More Knowledge, Less Stress: Student Legal Services at UCSD

To most students, the legal process is not generally associated with words like “fun” or “uplifting.” On the contrary, many students see legal procedures as expensive, stressful and frustrating.

Imagine a group of students move to an off-campus apartment and put down a security deposit of $3,000. At the end of the year, upon moving out of the apartment, their landlord claims damages and keeps the security deposit. All of a sudden the students are defenseless and out thousands of dollars.  

What the students needed was an attorney to represent them and to give them legal advice. They would have been informed to print proof, which includes some documents and an inspection checklist.

Luckily, Student Legal Services has provided UCSD students with two free attorneys. Both have worked to ease students’ stress and frustration by helping them make informed legal decisions.

SLS works to create a positive legal experience that is both educational and conducive to all students. It has reached out to students who might not have reached out themselves, and has provided legal services to them and many others.

The UCSD Guardian sat down with these SLS attorneys. The first is Jon Carlos Senour, who as the director of SLS oversees legal counseling, referrals and education, among other legal procedures on campus. The second is Mary Anan, a UCSD graduate who now serves as the assistant director of SLS.

The duo provide individual counseling appointments to students on a variety of issues. Most often these include landlord and tenant issues or tickets of some sort. Other students seek legal advice because they’re looking to start a business or patent an app. Some just visit SLS for advice regarding law schools or internship opportunities. Whatever the issue may be, both attorneys are ready to tackle the task at hand.  

Either Anan or Senour will sit down with each student for about an hour, figuring out how the law applies to the student’s particular case. Taking a full hour permits them to be thorough, but it also reduces the amount of students they can see per day, typically to three.

“It’s frustrating, but I’m also proud that we can give them a whole hour of our time,” Anan told the Guardian. “I can’t even imagine trying to do our job with only 30-minute appointments, which some schools do.”

Both attorneys do their best to keep the environment stress-free, so students feel more comfortable coming to them for help. SLS reminds students that they can come in and talk to its two free attorneys before they have a legal issue, not just after.

“We send an email out every spring quarter saying we’ll look at your lease before you sign it,” Senour told the Guardian. “We see students about pretty much any and all legal issues.”

SLS knows that an email won’t get most students to come out and use its services, so in recent years it has been offering an increasing amount of useful workshops.  

The formal workshop SLS offers is called “Discover the Law,” which comes around every winter quarter. It’s a legal education program, designed to empower students to make informed legal decisions by providing them with legal information and ultimately life skills.

Most workshops are conducted by one of the two attorneys, but occasionally guest speakers and panels will add to the conversation. Although the program is not offered for academic credit, students can receive various certificates of achievements for attending a minimum of four workshops.

SLS also produces other types of workshops for Greek Life and residence halls. These generally consist of workshops on alcohol charges and moving off campus in the spring, but they have also done workshops on First Amendment and free speech rights.   

Both attorneys are also very open to doing any type of custom workshop. As long as there is enough time and communication, SLS is happy to be of assistance.  

“It’s always fun to do a custom workshop,” Anan told the Guardian. “It’s a little extra work to do those types of workshops, but they’re fun because I get to research new areas of law.”

Prior to working for SLS at UCSD, Anan specialized in bankruptcy and bankruptcy litigation in her private practice. UCSD has definitely provided both her and Senour with diverse legal issues that keep them on their toes.

“Sometimes it’s funny because we don’t have the answers, so we have to tell students, ‘Ok, I’ll go do some research, and I’ll get back to you,’” Anan told the Guardian. “But we’re never bored. There’s always something interesting or unique or strange to work on. Revelle College [once] asked us to do a workshop on revenge pornography, if it was legal. It was kind of funny to Google that at work.”

Mary has also done a presentation in International House regarding tips for traveling overseas and for students who are here on a visa without U.S. citizenship.

The diverse campus at UCSD has provided a plethora of different legal issues which both Anan and Senour have tackled. Their willingness to go above and beyond seems, remarkably, to stem from the nature of the students themselves.

“I feel like we tend to be helping people who really need it, and that’s one of the difficulties of the practice of law,” Senour told the Guardian. “The folks who can afford to pay you are not always the ones you want to be working for. We’re typically on the right side of things, and that’s just a really great feeling.”

Both Anan and Senour are employed by UCSD, so their services, like other helpful services on campus, are completely free to students. SLS has actually made it a priority to stay interconnected with important services on campus, as well as people who remain primary student outlets.

By doing so, SLS gets referrals from dean’s offices, staff, faculty and Counseling and Psychological Services, which all encourage students to seek legal aid.

“We’ll have folks who are stressed out about the eviction notice or ticket they just got, and these are barriers to academic success,” Senour told the Guardian. “So CAPS will send them our way, and of course if somebody comes to us and they’re clearly experiencing a lot of stress we often refer them to CAPS.”

SLS has been able to create a welcoming legal environment for UCSD students. Whether that’s fostered through one-on-one appointments, workshops or campus outreach, the team of attorneys continues to provide for students.  

As both Anan and Senour see more students become interested in rather than intimidated by the law, they are inspired to keep up their hard work.  

“I love my job,” Senour told the Guardian. “I don’t know how many attorneys can say that.” [icon name=”stop” class=”” unprefixed_class=””]