Tulane program brings free, low-cost legal aid to students
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Between catching beads and navigating the parade routes, Tulane students can sometimes find themselves in legal trouble. Mardi Gras season is one of the busiest times for Tulane University Legal Assistance Program.
TULAP offers free legal advice and low-cost representation to current Tulane students, staff and faculty, handling both civil and criminal issues. The civil clinic covers issues like landlord-tenant law, divorces and other civil disputes while the criminal clinic assists clients with arrests and citations.
Clients first meet with a law clerk at their appointment, who takes down their information and assists in an administrative manner. The law clerks, assistant directors and directors of TULAP are all law students. Currently, TULAP has two criminal attorneys, one civil attorney on retainer, two directors, two assistant directors and 24 law clerks.
The criminal attorneys that represent TULAP are Carolyn Cooper and Fred King from King and Cooper Law, LLC. This year, Cooper works in the position that King held in previous years as the primary criminal attorney. Members of the Tulane community can use a phone call to Cooper in times of arrest for obtaining legal counsel to cooperate with the police and to work out bail.
TULAP adapts its plan during Mardi Gras to plan for the influx of criminal emergencies and serve its clients in instances of legal emergencies. Cooper will be on call during the week to facilitate legal services to clients, including lockups and bailouts, despite that the TULAP offices are closed during Mardi Gras.
“That sort of circumvents the normal process when [clients] would come into our clinic and go through sort of the more formal meeting with a student clerk and that sort of thing,” TULAP Criminal Clinic Director Levi Stoneking said. “During Mardi Gras it’s a little bit more … informal.”
Both clinics can be reached by phone or email to discuss a case or to schedule an appointment in the TULAP office in Butler Hall during the rest of the year. The civil clinic is typically open on Fridays, and there are also office hours and notary services available throughout the week.
“If something happens with you that’s a criminal problem you’re pretty stressed about it, at that moment maybe you don’t even come in, we just do research and figure it out,” TULAP Civil Clinic Director Helen Buckley said. “Without your physical body coming in we already know your issue.”
“Students do most of the legwork, and they do research and drafting but they do not appear in court or otherwise provide legal services,” Stoneking said.
While the initial consultations are free, additional, but reduced, expenses can ensue from additional work to the attorney, like court appearances.
“We really do have a good number of people who are here for you and this is a free service, so if you need us, use us,” Buckley said.
To make the services free and low-cost, TULAP uses money from Tulane’s student activity budget, which is funded by each student’s semesterly activity fee of $120. Last academic year, TULAP received $63,145 from Undergraduate Student Government’s allocation of the activity fee budget, while this year, that value increased to $66,095.
“You don’t have to deal with a lawyer outside of Tulane University and I feel like it’s more confidential. The information stays within the university,” senior Brian Hernandez said. “… I guess I’m fine having some of my tuition money go to this program.”
Sophomore Robbie Sipos said he feels that student activities fee money is not being well-spent on this program.
“If you’re not using [the TULAP service], why would you have to pay for it?” Sipos said. “If you get in trouble, you should be owning up to your actions and paying for it.”