ASUO Student Legal Services Celebrates 50 Years of Assistance

Student life can be complicated, and even more so when a legal problem arises. For fifty years, University of Oregon students have had a place to turn for help with almost everything from landlord and tenant issues to traffic violations.

Students have a lot to do, said attorney Ilona Givens, director of student legal services at the University of Oregon Associated Students (ASUO). They may be away from home for the first time. Many hold jobs in addition to taking courses. Some of them have young children.

“We don’t want their legal problems to prevent them from studying or passing their exams. We don’t want them dropping their classes,” Givens said.

“While each case requires the student’s involvement to help solve their problem, I can see the stress lift off their shoulders when I say, ‘It’s going to be okay,'” Givens said. “That’s why we are here.”

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, OU’s student legal services program was one of the first of its kind in the country and quickly became a model for universities nationwide.

The program was established by the ASUO in September 1971.

“The concept grew out of growing complications in student life,” Givens said.

With the Vietnam War and student protests, there was a lot going on in the late 1960s on college campuses, Givens said. “Life was getting more serious.”

Robert Ackerman was the first attorney hired at UO to provide individual legal services to students. A graduate of OU in 1958 and OU Law School in 1963, Ackerman was asked to conduct a study and make a proposal for a student legal services program.

After receiving funding through ASUO, the office was established and contracted to Ackerman on a part-time basis. Givens said requests from universities nationwide began pouring in, asking Ackerman how they could create similar programs on their own campuses.

As university enrollment grew, so did the demand for legal services for students. Givens was hired as the program’s first full-time director in 1987.

All students who pay incidental fees are eligible to receive legal advice and consultation from Givens and two other staff attorneys — all three happen to be OU Law School alumni. Each provides services that reflect their levels of experience and interests in different areas of law, Givens said, so they can provide knowledgeable and focused legal assistance depending on the topic.

While covering a wide range of legal issues, Givens said his team most often deals with landlord and tenant issues, family and domestic law matters, traffic violations, property damage and personal injury. . They will also represent students charged with criminal offenses in Lane County Circuit Court and Eugene City Court.

There is no charge for students for legal consultation and advice. Full representation in court in criminal cases for misdemeanors can also be provided. While there is no additional charge for attorney’s time that may be involved in a lawsuit, students are responsible for the cost of court fees, fines, or penalties.

Givens recognizes that it takes a special type of lawyer to serve students.

“You can talk to any lawyer in Student Legal Services, and they’ll tell you that they really enjoy working with and for students. They feel they are really making a difference. »

When a client comes to thank them or a card arrives in the mail, it reinforces the reason for their work.

“It makes you realize that our overriding mission is student retention,” Givens said.

Givens thanks the original ASUO student government who identified the need for the service and put the pieces into place to make it happen, as well as everyone who came after them who continued to support the program’s funding.

“Their little idea in the late 60s that culminated in the opening of Student Legal Services operations in September 1971 was really prescient, that this was going to be something that was not going to be temporary. He would continue to serve the students.

“Student government gave this gift long ago to its students, and every student government has continued to do so. They recognize the value of this service to students.

—By Colleen Schlonga, Student Services and Enrollment Management

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