Legal crash courses are a force for public discourse

Baylor Law School, which has been accredited since 1931, is the oldest law school in Texas. Photo courtesy of Baylor Law.

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer

People’s Law School will bring bite-sized legal classes to the Waco community from 9 a.m to 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the Baylor Law School.

Baylor Law School hosts the annual event focused on educating members of the community on common or public interest legal matters. Sessions are taught by law school faculty who volunteer to teach on topics ranging from property law to presidential power.

The event consists of three one-hour long sessions and is open to anyone who wants to attend. Pre-registration is encouraged but can be done on-site Saturday morning.

Patricia Wilson, a law professor at Baylor, organized the event. Among the classes offered, Wilson said, is a core group of perennial offerings that always draw a crowd.

“We regularly offer a course in wills and estate planning as well as elder law. We always have, I think every year, offered a course in family law,” Wilson said. “Those always draw people because there’s always someone who is facing for the first time the fact that they probably need to have a will or they are planning for themselves or for their elderly parents. We have a core group of courses.”

This year’s slate has 20 different classes, seven of which are new. Ed Nelson, a spokesman for Baylor Law, said he finds interesting classes each year and that introducing new classes keeps the experience fresh for repeat attendees.

“For a lot of people, the concept of the law can be scary, and there are so many laws and rules and regulations depending on what the issue is,” Nelson said. “I’m not a lawyer myself , and there are so many things I don’t understand, so I look forward to the People’s Law School every year because I personally learn something new each time.”

Courses are selected to cover a wide variety of topics and to appeal to a wide swath of people. Baylor students may take a particular interest in “Law School: How to Get In.” Nelson said he’s excited for a class with a unique pop-culture angle.

“This year the course that I am most looking forward to is titled ‘Don’t Learn Your Law From the Movies’ where snippets of movies will be played that make for great cinema but doesn’t make good law, doesn’t make real good legal sense,” Nelson said. “We have a Baylor lawyer explaining where they got it wrong in the movies.”

Most lawyers presenting the classes are from the Waco area, though efforts are made to bring in outside experts when topics require them. Wilson said lawyers who make time to teach the classes see it as a way to reach out to the community.

“They see it as a way for them to give back to the community,” Wilson said. “It gives them an opportunity to talk about what they do and to answer questions that they get frequently from people who have an interest in understanding that area of the law.”

Wilson began organizing Baylor’s first People’s Law School in 2005 and every subsequent edition since. Wilson said the program stemmed from a request by the State Bar of Texas to emulate other versions of the event.

“We’re not the first one to offer the People’s Law School and in fact the consumer law section of the State Bar of Texas asked us to do one,” Wilson said. “The University of Houston has been doing one, and they were hoping that we would do something akin to what they were doing in Houston in Central Texas.”