Legal help free for NIU

By Casey Toner

The Students’ Legal Assistance Office provides free lawyers to eligible students in exchange for $197,097 in student fees.

Any student who is unable to pay for an outside lawyer can request legal assistance, said Lynn Richards, the assistant director of Students’ Legal Assistance. The lawyers, however, will refuse felony cases.

“Our office, unlike other offices, does not charge students for the use of our office, whether you go to court or not. That varies year-to-year depending on the budget,” Richards said.

This year’s budget of $197,097 is $9,500 more than last year. The increased budget will be used for the acquisition of new personnel. The budget affords a $54,000 salary for Richards, a $64,000 salary for director Don Henderson and minimum-wage pay for the three NIU students who each work 10 hours a week.

Henderson said 30 to 35 percent of all cases supervised by the Students’ Legal Assistance Office relate to landlord-tenant disputes, and 25 to 30 percent involve traffic citations or ordinance violations.

“There is a range of criminal cases. DUIs are quite common,” Henderson said.

More than 1,000 students seek legal advice from the center each year; the figure does not include returning clients.

“We have consistently high ratings in client satisfaction,” Henderson said.