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As ‘People’s Law School’ moves online, founder feels pride in the program

Professor Emeritus Richard M. Alderman, Director of the Consumer Law Center, teaches participants of the People’s Law School how to avoid check scams.

Professor Emeritus Richard M. Alderman, Director of the Consumer Law Center, teaches participants of the People’s Law School how to avoid check scams. 

Oct. 7, 2019 - Hundreds of people from the Houston area poured into the University of Houston Law Center’s classrooms to pick up some basic legal knowledge about subjects ranging from Social Security to tax law to landlord-tenant disputes.

The Oct. 5 event, called the People’s Law School, was the last opportunity to attend live classes covering 13 different areas of law before the popular program, which has been a mainstay at the Law Center for nearly 30 years, goes online.

As Professor Emeritus Richard M. Alderman, who started the school in 1991, approached the stage to welcome the public for the last time, he was greeted with sustained applause in appreciation for the long-running program.

“This is a pretty emotional thing for me,” said Alderman. “I think of everything I’ve done in my career, and what I’m most proud of is the People’s Law School, educating people about their legal rights.”

Moving the program online will give a wider audience access to the information 24/7, he said. “It will continue, but it won’t be the same,” he said. “I really enjoy doing it and having people right there to talk to, but putting it online will enable people that need the information to get the information.”

Presented by the Center for Consumer Law at the Law Center, the People’s Law School is recognized as the oldest and most successful law program for the layperson in the country. An estimated 55,000 people have attended the free program over the years at the Law Center and around the state to learn their legal rights from volunteer lawyers, judges and professors.

 Alderman, known as the “People’s Lawyer,” for many years provided basic knowledge of consumer law and legal rights through regular television appearances and newspaper columns. Although he retired from the law school in 2014, he continues to oversee the Center for Consumer Law.

The online version of People’s Law School will feature much of the information from the live classes. It will cover eight to 10 topics, including consumer law, small claims court, family law, debt collection, starting a new business, landlord-tenant law, he said.

For each subject, the site will include links to the information formerly present in classrooms, along with multiple short videos. For example, consumer law videos will cover the Texas Deceptive Trade Act and issues such as who is a consumer and whom you can sue; what violates the act; and what you can recover. A copy of the act will be provided from a link.

The challenge with the website, said Alderman, is letting people know it’s there. “So now the next goal will be to make sure people know about”

Last weekend, 13 one-hour courses were offered, each taught by different instructors. All classes were geared to provide legal information that the average person should know.
“My goal is at least once during the three-hour program students say ‘I didn’t know that,’” said Alderman.

Based on student responses, he accomplished his goal at the Oct. 5 event.  Carol Benson, of Brunswick, Texas, said the courses gave her “tidbits of information” about Social Security that she needed because her husband is close to retirement.

Karen Sievers, of Missouri City, Texas, who has attended a dozen People’s Law School events — including the first one some 30 years ago —, said she “learns something new every time.” The program in the past helped her and her husband find a lawyer to handle their will.

Shakhar Misir, of Pasadena, Texas, went to the insurance lecture and discovered he may need to adjust his homeowner’s premium. He bought a lower cost home insurance policy then found out it may not cover the value of his property.

“It’s best to have the right property value, it’s best to have a good (reputable) insurance company, and the right kind of policy,” he said. “I overlooked that. So now I have to go talk to my agent.”

Following the Oct. 5 session, a line formed at a table outside where Alderman could be found signing copies of one of his books on people’s legal rights. 

What he will remember most about the program, he said, was the appreciation he felt from those who attended the events.

“Probably the most memorable thing,” he said, “is the number of people who shook my hand to say ‘thank you’ or  ‘God bless you.’”

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