One of my favorite free information sessions is coming up in a few weeks — the People’s Law School, sponsored by the Tarrant County Bar Foundation.
Now in its 11th year, the school is open to the public and taught by attorneys and judges. It covers 12 popular legal topics, and attendees can choose up to three. Around 200 attended last year.
Topics for the April 11 program include wills; real estate taxes; probate; veterans issues; starting and running a small business; elder law/abuse; self-representation; government resources; bankruptcy, foreclosures and debt consolidation.
The bar foundation has added three sessions in Spanish, covering immigration, real estate and consumer law.
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“It was my idea to add the Spanish sessions,” said Jessica Sangsvang, a Fort Worth attorney and chairwoman of the school. “It’s another segment of the community we could reach out to.”
While the 50-minute class on immigration law does not include one-on-one attorney consultations, it will expose students to a new service in Fort Worth — a local office of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES.
“We opened offices in December here and in Dallas,” said Andrea Aguilar, managing attorney for the Fort Worth office. “There are not a lot of pro bono legal providers in Tarrant County.”
RAICES, started in 1986 in San Antonio, is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to provide legal representation for unaccompanied young immigrants, Aguilar said. The office aids the youths for free and provides services for others at a reduced fee, she said.
“People who come to our office frequently find other routes to obtain residency or qualify for a work visa,” she said. “At my session, I’ll be talking about how to immigrate through a family member or employer but also alternative paths such as visas for victims of domestic crime and survivors of torture in their homeland.”
J. Michael McBride, a Fort Worth attorney specializing in bankruptcy, will teach a seminar on bankruptcy, foreclosures and debt consolidation.
“There are so many credit- and mortgage-repair companies where they say … ‘Pay us $250 a month and we’ll hold it for you and negotiate your debt for you,’” he said. “But most of them are scams and don’t do what they say they will. It’s not that hard to negotiate with the company.”
McBride said he will detail which bills to pay first when you can’t pay them all.
“A lot of people keep their credit cards current because they call and hound them,” he said. “Meanwhile, they aren’t making their house payment or paying for their medications or — even worse — getting a home loan to pay for credit card debt.”
McBride will discuss zombie debts, which have been sold for pennies on the dollar to investors, who employ harsh tactics to recoup the money. He will explain consumer rights in dealing with debt collectors.
Another topic will be the downside of reverse mortgages and equity loans.
“Texas has always had the best homestead exemptions,” he said. “But it’s easier now to lien it up, and that can take a bite out of homestead.”
Sangsvang said the school has added a session on veterans issues. That corresponds with a free clinic by the Tarrant County chapter of Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans that provides one-on-one help for veterans 10 times a year. The clinic, for veterans and spouses of deceased veterans, is available by appointment only. Learn more at www.txltxv.org.
“The session focuses on resources that most veterans are not aware of,” Sangsvang said.
Another session will provide resources for all types of consumer and government benefits, she said.
The Tarrant County Bar Association also offers Legal Line, a free call-in service from 6 to 8 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. Call 817-335-1239 during those hours.
It also has a lawyer referral service where the public can receive 30 minutes of consultation for just $20. The service can be reached at 817-336-4101 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net.
The People’s Law School
▪ 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. April 11
▪ Texas A&M School of Law, 1515 Commerce St., Fort Worth
▪ Free. Register at www.tarrantbar.org.