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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, June 13, 2024

Legal center deserves support

Hidden in the depths of the Student Activity Center, behind the door of Office No. 1, lies a location few people ever tread. It is a forlorn place of great potential but virtually no resources. This place is the Legal Information Center.

Staffed entirely by volunteer law students and undergrads, the Legal Information Center seeks to fill a hole in the campus community by providing residents with the resources they need to deal with various legal difficulties that college students often encounter. While the Legal Information Center strives to provide the best services it can, it is still hamstrung by a series of crippling limitations.

For one, there are the obvious difficulties of using an entire volunteer staff, which entails significant turnover and makes it difficult to ensure proper training for each staffer. But more importantly, the center is legally prohibited from dispensing legal advice. As no licensed attorneys work at the center, all it can provide are simple information on statutes and some basic legal forms. For any student with real legal troubles, the best the Legal Information Center can do is provide a referral.

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Thankfully, there may be a solution in play to provide the student body with legitimate legal resources. Student Council Chair Brandon Williams and Student Services Finance Committee Chair Matt Manes recently introduced a proposal endorsing a new Student Legal Services Center, which would be able to provide a much more expansive level of services than the current Legal Information Center.

The key difference is money. The Legal Information Center has long gone without funding from the General Student Services Fund due to poor leadership in the past. An ASM-endorsed Student Legal Services Center would not have such a problem. It would be provided with a budget to advertise its presence and properly staff itself with professional attorneys. This would be a vast improvement for students merely looking for some advice on how to handle a drinking ticket or deal with an obstinate landlord.

Manes had previously mentioned a revamped legal center last semester when pushing the Campus Services Fund, and it is good to see that he and Williams are continuing to pursue such a project even after the CSF was shelved. 

Professional legal counsel is something that UW-Madison students sorely need, and it would come with a relatively small price tag. An increase in segregated fees of just $2 would be enough to pay one attorney's salary, and there are plenty of unemployed graduates from the UW Law School alone who would consider this respectable pay.

There has been some discussion over whether a committee is necessary to properly plan for the center, and as the proposal is in the early stages, a task force of some sort is probably a good idea. However, we urge ASM to push forward with the Student Legal Services Center as quickly as possible as students should not have to wait another year for such basic assistance. Because right now, the Legal Information Center just won't do.

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