Student Government Working to Bring Student Legal Services to UM-Flint

Legal+services+have+been+offered+to+students+in+Ann+Arbor+for+years.+SG+wants+to+bring+that+same+service+to+UM-Flint.+

Courtesy of Swayraja.com

Legal services have been offered to students in Ann Arbor for years. SG wants to bring that same service to UM-Flint.

Ryan Lanxton, Writer

A private lawyer could cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars–something the average UM-Flint student simply isn’t able to afford. However, a lawyer costing less than $20 could possibly be coming to UM-Flint.

Student Legal Services can do just that. Currently only available at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor campus, since 1979 SLS has offered their legal services to any student who needs it.

SLS can help students in a variety of legal situations, such as landlord and property disputes, criminal cases, child custody cases and many more. The only situations SLS cannot assist in are student-to-student cases, litigation against the school itself, outside of the state and outside of Washtenaw County.

“It seems to take a lot of stress off students, that’s what they’ve told me over the years,” said Doug Lewis, director of SLS for the Ann Arbor campus. Lewis, along with four other attorneys in his office, are available to help. 

Students at Ann Arbor currently pay a fee of only $8.50 each semester for this service. That means each enrolled student has access to a full-time, professional lawyer for about the cost of lunch.

While this service is only available to those enrolled at the Ann Arbor campus, that could soon change for UM-Flint.

“It’s something that’s been in talks for about 10 years,” said Samantha Uptmor, the director of foreign outreach in UM-Flint’s Student Government. 

Partnering with Student Government’s Director of Legal Services Carl Grolle, the two directors have been working closely with Lewis to possibly extend SLS to UM-Flint.

“The problem was the provosts in Flint and Dearborn weren’t necessarily 100 percent on-board. They didn’t think it was necessary,” said Uptmor. 

However, Uptmor and Grolle stressed that if students wanted a service like SLS at UM-Flint, it was up to the students to make that decision. “If we can prove that the students are interested in legal services then it would be a lot easier to convince them [administration] to get it done,” said Grolle.

To gauge interest in the service, Uptmor and Grolle were planning to send a survey through email to every student. However, with the recent outbreak of COVID-19 and the cancellation of many university activities, they have decided to hold off on sending the survey for now. Uptmor has stated she plans on sending the survey in the future.

Another key question Uptmor and Grolle need an answer to is how SLS will translate to UM-Flint. Lewis, Uptmor and Grolle expect the cheapest configuration will cost approximately $100,000 per semester, the cost of which would be split between each student. 

With 7,297 students on campus last semester and dividing that $100,000 evenly, the price would equate to about $13 per student per semester. This fee would then be automatically charged to the student’s tuition.

Another configuration would have students opting in or out of the fee rather than it being automatically factored into their tuition, thus raising or lowering the price. Funding from the university or Student Government could further affect the fee.

Lewis also sees SLS as a key tool in retention for universities that currently have this service. He believes UM-Flint could also benefit, just as Ann Arbor has. Currently, every Big Ten school except for Wisconsin has their own SLS, with Ohio State being the latest to establish their own. 

“This office [SLS] is one of those services that helps to retain students,” said Lewis. “When a student has to worry about … how am I gonna get the landlord to fix that busted window, and it takes time away from their studies, it puts a lot of stress on them.”