REDWOOD CITY — In an effort to demystify the legal system and teach residents how to handle their own court cases, San Mateo County will hold a free community law seminar Thursday evening.

The three-hour session, the second offered by the county this year, will give residents the opportunity to sit down and talk to the 50 or more volunteer attorneys expected to attend the seminar.

"Lawyers are perceived as distant and unreachable. But these lawyers actually love the opportunity to sit down and talk to people," San Mateo County Bar Association Executive Director John S. Digiacinto said.

Over the last four years attorneys from the county's private defender program, as well as lawyers specializing in landlord-tenant, immigration, personal injury and business litigations, have volunteered their services during these free seminars.

"It's another way of making the government more accessible to people," Superior Court Judge Mark Forcum said. "We don't want the court to be some intimidating institution, we want it to be seen as a service institution."

People who attend the seminar may participate in a 15-minute mini-consultation with one of the attorneys. They also can sit in on lectures focusing on family law issues and self-representation in court. All lectures and consultations will be conducted in English, however, Spanish and Tagalog interpreters will be available.

According to Forcum, people who attended the county's previous free law seminars were primarily concerned with family law issues. Digiacinto noted that there appears to be a growing interest in self-representation.


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"It's intimidating for a person who has no information to walk into a courtroom," Digiacinto said. "I think people are at least more aware that they need to know something about the law."

The seminar will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the San Mateo County Superior Court Northern Branch, located at 1050 Mission Road in South San Francisco.

Staff writer Kelly Pakula can be reached at (650) 306-2425 or by e-mail at kpakula@sanmateocountytimes.com.