Service offers students help navigating legal system

Angela Gray

Even if you’re not studying law, as a college student, knowing your rights and how the legal system works can be beneficial.

The University Student Legal Service provides legal assistance to students. The number one issue students need assistance with is housing, director Mark Karon said.

In some cases, there are limitations for the legal service because the services are part of the University, he said.

“Our services are closely affiliated with the University and we cannot work on cases if there is a conflict of interest,” Karon said.

The legal service cannot work on a case in which University parties are pitted against each another because both are entitled to their services, he said.

“If there are cases involving University housing, fees, grades, or hospital and service bills, we cannot step in because it is all part of the ‘U.’ “

“It’s like trying to fire your own boss,” he said.

Attorneys with the legal service cannot represent clients against private businesses and organizations. Also, they will turn down cases if there is a lack of resources or too much time and evaluation needed, he said.

“For example, with divorces, if there are a lot of stocks, pensions and financial assets (involved), we would have to spend an inordinate amount of time on (that) one case, and therefore could not assist the student body as a whole,” he said.

Rose Campbell, a marketing junior, said she contacted the service because she was evicted from her apartment.

“I was living at Melrose with three other girls and we were having conflicts with one of them,” she said. “The management moved us all around (to) different apartments (in Melrose) and evicted me based on the conflict.”

Campbell said the legal service could not help with her eviction because her roommates were University students.

“The services were still somewhat helpful.” she said. “They told me what to prepare for and helped me figure out the options I did have.”

Peter Netzel, a civil engineering junior, said he has used the legal service on multiple occasions.

The first time he contacted the organization was when his landlord tried to evict him from his apartment, Netzel said.

“My roommates and I were having too many parties, making too much noise, things that kids do,” he said. “But we felt an eviction was unjust.”

Netzel said an attorney read him his tenant rights and assessed whether it was worth his time to fight.

Netzel decided to take his landlord to court. The case ended up being settled out of court.

During the process, the attorney he met with was helpful and informative of how the court system works, Netzel said.

“The attorney that worked with me covered every point in my case,” he said.

Bill Dane, a staff attorney, said University Student Legal Service deals with approximately 1,200 to 1,300 cases per year.

“The number of cases and types of cases can vary a lot from year to year,” he said.

“Many students come in wanting us to go over a lease before signing it, have conflicts with a landlord, or just want to know who is responsible for paying the heat.”

Karon said that if a University student is in need of legal assistance, they should call and make an appointment.

“Students should explain the situation thoroughly and be truthful and honest,” he said.

After a student meets with an appropriate attorney for their case, the organization schedules consultations, informative sessions and make referrals, Karon said.

He said even if a student has an out-of-state case they can help set up referrals with a legal service in that state, he said.

“We cannot change the facts, or get someone unconvicted of a crime, but we will certainly address the issues and make things work out the best that we can,” Karon said.

Even if the organization cannot provide legal assistance, it is never wrong for students to ask for help, he said.

“We’d advise students to come talk to us if they think there is a problem,” Karon said, “before it really becomes a problem.”