

“Awesome reputation”

Tirtanadi’s team includes more than a dozen USFers, including undergraduates who earn service-learning credits; law school alumni who volunteer part-time; and a USF School of Law assistant dean who serves on the board.

“USF has an awesome reputation for social justice lawyering,” Tirtanadi says. “I spent my whole time at law school thinking about and working to start the nonprofit. I recruited my friend and classmate Virginia Taylor to start it with me.”

Tirtanadi’s law school application was a summary of his business plan — and a challenge to USF.

“I was like, ‘I’m gonna do this,’” he remembers. “Do you want to help or not?”

It turned out that many people — from professors to students — did.

“The Bayview is a very underserved community,” says law professor Bill Hing, who has donated to the nonprofit. “BHPCL’s staff is hardworking and very dedicated to delivering quality legal services in a respectful manner.”

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