How to Find a Lawyer – College Edition
The last thing most college students want to deal with is a legal matter. More often than not, simple discrepancies over rent agreements may turn into legal disputes that may ruin one’s credit score. Other times, questions about academic integrity may have long-lasting effects on one’s professional career.
If you’re faced with important legal questions that need immediate answers, it’s important to know your rights, and in some very serious cases, you might actually need a lawyer. Some common legal issues faced by college students are learning disability accommodations, honor code/academic violations, and DUI incidents.
Most recently, The Times and Democrat, (http://thetandd.com/news/college-student-charged-with-felony-dui-after-two-motorcyclists-killed/article_ce49f9bc-14a6-11e3-abf2-001a4bcf887a.html) reported that University of South Carolina student Sean Aston, was charged with a felony DUI for killing two motorcyclists. And Ramapo College student (http://www.nj.com/bergen/index.ssf/2013/11/ramapo_college_student_charged_with_dui_in_head-on_crash_that_sent_two_to_hospital.html) Douglas Hervey, 20, was charged in November with two counts of assault by motor vehicle.
Housing disputes might also arise. The University of Washington (http://www.washington.edu/doit/Conf/housing.html) has a resource for students with disabilities or those with psychological issues. It describes rights, policies and general rules as it relates to campus housing.
Another common issue college students might face are rent disputes, lease agreements, and other housing issues.
A student might need legal representations for a number of reasons. Perhaps, there’s the threat of academic probation, loss of credits, or even notes on one’s academic records. Arming yourself with the facts and legal know-how is essential in dealing with such issues, as your academic future is on the line.
Identifying your Legal Rights
Virginia-based HenterLaw (http://www.henterlaw.com/collegelaw.html) has helped many students to be readmitted to colleges and move on with their lives, both academically and professionally. If you’re facing disciplinary charges for violating the school’s code of conduct, the ramifications could be huge. To help even the playing field, the Students & Administration Act (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/09/north-carolina-students-right-to-attorney-college/2786691/), a statewide bill, allows students in North Carolina the right to hire an attorney if forced to go to campus court for non-academic disciplinary charges (this would exclude plagiarism). This law is the first of its kind in the U.S., and opens the door for pro bono services for low-income students.
Students charged with theft, rape, or harassment can obtain the legal representation they need. Technically, you would only need a lawyer to represent you if you are facing criminal or civil charges.
Following is an overview to help you make the right legal decision if you’re facing a dispute in college.
The Right Legal Solution
As with most things, proper research can lead you to the right place. Depending on your needs, your hunt for representation might be daunting. Start by narrowing things down. If your issue involves a DUI, it’s a good idea to find a lawyer specializing in this. For example, lawyers at Chestney Law Firm (http://www.dui-lawyer.com/dui-law/college-campus-dui-defense/) have successfully represented students charged with DUI at Emory, Georgia State, University of Georgia, Kennesaw State, Mercer and Georgia Tech. As you can see, finding a lawyer requires a two-pronged approach. Not only should the lawyer be approved to practice in your state of residence, they should have a rich track history of working in the area you’re looking for help in. The more specialized your lawyer is, the better chance you’ll have at finding a quick and proper resolution for your problem.
Finding a Good Lawyer
Finding a good lawyer can at first seem like a daunting task. First, take a deep breath. While the problem you’re facing is serious, it helps to take a step back to assess the situation. Next, prepare a list for your research.
Here are some general tips:
Search for lawyers by practice area in your state. As previously mentioned, finding a lawyer with a specialization in your area of need is crucial in locating good representation.
Review their online footprint; an obvious first step is to take a look at their personal/firm website. Second, look at legal directories (such as Avvo’s (https://www.avvo.com/find-a-lawyer)) to see what others are saying about their services. Finally, be sure to visit your state’s Bar Association to see if the lawyer has received any disciplinary action against them.
Select your three to four choices, then call or e-mail the lawyer to set up a consultation. Many lawyers will offer free consultations, so take the opportunity to ask the right questions.
Some questions you should ask:
- What are the fees?
- How long is the case is expected to last?
- What are the potential resolutions?
Once you’ve had these questions answered, you can begin the process of building your case. Be sure that you are comfortable with your choice of lawyers. If the consultation doesn’t go as planned, feel free to move down your list or to keep searching. It’s important that you are comfortable with your decision.
What to Expect from your Lawyer
Once you’ve made your decision, your next step will be to set up a follow up consultation. During this meeting, you can give the lawyer an overview of the circumstances. It’s important to note that your lawyer can be present during your conduct meeting, but cannot engage in cross-examination, speak on your behalf, or assist with clarifying your responses. Your lawyer’s goal is not to score a "win," rather, it’s to guide you through the process, and if necessary, help you with an appeal.
With that said, your follow up consultation is a crucial meeting, as it’s the stage where your lawyer will be able to advise you on what your best options are during an academic integrity hearing.
The New Economics of Legal Representation
As with any service, it’s important to identify the financial costs before diving into hiring a lawyer. Some states are making efforts to help students find legal representation on a budget as a means of helping students understand their rights in disputes.
The Indiana Supreme Court (http://wbaa.org/post/judges-lawyers-want-boost-pro-bono-efforts) with the help of judges and lawyers around the state are exploring options to provide low-cost and pro bono to Indiana college students. Indiana residents can submit their legal questions, and receive free advice to the Indiana Pro Bono Commission (http://www.indianalegalanswers.org/).
LawHelp.org (http://www.lawhelp.org/) specifically addresses the needs of individuals of low and moderate incomes find free legal in your community. Additionally, the State Bar of California (http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Pamphlets/HiringaLawyer.aspx) has an extensive list and a series of questionnaires that can help you find the right lawyer. Purdue (http://www.purdue.edu/odos/sls/) has an excellent student legal services (SLS) department as well.
It’s never easy confronting a situation in which your academic life hangs in the balance, but as you have seen, there are plenty of resources at your disposal.
Contact Avvo (https://www.avvo.com/) if you have any other questions.