SLS provides representation

It’s hard to see the benefits of a service when the business takes place behind closed doors or in corner offices on the fourth floor of South Hall.

Sometimes students are unaware that the University has these hidden treasures. However, these little-publicized but invaluable programs do exist at many universities.

“If I could describe Student Legal services in one word, it would be invaluable,” said Rodney Fleming, managing attorney for SLS and a University alumnus. “I think this is the greatest idea since sliced bread and that’s not an exaggeration. Students have access to attorneys for $7 a semester. I think that that is an incredible service that the University provides.”

SLS was created in 1983 because student leaders and the Undergraduate Student Government were concerned that students were being taken advantage of by landlords in town.

To address this problem, students brainstormed and with the help of Professor Steven Ludd, SLS was created to provide for the legal needs of the students at the University, Fleming said.

SLS handles criminal and traffic cases, landlord-tenant issues, consumer and contract consultations, family law and provides notary services. SLS employs two full-time attorneys, Fleming and Michael Skulina, a paralegal, Jennifer Gajewicz and two student secretaries.

SLS is a non-profit law firm that represents only University students and is supported entirely by an optional $7 fee per semester that over 90 percent of students choose to pay.

In recent weeks, USG and GSS both passed legislation increasing the optional fee from $5 to $7. Fleming said that the fee increase will help SLS improve and expand the services available to students and help SLS to continue its mission to represent, advise and educate students through 2010.

With the extra revenue generated by the increase, SLS plans to increase representation by hiring another full-time attorney or two part-time attorneys.

According to Fleming, with an additional attorney, SLS may be able to provide representation in other Wood County courts, not just in the Bowling Green Municipal Court. Having another attorney available would also increase the ability of SLS to offer prompt one-on-one consultations.

He also said that hiring an additional attorney would help ease the case load and allow SLS to engage in other activities to enhance two other main goals: education and advising.

Without a program like SLS, Fleming said that students’ legal needs would not be met at all because of the costs of hiring an independent attorney, some charge as much as $100 per hour. “Every dollar counts, and if a student can save $40 on a speeding ticket for example or can get $200 back of a security deposit, that is invaluable to students,” Fleming said. “They would otherwise do without.”

The University of Toledo, Wright State University and Ohio University are the only other colleges or universities in Ohio that have programs similar to SLS. Fleming said that probably only 150 programs like SLS exist in the entire nation.

Of the Ohio Programs, SLS is the cheapest in price, but also the most active. Last year, Fleming and Michael Skulina had over 1,800 office consultations and 900 court appearances.

Fleming said that this statistic may lead people to believe that students here get into trouble frequently, but that this assumption is completely untrue–it is not that the University has lots of bad students, but just that many students want to know their legal rights.

To take advantage of the services offered by SLS, a student must pay the $7 fee at the beginning of the semester.

“You can’t wait until after your house burns down to buy insurance,” Fleming said.

He said that although they would like to help the students who waive the fee and then get into trouble, he said that SLS needs the money up front to provide the best service to students.

Editor’s Note: To contact Student Legal Services, call their office at 372-2951.