Lawyers in Mall Court Mark Law Day With Free Samples of Advice

Times Staff Writer

The serious-faced young man looked cautiously over his shoulder before slipping into the central court at Topanga Plaza, where lawyers were dispensing free legal advice Saturday.

When he was certain he was not being watched, he whispered his question.

How could he sue a group of space aliens who have worked with the CIA to turn his parents into clones?

“I told him it was too big a case for me,” said Steven M. West, a Woodland Hills lawyer. “I suggested he get the files he thought the government had on him through a Freedom of Information request and then call an attorney who is experienced in federal work.”


Easier Questions

The space case was just about the only one Saturday that 12 lawyers participating in a Law Day event at the Canoga Park shopping center couldn’t handle.

Volunteer attorneys from the San Fernando Valley Bar Assn. listened to 140 passers-by outline problems ranging from drunk-driving arrests to consumer complaints and a neighborhood dispute over a cat.

Law Day, authorized by Congress in 1961 to commemorate this nation’s system of justice, will formally be observed on Thursday. But Saturday was a good day for lawyers to find shoppers with legal quandaries, said Lee K. Alpert, president of the 1,150-member Valley bar association.


“You can’t solve every legal problem in the 10 minutes or so that we give here. But some people who think they have a legal problem really don’t. And we can tell them that they don’t need a lawyer,” Alpert said.

Event organizer Gary L. Barr, an Encino lawyer, said the attorneys at the clinic were instructed to resist the urge to hand out their own business cards to the drop-ins. That rule also goes for the 40 lawyers expected at two more clinics scheduled for May 3 at Northridge Fashion Center and Panorama Mall.

Those with problems that cannot be solved on the spot are being advised to contact the bar association’s lawyer-referral service for further action, he said.

Cherrie Devoogdt of Canoga Park stopped at the Topanga event to complain about a consumer product.


‘Their Fees Are Terrible’

“I’m intimidated by lawyers, and I know their fees are terrible,” she said. “My husband saw this advertised on the shopping center marquee yesterday on his way home from work, so I decided to come.”

Topanga Plaza shoe store manager Robin Little hurried over on her work break to ask for advice about a lawsuit.

“It’s perfect for me and good public relations for them,” she said. “People can see that lawyers are not bad guys. You don’t have to go to a big law office and have some guy in a suit look down on you.”


Michelle Ulick, 19, of Sherman Oaks stopped at a lawyer’s table to ask for advice about law school.

“I’ve wanted to be an attorney since I was this high,” she said, holding her hand at waist level. “I figured it was less intimidating to come here than just call someone on the phone and not know if they would talk to me.”

Saturday’s advice session was co-sponsored by the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce.