Daily Egyptian

You pay $6 for legal assistance — what does that include?

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Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Joe McLaughlin

Going to court is expensive. Between hourly rates for legal assistance, retainers and court costs, charges could pile up to a couple thousand dollars before even stepping foot into a courtroom. For a student especially, that price tag could be hard to manage.  

That’s where Students’ Legal Assistance comes in. Tucked into every student’s bursar bill is a $6 fee that gives them access to legal advice and representation on a number of legal issues.

The law office is on the fourth floor of the Student Services Building in room 493. Julian Watkins, an attorney on staff there, deals with the number one issue the office handles: city ordinance violations, especially drinking tickets.

“I actually go to court with them and represent them and do negotiations between them and the prosecutor to help resolve those issues,” Watkins said.

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University lawyers can also help students with adoption matters and simple, uncontested divorces with no children, two issues Watkins also handles.

Students having landlord-tenant disputes can also get help from the law office.

“We want students to talk to us before they sign their lease,” said Lori Bryant, the director of the legal office. “We want students to bring us their lease before they sign it to allow us to read it so they know exactly what’s in there — no surprises later.”

Throughout the year, lawyers on staff hold various workshops and presentations so students can learn their rights. One of these presentations advises students to start looking for apartments in the spring when there are more available.

In the fall, Bryant holds another presentation called “Security Deposit Return: How to Get Your Money Back.”

“We do what’s called ‘Preventive Legal Education Workshops,’” Bryant said. “The idea is to inform of rights and responsibilities beforehand, so when they confront those issues they know how to act or they know what they can or cannot do.”

Workshops are often held for incoming students to raise awareness of the legal services they are able to access through the fees they pay.

Bryant said it is important to note that, while the $6 fee will provide a student with legal counseling and representation, students are required to pay any court related costs, such as filing court documents.

Some issues require outside representation, she said. These include student-versus-student cases and disputes against the university, such as parking tickets received on campus.

The office also endeavors to make students aware of the other consequences of violating ordinances, Bryant said.

Bryant said if a student violates the law off-campus and the university finds out, it gets reported to the Office of Student’s Rights and Responsibilities. If that office finds the student’s actions break the student conduct code, the student could be disciplined.

“Students may not understand that once you get a ticket and go to court, that’s not the only impact you may have,” Bryant said. “SIU considers their students [to be] students wherever they are.”

Bryant said half the battle is making sure students know that legal assistance exists to help them.

“We try to let students know we’re here before they need us,” Bryant said.

More information about Students’ Legal assistance can be found at studentlegal.siu.edu.

Staff writer Joe McLaughlin can be reached at jmclaughlin@dailyegyptian.com or on Twitter at @jmcl_de.

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