Student government legal clinic struggles to find professional help
When students have a legal problem, Farmington Hills senior Marisa Vinsky believes they should come to the Student Government Association before hiring an attorney.
SGA's legal clinic, started by the pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta and staffed by a member of the organization, offers 30 minutes of free legal consultation with an attorney or law professor on campus.
Vinsky, president of Phi Alpha Delta and director of the legal clinic, said professional legal consultation typically starts at $100 an hour.
"I see myself as a bridge between students and attorneys," Vinsky said. "Back when this first started, (Phi Alpha Delta) saw other institutions having things like this. We wanted a similar thing."
Usage of the clinic has stayed low since its inception in 2011, with 36 students using the service. Usage dropped in 2013 with only 12 students utilizing the service, but it has peaked this year with 22 students using the clinic.
"Not a lot of people know about the legal clinic so it's not being used as much as it should be," she said. "We know every Welcome Weekend (and) Halloween there's (more than) 100 MIPs and I get one email. Maybe people don't care, but it's important for students to know this (service) is there."
With more students, comes more need to ask attorneys for legal help. What used to be a fairly easy process has now become a struggle for Vinsky. This year, she sent 30 emails asking for help from attorneys in the Mount Pleasant area and received only a few responses back.
This makes the process harder, Vinsky said, as she has to rely on professor aid when students come to her seeking legal help.
Finance and law faculty member William Shirley assists the clinic when they have cases, but Vinsky said it's hard for him as well.
"There's not a lot of professionals who are willing (to help the legal clinic out) because they have busy lives or are busy with their practices," she said. "We don't get a lot of interest."
Despite the problems that come with running the clinic, Vinsky said she's glad to have it as a student resource on campus. Although formal walk-in office hours are now closed for the clinic, Vinsky will still be answering student legal questions and attempting to set up consultation with either a professor or a full time attorney.
"I think its important (for) students (to) have a place to go to get help in bad situations," said Dexter freshman Leeann Larkin. "If something bad happened to me, I'd want to be able to use it. Since I’ve been (at college) I’ve always felt safe, but I’m sure bad things (can) happen."
Fellow Dexter freshman Lilly Teachout said the clinic could even benefit from advertising on social media or try to link their services to the Central Michigan University homepage.
"Everyone needs help sometimes and some (students) are broke," Teachout said. "I think (every) college campus needs one because it's college."
To schedule an appointment, the SGA legal clinic can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via their orgsync page.