Legal assistance available to students

By Paula Alvarez

Students with legal troubles do not have to go far to receive help. They can use Student Legal Assistance here on campus. Anything from traffic violations, academic appeals or landlord violations can be addressed by law student volunteers at SLA.

sla is a nonprofit legal clinic provided by the Students’ Union and the Alberta Law Foundation since 1979 for all undergraduate students at the University of Calgary, as well as for the Calgary community.

Legal assistants are students from the University of Calgary’s faculty of law. Students providing the assistance are monitored by a lawyer who specializes in the subject matter of each case. Students are offered seminars that guide them through the process and procedures of each case.

“For students who are in law school this is not mandatory. It is a voluntary program in which they can enter to gain more experience for the court rooms especially,” said Heather Beyko, second-year law student, who has volunteered at the sla for the past year.

SLA executive director Maureen Mallett said Alberta is a very unique province as it allows students to act in defence of the person on trial.

“Students are able to act as agents in a provincial court as long as they are in a legal clinic at a university with a supervising lawyer. Students can work for the entire case. They interview the clients, do the legal research, they do mediation, prepare for trial, run trial, do division in court, guilty pleas, and we work in the civil family and traffic division at the provincial court.”

Currently, there are 135 U of C law students serving as volunteers in the program, during the last year there were 1,600 appearances in court.

Mostly provincial court files are managed by the SLA, Beyko specified. “Basically what that means is that we are only eligible for claims under $25,000. The next level up would be Queen’s Bench and we would need special permission to go there.”

All full-time U of C students pay $1.75 to the sla through their Students’ Union fees.

However, not many students know about SLA.

Mallett mentioned that only 25 per cent of the people coming to receive the services are students. The remaining 75 per cent are low-income community members who have found out about sla through different sources.

First-year arts student Cassidy Nielsen did not know about sla previously. “I can’t believe it isn’t advertised more. That is an awesome deal,” she said. “I think that the only thing that isn’t beneficial about it is that it is such a well-kept secret, that more students aren’t benefiting from it.”

sla has been trying to increase awareness about their services by displaying pamphlets around the university campus.

“Going into law school, I thought that I was too shy to be in a court room,” said Beyko. “Yes it’s scary, but when you leave you just realize you have made a difference in somebody’s life.”

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