Finding Help on Campus: Legal Services
Hire a cheap lawyer
Jenny Ternes suspected there was something wrong with her new car. It stalled. Neither the brakes nor the cruise control worked properly. And the last time the University of Kansas senior took the vehicle in for repairs, mechanics tinkered with it for 21 days. Ternes wanted her money back. But she had little idea how to lodge a formal complaint against the manufacturer.
So Ternes turned to the university's Legal Services for Students for help. Over two meetings, an attorney worked with Ternes to draft a grievance to the car company, suggesting that Ternes detail the problems with the car, her financial situation, and the reasons she had for purchasing the vehicle. She also initiated proceedings last month under the state's lemon law.
Since the early 1970s, when activism was on the rise and more kids began moving off campus, many colleges and universities have offered help to students with legal woes. This assistance can vary in scope and size, with some schools employing attorneys and others staffing clinics with law students or trained undergraduates. Most centers consult on a wide variety of cases, from consumer issues to identity theft. Landlord-tenant issues are particularly common. "Because [students] are transient, it is easy not to return that security deposit," says Mark Karon, director of the Student Legal Service at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. But university-run services typically will not handle cases against the school or those involving two students. And some might restrict court representation to civil court.
Deal. Still, it would be hard to find a better bargain. Consultations are usually free or offered at a minimum cost. At the University of Kansas, for example, students pay $7 per semester as part of their regular student fees. Local attorneys, on the other hand, charge $125 per hour, according to a survey by the university's legal services.
Price was a consideration for University of Virginia senior Saam Fouladgar, who filed a "tenant's assertion" against his landlord for health code violations including standing water in the basement and a dishwasher that collected sewage. "I wasn't sure how much I wanted to invest to see a lawyer," says Fouladgar. "But once I found out there was free legal advice from the university, I didn't hesitate." Fouladgar won $3,105 to repair the damages and is awaiting the outcome of the landlord's appeal.
This story appears in the April 18, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.