On Saturday the Austin Bar Association, UT Law School, the Lawyer Referral Service and Austin TV station KEYE presented the People’s Law School at the UT Law School, a free semi-annual community event featuring basic classes taught by lawyer volunteers in many types of law. I’d first learned of its existence the night before from a blurb about it on KUT radio, checked out the Web site and figured it would be a worthwhile
field trip — always looking for interesting topics and people. Sessions included family law, immigration, wills, business contracts, bankruptcy, debt modification and intellectual property.
In the day’s opening session, Judge Orlinda Naranjo of the 419th District observed that the People’s Law School concept was predicated on the belief that regardless of financial means, everyone should have access to justice, and that sharing general information and knowledge was an important means of supporting that vision. She went on to note that individuals attempting to represent themselves in court has become such a trend that the Texas Judicial Council has increased its attention to resources for pro se litigants.
The particular genius of this approach is that rather than dissuading people from consulting lawyers, it subtly helps attendees better appreciate the necessity and value of professional legal advice.
For example, despite a few gratuitous (IMHO) pointed asides about online legal document template vendor LegalZoom, in his presentation on basic contracts Jason Snell was able to demonstrate through a few “dos and don’ts” slides that no matter how simple a contract seems, there are any number of subtlties that can be overlooked and prove costly down the line. For example, an improper signature on a contract could make you personally liable rather than your company.
So instead of dreading and maligning the legal DIY trend, enterprising lawyers could profitably co-opt it. In the example of “basic” contracts like contractor agreements and leases, there is a general public perception of high cost/low value to engaging a lawyer to draft what is perceived as a simple document. However, a competitively priced service that reviews agreements might seem like a prudent and attractive bargain.
While the general public might be reluctant to pay for a lawyer’s contract writing skills, they will pay for peace of mind — even if the cost ends up being the same.
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