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The Daily Illini

UI Student Legal Services provide lawyers’ help, advice


Finding a lawyer that will work within a student budget is not easy.

However, the office of Student Legal Services at the University enables students to have access to professional lawyers, funded through the Student Organization Resource Fee (SORF).

“We want students to be able to fulfill their academic ambitions and goals, and we don’t want legal issues to be a problem in pursuit,” said Thomas Betz, directing attorney for the office.

According to an annual report provided by the office for fiscal year 2007-2008, 1,547 students received in-office consultations with a staff attorney, and 248 students received notary service.

Betz has worked at the office for almost 24 years, and said he enjoys his job.

“I enjoy students, at the end of the day, almost every single day, I feel like I made a difference in lives of students,” Betz said.

The office has never had an unbalanced budget, he added, and said he has never been unhappy with the funding it has received from SORF.

The budget for student legal services is $271,984 for 2008-09 fiscal year, and is fixed for three-year periods, according to the annual report.

This has been the budget since the 2006-07 year. Salaries for the three attorneys add up to $178,212.

“We are very frugal. We have never over-spent. We want students to get the most bang for their buck,” Betz said.

Matt Levee, senior in LAS, said he felt that it makes sense that the lawyers are paid by the SORF fee because students who do not want to use the service can get their fee refunded.

Susan Hessee, a 21-year staff attorney for the office, said she took on the job because she did not enjoy the six years she spent working at a private practice.

“It is so much nicer to be here, I am doing something more on the lines of public service, and I don’t have to bill people for my services,” Hessee said.

Hessee said she goes several times a week to court to litigate on behalf of her student clients. She also said she gives talks on alcohol and traffic laws to student groups on campus.

“They can spend an over an hour with a student and they won’t be charged extra for it, they are just really dedicated,” said Beckee Bachman, a civil service assistant for the office.

Unlike most law firms, the office of Student Legal Services will take most types of monetary cases, no matter the disputed amount.

“This office can take a $50 case, and on occasion will – just to teach a landlord a lesson,” Betz said.

The office does not charge for attorney fees and is not a full-service legal services center. According to the office’s Web site, some of the excluded services are immigration matters, divorce and felony cases.

“I thought student legal services was very helpful to me when I used it for a traffic ticket,” Anna Baik, graduate student.

On the other hand, Levee said he felt that it makes sense that the lawyers are paid by the SORF fee because students who do not want to use the service can get their fee refunded.

In the near future, Betz said his office plans to hire two work-study students to help out at the front desk.

There is only one secretary for the three attorneys at the moment.

“The amount of processing she (Bachman) has to do is a lot. She could use some help with the volume of cases we have,” Betz said.

Sue Feng, junior in FAA, said she felt that the office played a vital role in students’ rights.

“I think it’s important to have someone who is more knowledgeable about the law and can represent you in a case,” Feng said.

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