Courtesy of Swayraja.com
Thanks to Student Government, UM-Flint students will now have access to free legal services as an extension of UM-Ann Arbor’s Student Legal Services (SLS).
Services include legal advice on issues such as child support, insurance claims, custody issues, legal name changes, and power of attorney, and can be accessed virtually by visiting the SLS website or by calling (734) 763-9920.
The pilot program for SLS was launched on Sep. 16, in conjunction with UM’s Telehealth Services.
This came after years of Student Government members working closely with UM-Flint provosts and UM-Ann Arbor attorneys to make SLS as much of a reality for UM-Flint students as it was for those of UM-Ann Arbor.
SG President Samantha Uptmor said, “It’s extremely important for students to have [legal] support when they need it … I think it’s great that the university is finally giving that support.”
According to an email distributed to all students, faculty, and staff on behalf of Christopher Giordano, Ph.D., the newly appointed Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs, the objective of this pilot program is to “provide legal services to UM-Flint students while collecting non-identifiable statistical data during the pilot period to better determine ongoing needs.”
Along with being cost-effective, Director of SLS at UM-Ann Arbor, Douglas Lewis, explained that attorneys employed by SLS are “more in tune with what the students’ needs are than the general population of attorneys.”
Though UM-Ann Arbor’s SLS employs five, full-time attorneys, UM-Flint students do not have access to legal representation. Currently, UM-Flint students can utilize SLS for legal advice only.
According to Lewis, “The logistics of moving an attorney from Washtenaw to go to a court hearing in Flint and then come back would take up so much time, it just wouldn’t be practical.”
At UM-Ann Arbor, students seeking advice or representation typically do so for “family issues like divorces, child support, or custody, lots of landlord-tenant questions, consumer issues, and criminal defense,” said Lewis.
SLS is student-funded at UM-Ann Arbor, and expenses are automatically charged to students’ tuition bills. In 2019, this cost came out to $13 per student, per semester. Though no costs will be incurred among UM-Flint students during the pilot program, Dr. Giordano explained this may not be the case moving forward.
“We still do have to identify a funding source to support these services,” Dr. Giordano said.
If the pilot program goes well and enough students express their legal needs via SG’s survey, SLS could become a long-term form of support for UM-Flint students. Dr. Giordano said students can either complete the survey or contact his office directly to provide feedback on SLS, as he’d like as much information as possible in order to tailor these services to students’ needs.
Though SLS has only been available to UM-Flint students for a few weeks now, there is hope that it will become a permanent source of legal aid at UM-Flint.
“I would guess that at some point, we’ll have an active attorney sitting somewhere on Flint’s campus,” Lewis said, “That would be my vision for the future.”