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Free legal guidance for University students

From the Winter 2012  Parent Newsletter

College students rarely think they’ll ever need an attorney, but for 35 years University Student Legal Services (USLS) has provided U of M students with legal advice and representation on a range of issues.

More than 600 of this year’s freshmen first encountered USLS during Welcome Week at the beginning of fall semester, when they attended a program explaining their rights and responsibilities as adults. Many more are likely to meet USLS staff at a renters’ workshop in late January or early February. Shortly after the start of spring semester, staff attorneys and paralegals, along with the Minnesota Student Association, Housing and Residential Life, and Student and Community Relations, will present workshops for students who plan to live off campus next year. The programs will discuss what to look for in an apartment, students’ rights as renters, documenting communications with landlords, topics to review with potential roommates, and ways to avoid conflicts with community neighbors.

Students can visit the USLS West Bank skyway office to have a rental agreement reviewed before signing it. An expert on tenant rights can check the lease for unusual stipulations and can point out red flags or perhaps reassure the student that the landlord has a stellar reputation. After they have moved into their first apartment, students can meet with USLS staff for help negotiating repair problems or damage assessments. For more on housing help, see Off-Campus Housing.

USLS staff also work with student concerns about adoptions, divorces, and wills. They review employment contracts and insurance policies, help students recoup losses on defective goods and services, and help with visas and forms connected with study abroad. A student who receives a citation for underage consumption or a misdemeanor for driving while intoxicated can talk with an attorney about options. Staff will notarize documents for no charge and, if unable to assist with a legal issue, will provide referrals.

USLS staff includes six attorneys and two paralegals, along with support staff. Their educational programs and workshops give students the information they need to avoid lawsuits and legal difficulties. Topics include social host risk management (avoiding problems when hosting a party), consumer rights, credit and debit card problems, fire safety, and identity theft.

A student board of directors guides USLS programming and services. When students recently recognized a need for budding entrepreneurs to learn about the legal, financial, and personnel challenges of forming a start-up company, USLS developed a “Start Me Up” workshop. Dozens of students have attended to explore their business ideas.

The board sponsors an annual careers-in-law forum, inviting law schools from all over the country to recruit students. The forum has recruitment opportunities in law enforcement agencies and public policy organizations such as the FBI, police departments, corrections offices, U.S. senate and congressional offices, and nonprofits. As USLS director Mark Karon explains, “The jobs and internships available are not just for students who want to be attorneys. These agencies and offices are looking for students who know technology, have communication skills, and can do marketing or help with the business side of things.”

USLS is funded by the University’s Student Services Fee. Students can obtain services for free or at reduced costs. Other units funded by the Student Services Fee include the Recreation Center, Boynton Health Service, Student Unions & Activities, the Learning Abroad Center, Radio K, Minnesota Daily, Student Conflict Resolution Center, and the Aurora Center.

Student with USLS staff.