Yale currently offers no general legal aid to students, but a proposal submitted to the University in September may soon change that.
The Graduate Student Assemblyhas asked University President Richard Levin to make a lawyer available for students University-wide to consult. The lawyer would not represent students directly, but would advise them on whether and how to seek legal representation in cases such as landlord-tenant disputes and traffic accidents, said Lucas Thompson GRD ’13, chair of the GSA’s Facilities and Healthcare Committee, which spearheaded the proposal. Adding the service would both help students seeking legal counsel and bring Yale in line with its peer institutions, he said.
“There are students who are not aware of the legal system and their legal rights, and this is something that we can provide,” GSA Chair Andrea Stavoe GRD ’14 said. “It’s easier for an institution to provide the service than for any individual to go and seek it out.”
Under the GSA’s proposal, a local attorney would be contracted by the University to be available four hours each week — with two hours of consulting conducted on campusand two hours by phone. Students in the graduate and professional schools as well as Yale College would be able to speakwith the lawyer for free 30-minute consultations, Thompson said. If students decided their case was worth pursuing, the lawyer would refer them to local legal specialists for representation in court, he added.
The GSA began discussing making legal services available to students after a graduate student in the GSA was hit by a car while riding her bike last year, Thompson said. The driver was uninsured, and he said the student did not know what to do after waking up to find herself in the hospital.
Currently, the Office of International Students and Scholars can provide guidance and legal referrals to international students, but there is no source of legal advice for Yale’s general student body, Thompson said. The Law School has legal aid clinics, but these are primarily geared to serve the New Haven community rather than University populations, he said.
Law School spokeswoman Janet Conroy said Yale students can get assistance from the law clinics if they meet the school’s income-eligibility guidelines.
Yale’s peer institutions in the Ivy League follow three different models for providing legal assistance to students, GSA Secretary Lauren Tilton GRD ’16 said. The most minimal type of legal aid is a referral service, in which a university provides students with a list of local lawyers they can hire. Consultative services, like the one proposed by the GSA, involve a lawyer advising students about avenues of legal action;and in the third model, representative services, the university provides a student with direct legal representation, Tilton said.
Every Ivy League school except Yale currently offers at least a referral service to students.
“All of our peers, as well as the top public universities in the country, are part of one of these models,” Tilton said. “All have robust [legal services] systems.”
The GSA modeled its proposed consultative system on the legal services provided at Brown, sheadded, one of three Ivies with consultative models.
Tilton and Thompson said administrators were receptive to their proposal when they presented it to Levin on Sept. 27, though they have not received a final decision and discussions about the idea are ongoing. Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Thomas Pollard said he supports the proposal, adding that the President’s Office is looking into how a legal services program would be implemented.
Four graduate and professional students interviewed said they think legal aid would be a useful resource.
Breanna Nickel DIV ’12 said legal advice would be especially welcome to students dealing with landlord-tenant issues.
“Last year I was living off campus, and the landlord hadn’t finished renovations when we moved in, and there were just problems that came up that way,” Nickel said. “My roommates and I tried to talk to him, but we didn’t know what to do.”
She added that students coming from different states or countries may be unfamiliar with Connecticut law.
The Facilities and Healthcare Committee is one of three GSA committees.