People's Law College draws residents' interest

By Mike Scott

Legal News

If you hold it, they will come.

That's the philosophy of the organizers behind the People's Law College in Oakland County. This series of five seminars is developed and managed by the Oakland County Bar Association and its Public Services Committee in conjunction with the Oakland County Law Library.

The first of five People's Law College sessions this year was held in late January and covered property tax issues. All 30 spots were taken by participants and demand for upcoming seminars appears to be just as high, said Lindsay Citrin, a staff attorney for the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Estate Planning Clinic and co-chair of the OCBA's Public Services Committee.

"We're really excited about the great response we have already received and we're trying to reconfigure (the meeting room at the Oakland County Law Library) to allow for more than 30 guests," Citrin said.

This is the second year that the OCBA's Public Services Committee has held its People's Law College but interest seems to be significantly higher this time around as more legal and business leaders become aware of it, Citrin said.

A new topic will be held each of the next four months, including Custody Issues this Tuesday, Feb. 23, starting at 6 p.m. Future topics this year will include: Driver's License & Restoration & Expungement on March 23; Elder Law/Medicaid on April 20; and Bankruptcy on May 25.

The topics covered are generated by the top five topics that bring guests into the Oakland County Law Library, said Laura Mancini, director of Library Services.

"These are issues that impact everyone--not just lawyers," Mancini said. "They really relate to societal issues that many individuals and families face even if they aren't dealing with a legal component."

Issues such as custody and family law, elder law and bankruptcy in particular are heavily researched by lawyers and non-lawyers alike at the Oakland County Law Library, according to Mancini. Topics like elder law will only impact more people as the Baby Boomer generation ages and more adults are caught in the "sandwich" generation, caring for their own children and their parents' long-term needs.

The Oakland County Law Library may play an increasingly important role for residents looking for information on many of these topics, Mancini said. The demographics already support this theory as approximately 60 percent of the library's patrons are not practicing lawyers.

"We try to make it as easy as possible for anyone to ask questions," said Mancini, adding that the law library is funded by taxpayer dollars. "They shouldn't be intimidated at all about coming in and working with us to get answers to their questions."

This People's Law College series is partially modeled after a similar program that the Genesee County Law Library has established with the Genesee County Bar Association, Mancini said. She and her staff began discussing a similar partnership with the OCBA last year. Another popular people's law series has been held for a few years at the Ingham County Law Library in Lansing.

The timing of the People's Law College the first five months of the year is ideal, Citrin said, especially with property taxes kicking the series off each January. That allows guests to get their questions answered before assessments are finalized.

If demand continues to rise, it is possible that the OCBA and its Public Services Committee could extend the series throughout the course of a calendar year, Citrin said, although that doesn't seem likely in the short-term. The committee may also look at recording these seminars in the future to be available on video or by audio MP3 formats.

"Podcasts and videos might be a good resource for us to use and leverage in the future," Citrin said. "If holding more of these seminars is a manageable process then anything is possible."

Paula Zimmer chairs the OCBA's Public Services Committee. She is part of Cooley Law School's Family Law Assistance Project, and also works with Lakeshore Legal Aid.

Offering an educational series that features the Oakland County Law Library not only allows members of the public to ask questions of practicing attorneys who are experienced in these specific subject matters, but also it provides the library with additional exposure.

"It is a nice marketing tool for us because we get guests who come in all the time and say they never knew the law library existed or that it was open to anyone," Mancini said. "We're a service to them so now only is this (series of seminars) the People's Law College but we are the 'People's Law Library.'"

Information about the People's Law College is posted all over Oakland County Circuit Court. Guest speakers can and have also included non-lawyers, such as when Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner spoke about property taxes last month.

The Oakland County Law Library is open six days a week with late hours (until 8:30 p.m.) on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Sunday hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (248) 858-0011 for more information about the library and upcoming seminars. More information is also available at the OCBA's Web site at www.ocba.org.

Published: Wed, Feb 17, 2010

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