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Despite its longtime presence in Syracuse University’s community, many students are not even aware of SU’s Student Legal Services, according to the organization’s program coordinator.
“I’ve had a lot of instances where parents went out and hired attorneys to represent (students),” said Donna Bronner, the paralegal and program coordinator of SLS. “They paid hundreds of dollars to get the exact same results that we could have gotten for free.”
Tucked away in a corner of Marshall Square Mall, the organization is an independent legal service available to SU and SUNY-ESF undergraduate and graduate students. SU’s Student Association and Graduate Student Organization fund the organization, established in 1972, with money from student activity fees.
Clients are responsible for other out-of-pocket expenses that may arise, such as court fines and fees and outside charges from other organizations that could potentially be involved in a case, according to the SLS website. Otherwise the service is free.
The organization can represent student defendants in cases occurring within Onondaga County, like traffic violations and tenant issues as well as more drastic legal issues, even if they happen outside of Onondaga County.
Bronner said she wants students to understand the scope of SLS’s work.
The organization’s independence from SU allows it to handle a wider range of cases than student legal services at other colleges and universities, Bronner said. SLS can also advise or potentially represent students in university disciplinary issues.
SLS’ independence also allows students the opportunity to seek help with cases without the university’s knowledge, said Program Director and Staff Attorney Christopher Burke.
Burke and another one of the group’s attorneys see around 1,100 and 1,600 cases a year, Bronner estimated.The office has a budget of $317,293 for the 2022-23 school year, SA President David Bruen wrote in an email to The Daily Orange. Of the total, SA contributes 77% while GSO provides the remaining 23%, he said.
SA is currently working on expanding the services through a potential internship program as well as a partnership with the Student Bar Association. The partnership, which will “probably” be finalized in the SLS’s spring 2023 board meeting, will expand the services to law students and cut costs for students, Bruen said.
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“(For students), having to deal with the pretty expensive legal services of the area becomes a really big issue and can affect mental health and academics, and overall student life,” Bruen said in an interview. “The intent with starting to fund the service years ago, and the reason why we continue to do it, is the fact that it is, for those students, so essential.”
William Treloar, SA’s speaker of the assembly, noted that SLS has occasionally had trouble discerning whether or not students have paid the activity fee. Even if they haven’t, in certain cases SLS has still agreed to represent students, he said.
“They’re going to do whatever they can do with the resources they have for any student, which is really the key point they were stressing,” Treloar said.
Bronner has been with SLS since responding to a job advertisement in 1992 and is its longest-tenured staff member. She said her love of working with students is what kept her at the organization for so long.
“It’s so nice to have someone so appreciative of what we do for them,” Bronner said.
Burke, who joined the staff in 1998, echoed Bronner’s sentiments and said helping students through moments of stress has also kept him in SLS for over 20 years. Though he said his clientele is a lot more diverse than when he first began his work, he said students tend to make the same mistakes and appreciate the help SLS offers them.
“This is what you went to law school for, to do the right thing, to help people out in difficult circumstances,” Burke said. “People usually appreciate the effort.”
Published on September 6, 2022 at 12:38 am