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ASUO legal service programs are housed on the third floor of the Erb Memorial Union. (Visitor7/Wikimedia Commons)

While it seems like life has come to halt in response to the coronavirus pandemic, student legal problems have not come to a halt with it. At the University of Oregon, students can still take advantage of a number of legal services provided by the ASUO Legal Student Services program and ASUO Office of Student Advocacy. 

Both incidental fee-funded programs offer a broad range of legal assistance to students and have adapted quite well to the current crisis, continuing to provide legal help remotely. 

Students who pay the incidental fee can access legal assistance at ASUO Student Legal Services for off-campus legal problems, including criminal and noncriminal offenses, personal injury and property damage, driver license and insurance problems and landlord and tenant disputes, said Ilona Givens, the directing attorney for ASUO Student Legal Services. 

The program has seen an increase in cases related to landlord and tenant disputes due to many students returning to their family homes across the globe, Givens said. 

Sal Catalano, a staff attorney at ASUO Student Legal Services, said a number of students have inquired about ways to reduce household expenditures or terminate leases. 

“Each situation is reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine the best options for the student,” Catalano said. “For landlord-tenant issues, it is important to review the lease and the current law in order to give the student appropriate advice.” 

In response to the current crisis, ASUO Student Legal Services has been providing services to students via remote appointments over phone, FaceTime or Zoom, Givens said. 

Catalano stated that he has even helped students in places such as Alaska, France, Thailand and New Zealand. 

Providing remote services is not new to the program. ASUO Student Legal Services has helped students studying abroad, attending programs in Portland or away from campus over summer term, Givens said. 

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“Conducting all our services remotely was a big change from our policy of meeting clients in person when possible,” Givens said. “Screening and scheduling were the first big challenges, not only because our procedures had to be adjusted, but also because requests for services spiked as students adjusted to fundamental changes.” 

Givens admitted she misses counseling her clients in person, but said the pandemic has not impeded the program’s mission to assist students with legal problems that “might otherwise harm their ability to finish their education.”

“Student retention is and always has been a cornerstone of that mission,” Givens said. “We adapted very quickly to safe remote methods.” 

The ASUO Office of Student Advocacy, which helps with student legal problems involving the university, has also adjusted to the current situation and has been providing remote assistance, Hilary Berkman, the director and attorney for OSA, said. 

“In some ways we were lucky because, even though it has never been our primary way to meet with students, we have helped students remotely for years,” Berkman said. “We have helped students studying abroad and in other locations in Oregon.” 

OSA assists students with issues related to student employment, university housing, academic programs, fees and fines, financial aid and student records, Berkman said. 

Berkman said she expects an increase in student inquiries, especially those related to the current situation. “I anticipate that as the term progresses the office will continue to hear from students seeking help with alleged conduct violations, as well as unique issues related to the delivery of remote education and changed academic policies,” Berkman said. 

UO students can find contact information for both OSA and ASUO Student Legal Services on the programs’ websites to access legal help and arrange appointments. 

Berkman said she hopes that students continue to seek legal help amid the current crisis. “Even in the best of times it can be frustrating, and at times, overwhelming, to attempt to resolve difficulties,” Berkman said. “I hope that students do not give up on their education and goals because of these unusual and difficult times.”