The Daily Gamecock

SG to propose student legal services

Additional $3 to $5 fee would fund advice on contracts, leases, taxes

It won’t be able to fix your underage drinking ticket or get you out of a DUI, but legal advisement might be available next year to students willing to pay an additional $3 to $5 to their Student Activity Fee.

A proposal currently being drafted by Chase Mizzell, Student Government chairman of student services, and Kenny Tracy, SG secretary of student services, would provide students access to an attorney and a paralegal to look over contracts, leases, taxes and give general financial advice. The service would not advise students in criminal cases, but would provide referrals in those cases. It would not provide services in cases against the university.

“One particular issue this would address is for students living in off-campus housing,” Tracy said. “There have been numerous complaints of students being disrespected by off-campus housing landlords. This would allow them to interpret contracts or leases and hold their landlords accountable.”

The program would also provide tax consultation for students who need it, which Mizzell said is a majority.

“More than half of college students are employed,” Mizzell said. “Therefore they must file taxes. Student legal services would give them the opportunity of legal consultation for tax issues.”

Mizzell and Tracy expect to submit the proposal to Student Senate by Thanksgiving break. It would then face approval by the Senate, Student Body President Joe Wright, USC President Harris Pastides and eventually the USC board of trustees. Mizzell and Tracy hope approval will happen in time for the program to be implemented in Fall 2012.

“It’s basically a form of insurance in case you need legal consultation,” Mizzell said.

A total cost for the initiative isn’t yet available, as Mizzell and Tracey are still working with Nancy Derrick, USC Student Life’s director of Finance and Personnel, to come up with an estimate.

As part of the data gathering for the proposal, SG performed a weeklong survey of students during the SG Blitz week. The survey, Mizzell said, gathered usable information from 364 students, and according to its results, 88 percent were in favor of paying an increased fee for legal services.

Mizzell said 52 percent of those surveyed said they would pay an extra $3 or higher onto their Student Activity Fee. Of that 52 percent, 34 percent said they’d be OK with adding between $3 and $5, and 18 said they’d be willing to tack on between $6 and $10 for the services.

“Students have proven they want this,” Mizzell said. “We’re doing our best to provide it to them.”

Mizzell and Tracy cited the University of North Carolina, where only approximately 10 percent of students opted out of the fee, and said other SEC universities like Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Florida have comparable programs.

“Many of our peer institutions have these services,” Mizzell said. “In order to be a premier institution, we must match these services.”

Tracy said the main goal is for the university to lend students a hand when it comes to the sometimes-complicated puzzle that is the legal world.

“Overall, whether it’s taxes, contracts or leases, we want students to have resources to interpret the legal jargon they may be otherwise unaccustomed to so they’re not taken advantage of and they can have a better understanding,” Tracy said.