Need some help with your income taxes? Having trouble getting back a security deposit from a landlord? Need to get a document notarized?
Those are some of the services offered to Kansas University students at the Legal Services for Students office, located in the Burge Union.
The program, which is funded through student fees, was started in 1979 by KU's Student Senate.
"It's like pre-paid legal services," said Jo Hardesty, director, and one of three attorneys on the staff. "A lot of the issues that we deal with are unique to students."
For example, many students who make use of the legal services office have contract problems with their landlords concerning apartment leases, she said.
"The landlord-tenant is the big issue," she said. "We also do everything else. We're like a general practice law office."
THE OFFICE can represent students in court in just two areas: landlord-tenant cases and consumer cases, she said. Hardesty said her office can provide advice and consultation on other matters.
"We can draft documents, we can negotiate with adverse parties, we do notary service, incorporate student organizations, make referrals and we do income tax assistance, also," she said.
A lot of tax questions students have concern scholarships. She said part of the income tax help the office does is targeted at international students because they have to fill out special forms. However, the office does not prepare income tax returns, she said.
"FOR A LOT of people, it's the first time they've ever filed income tax forms," she said. "They have unusual tax questions."
The three office attorneys also have provided advice in divorce and child support cases, she said.
The office also advises students who have been arrested for misdemeanor offenses or who have received a traffic citation.
"For instance, if a student comes in and says `I got this speeding ticket and don't want it to go on my record,' usually we can tell them what the prosecutor's policies are and why they got it and whether or not they should hire an attorney or whether they should do a lot of plea bargaining themselves," she said.
BECAUSE STUDENTS have already paid for the service through their activity fees, they are not charged for most services the office provides, Hardesty said.
"If we do go to court with them, there is a very nominal charge," she said. "Right now it is $15, just for the court appearance (in Douglas County District Court)."
She said an example of a consumer case is if an insurance company denies a medical claim for some reason. Then the legal office would try to work with the insurance company.
The office also works with students who try to find out about the warranties on "lemon" cars.
"For cars, we try to determine if the dealer knew the car was going to fall apart in the next week," she said. "Also, there's the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. We use that to determine if the merchant has been deceptive or has done something that violates the consumer protection act."
THE LEGAL service office also provides many seminars during the year that help educate students on legal matters.
For example, a KU residence hall asked the office to give a seminar for students about rental housing, because many of the residents planned to later move to an apartment.
"They asked us to talk about things students should look for in their contract before they signed it, that kind of thing," Hardesty said.
"We also do a lot of workshops on fake IDs and alcohol-related offenses because most of our clients, at least our undergraduate clients, are under 21 and they can't, under the law, drink."
Hardesty said the office started with one attorney, but the service has grown in the last few years. Besides the three staff attorneys, five law students work in the office as legal interns.
She said the legal services office is often confused with the Legal Aid Society office, located in KU's law school.
"THEY'RE A clinical program and use a lot of law students," she said. The Legal Aid office receives its funding through the United Way and sees clients based on income guidelines.
The only requirement for a client to use student legal services is that the person is enrolled as a student.
"We do have a student advisory board who volunteer to give input to the office and assist on policy and budget matters," she said. "We usually have six or so students who meet with me once a month, usually to go over what's going on in the office. It's the kinds of things they would like to see us doing or not doing."