How This Attorney Provides Legal Services to Those In Need

Spotlight on Adrian Tirtanadi

Born and raised in Washington D.C., Adrian Tirtanadi learned the value of hard work and compassion from his father, an architect, and his mother, a nurse. Adrian received his bachelors in political science from the University of Maryland College Park, graduating Summa Cum Laude. 

After graduation, he worked as a project administrator for Port Towns Community Development Corporation and developed an economic development resource center. During this time, Adrian came up with the idea of integrating community development and legal services for the poor.

He became dedicated to turning this idea into reality and moved across the country to attend the University of San Francisco, School of Law. After passing the bar, Adrian founded Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal on January 7, 2013. As of May 2015, BHPCL has closed 400 cases, serving Bayview Hunters Point’s most vulnerable residents. Here’s a look at Adrian and the work he does.

1. What did you want to be when you were a kid?

 After reading bits and pieces of the encyclopedia when I was in eighth grade, I learned about how poverty reigned over the developing world and marginalized communities in the United States. I was young and inexperienced, but I pledged to fight poverty ever since. It was that early in my life when I decided I’d move to San Francisco and become a lawyer. First, however, I studied systematic political and economic theories during my time as an undergrad at the University of Maryland, College Park.

I wanted to study the structures that perpetuated poverty so I could then design realistic solutions for the issue. I even wrote a framework for a new and more inclusive Constitution of the United States, which was published by the university. 

2.     What was your very first job?

Before starting law school, I decided to get some work experience on the field of community economic development, which I thought was a pertinent way to fight poverty. I Googled every nonprofit with “community development” in its name or description located within a 60-mile radius from my house in DC. I went to each of these places – cold and without a résumé – and was hired by Port Towns Community Development Corporation. During my time as a Project Administrator, I ran a mural program, a business development program, built a website, and wrote a bill that eventually became a law.

I, however, decided to leave Port Towns so I could broaden my impact and find another – perhaps more effective – venue to fight economic inequality.

 3. What did you think you'd do when you started law school? How is what you do now the same/different?

When I left Port Towns, I already knew what I was going to do next. I was going to create a universal access center for legal representation for the residents of one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco. In fact, I wrote the whole business plan before applying to law school. After three years at the University of San Francisco School of Law, I did as planned: I founded Bayview Hunters Point Community Legal, the first nonprofit in the country to guarantee the ability to access legal representation for everyone living in a single neighborhood.

So, to answer the question, I'm doing exactly what I expected to do.

4. In two sentences, what is your career about today?

I’m a nonprofit executive at a legal aid organization.

 5. What's a typical day like for you?

There are no typical days! Some days, I’m meeting with donors and volunteers, and reviewing work with my staff. Other days, I help the staff troubleshoot problems, build our database, and do legal research. In the meantime, however, I’m always contacting clients, responding to grievances, conducting interviews, and designing graphics. Every day is a new day! 

6. What are you currently reading? 

I just finished a book on the history of Venice. So interesting! I’m now starting a new one on the social history of Greece and Rome. I’m learning a lot about the role of women, slaves, and the poor during the Ancient Roman and Greek empires. 

7. What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self or a person starting their career?

If you plan on doing public interest work, you must realize how little funding there is for it. As a result, nonprofits don’t have the capacity to accommodate everyone who wants to work with public interest, which makes the field extremely competitive. You must be really determined and focused to make that goal a reality. It is upsetting, but only 20% of the need for public interest work is being met, and yet lawyers that want to pursue this type of career cannot find jobs.