Student Legal Services offers students legal advice

Meagan Stackpool

Tucked away in the Lory Student Center, the Student Legal Services office provides free legal advice to students willing to search them out.

According to their website, their mission is to help Colorado State University students resolve their legal issues with as little disruption as possible to their education. The office provides legal advice to students and aims to empower them to solve the problem themselves.

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Proud to call themselves one of the oldest student legal centers in the United States, the office mainly offers help to students, although they do notarize signatures for faculty and staff who seek them out.

As stated on their website, SLS attorneys “help you help yourself.” While they do not typically represent students, they do help them along every step of the legal process. If adequate help cannot be provided by the attorneys there, they refer students to the best person who can.

Funded by student fees, the center provides confidential legal advice to students. Any student taking at least one in-person credit hour can receive legal advice without charge.

Kathy Harward, director and attorney for the center, explained why students should feel comfortable coming to the SLS office.

“It’s the one time in your life that you can come speak with very experienced attorneys without paying,” Harward said. “Whether you have something bothering you or you want to start a business, something very proactive, come see us. That’s what we’re here for.”

The center provides advice on everything from housing and leases to immigration and interactions with the police. Harward explained how they most commonly see students come in for help resolving issues with leases and landlords, as well as navigating low-level alcohol and drug charges.

“It’s the one time in your life that you can come speak with very experienced attorneys without paying. Whether you have something bothering you or you want to start a business, something very proactive, come see us that’s what we’re here for.” – Kathy Harward, Director and Attorney for Student Legal Services.

“Helping students navigate those situations and be able to have them not get a criminal conviction from it and be able to seal a criminal record so that when they go to look for jobs they are competitive with others is a huge part of our mission,” Harward said.

Their office also offers legal advice to international and immigrant students. Additionally, their website features tips for international students, ranging from how to talk to the police to the drug laws around marijuana that may affect entry to the U.S.

In recent years, the SLS office has adapted to provide better legal service to students with immigration questions. Harward said when President Donald Trump was getting ready to take office, the center prepared to assist students with more complex immigration issues.

“I arranged for two community attorneys that are immigration specialists to contract for us. Using the immigration contract attorneys has allowed us to give that advice but do it in a very accurate way,”  Harward said. “We have very high standards. If it’s something we can’t give advice on because it’s not our specialty we will get you somewhere (that can).”

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Harward said that the contract attorneys have full immigration practices within the community, and come in once a month to help students. They are also on call to help with immigration-related questions.

Cristina Steele-Kaplan, one of the contract immigration attorneys in the office, said that during times of need, it is important for immigrants and foreign nationals to have a resource to turn to.

“Immigration laws can affect issues differently.  So, what may be a safe choice for a U.S. citizen could be dangerous for a foreign student,” Steele-Kaplan wrote in an email to The Collegian.

Steele-Kaplan went on to explain that people from all over the world come to CSU. International students and those who have immigration issues within the community sometimes need legal assistance, and by offering legal services to them helps them realize that CSU is here for them too. Steele-Kaplan said that the opportunity for students with immigration issues to be able to go to the same place as their counterparts is reassuring.

Steele-Kaplan wrote about how she and her counterpart within the SLS, Penny Gonzales-Soto, appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight about misconceptions with lawyers and legal services.

“There are too many notaries, dabblers and bad TV that get immigration wrong. We want to be sure that people get the right information so they know the right thing to do,” Steele-Kaplan wrote. “For many students, if we can get to them early enough, they may have more options than if they wait until they are older. We like being able to catch students early. For us, to be able to be a part of the positive impact that CSU has was very flattering.”

Harward assured students worried about confidentiality that this is not an issue. 

“We’re 100 percent confidential. Our discussions are privileged, which means we can’t be subpoenaed to testify what you tell us,” Harward said. “We are a safe place to bring any problem and all of us here are non-judgmental … We figure out where a student is and we meet them where they are.”

Mostly, the SLS office wants students to know they exist and that their services are included in student fees. 

“Life happens, and there’s a lot of complicated things that come up, and you can’t be expected to know how to navigate them,” Harward said. “We feel like we embrace every single kind of identity for a student and we want to help give you the confidence, understanding, tools and attitude of ‘I can fix this and I am not alone.’”

Meagan Stackpool can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @MeaganStackpool.

Editor’s note: A previous version of “Student Legal Services offers students legal advice” published on Feb. 27 misspelled Kathy Harward’s name as Kathy Howard. We have corrected the article to the correct spelling of Harward’s name.