Baylor Law School makes law user-friendly at annual People’s Law School event

A speaker talks to the audience during the People’s Law School event. Photo courtesy of Ed Nelson

Luke Lattanzi | Staff Writer

Baylor Law School hosted its annual People’s Law School event on Saturday, featuring an assortment of volunteer lawyers, judges and legal experts who taught classes designed to educate the public about the law.

The program was founded by Interim Dean Patricia Wilson in 2005 as the law school’s way of giving back to the Central Texas community. It is free for all to attend.

“The [regular] law school classes are designed for future lawyers, and so they are structured to help future lawyers think through legal issues the way a lawyer would,” Josh Borderud, director of clinical and pro bono programs and Waco City Council member, said. “The People’s Law School’s approach is to take the law and make it accessible and understandable to the average citizen so that they can apply that law to their lives and understand it more completely.”

Borderud said the People’s Law School event is part of a wider array of community outreach programs at Baylor Law. Such programs include Adoption Day, which promotes foster care and adoptions in McLennan County, as well as numerous clinical programs designed to get students involved in hands-on legal work to serve the Waco community.

“It would include our clinical programming, which includes our immigration clinic, our intellectual property law clinic, our veterans clinic, our estate planning clinic and our trial advocacy clinic, where we serve individuals in distinct areas of the law,” Borderud said.

People’s Law School did this by featuring an array of classes, ranging from wills and real estate planning to misconceptions about the U.S. Supreme Court. One course titled “Your ‘Side Gig’: Tax Traps for the Unwary in the Digital Economy” focused on educating people about the potential income tax implications of “side gig” opportunities, such as online shops like Etsy or trading stocks and cryptocurrency.

JRBT shareholder and accountant James Beard, one of the teachers of the course, said he believes in giving back to the community and making tax law more understandable to the average citizen.

“We want to go out and visit with the public just because tax law and tax changes are things that impact everybody, but not everybody thinks about and not everybody knows about, and they can be intimidating and scary,” Beard said. “Hopefully, by having a little communication, we can demystify some of the things and then at least point people to go to the professionals or go to a tax adviser to get help so that they at least have armed themselves with the knowledge that tax law is difficult.”

Second-year law student and People’s Law School volunteer Adam Williams said he supports the program’s mission, especially since he came from a more humble background.

“I come from, how [do] you say, from a normal kind of family,” Williams said. “I was McDonald’s manager for five years, and so coming into this, I really appreciate what they do [by] trying to push the idea of law out there and explaining it to regular people, because it’s horribly complicated. People get stuck in a lot of traps because, you know, you don’t know any better.”

Williams said law school classes are intended for law students with a previously established knowledge base. In contrast, the People’s Law School program offers an opportunity for the law to be explained in a way that the average person can understand.

“We’re going to explain this properly to you, because yes, this is incredibly complicated, and this is not your field, and this is not going to be your career, but something that you just need to know as a person,” Williams said.