Get to Know Student Legal Services
From apartment leases and traffic tickets to navigating immigration law, Student Legal Services provides free, professional legal assistance to NC State students.
Student Legal Services is a non-profit corporation created by Student Government and funded by NC State students to help them resolve legal issues and equip them with legal knowledge to make informed choices. Their services are free for currently enrolled NC State students who have paid their student fee.
We recently spoke with Pamarah Gerace, director and staff attorney, to learn more about Student Legal Services and their role at NC State:
Tell us about Student Legal Services and its role at NC State.
Student Legal Services (SLS) started in the 1980s initially on a trial basis with a temporary student fee. SLS offices were springing up all across the country in the 1970s and 1980s in response to student protests on various issues. In North Carolina in the 1970s, Chapel Hill blazed the way with the NC State Bar to allow a pre-paid legal service plan for students and NC State followed suit closely thereafter. The SLS role at NC State is broader than just providing one-on-one legal services for students. We sit on various committees at NC State and in the community to be a voice for legal issues that affect students. We spend a good deal of time doing educational seminars and speaking to classes on legal issues that commonly affect students.
How does Student Legal Services help students reach their goals?
Our mission statement indicates that we provide legal education, advice and representation for currently enrolled NC State students. We are committed to providing high quality legal services that equip students to make informed choices and resolve their legal problems with as little disruption as possible to their well-being and academic goals. USLS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation initially created by Student Government and funded by student fees, which provides affordability of legal services for the students.
SLS reviews, researches and analyzes a student’s fact situation to determine their legal issues, and then advises them on their options so that they can make informed decisions to further their goals. We advise them on the role this office can play in achieving those goals. We want students to be able to concentrate on doing what they came to NC State to do while removing the barrier of a looming legal issue, hopefully while also providing some education on our legal system and the law. The overwhelming majority of the students are 18 years old and older and as such, are treated as adults as it relates to their legal issues, even if they have had little to no experience in what that means. The first big contract they will ever sign is their apartment lease, which is actually a legally binding contract. They do not get to use as a defense they did not read it or understand it before they signed it. They are held to the same standard as any other adult. We also like to say that we help level the playing field by providing free legal services, which normally would be out of reach for the average student.
How should students go about contacting Student Legal Services? How does the process work?
Since COVID-19, we have changed the access process to our office. We have earlier and more direct contact with the attorneys in our office, which students seem to appreciate. The quickest route to seeing an attorney now is for Students to email USLS at firstname.lastname@example.org and request assistance. Students who call our office telephone number at 919-515-7091 are usually directed to request assistance through our confidential email. Upon receipt of the request, typically within 24-48 hours, a staff member will respond to the student usually with some general legal information and/or to set an appointment or to request additional information/documentation. We offer the students an in-person appointment or an appointment by Zoom or phone call — whichever is most convenient. Right now, our students are overwhelmingly requesting Zoom appointments. It makes it much more convenient for students so they do not waste time traveling to the office, hunting for parking or taking a bus from class to get here.
Student Legal Services is one of the only offices in the country with a full-time immigration attorney and the only one in N.C. How has this impacted students?
For years, we had to provide only rudimentary information about immigration law to our international students, which are approximately a tenth of the student population here at NC State University. We had to refer clients to an immigration attorney for more in-depth advice and action. In 2015, we were in a position to expand the office to add a fourth attorney and it just made sense to have that attorney concentrate on immigration law. That is a highly specialized, complicated and expensive type of law to practice, many times out of reach for our international students. Many of them were already paying out-of-state tuition, much less thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees to discuss and possibly change their status. This has opened up so many opportunities for our international students on campus. Our immigration attorney deals with permanent residency (green card), citizenship, asylum/special immigrant visa, temporary protected status, consular process, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), as well as other Immigration Matters.
During the ongoing pandemic, for example, we have helped many students change status in the United States without needing to leave this country and run the danger of not being let back into the country because of COVID-19 restrictions. A more specific example involved getting asylum protection for a student who feared that her government and family in her country would seriously harm her for leaving the country’s religion and having a certain sexual orientation. With the asylee status, she may now live and work indefinitely in the United States.
The demand for immigration legal services at this university has been one of the fastest growing areas of practice and only continues to increase. We have worked with many students to achieve their desired immigration statuses and resolve their other immigration challenges.
What are some of the most common types of cases handled by Student Legal Services?
USLS is a general practice law office that assists students in a variety of ways concerning a variety of legal issues. Some of the more common legal issues involving students include traffic tickets and accidents, criminal misdemeanor charges including drug and alcohol related offenses, landlord/tenant issues, uncontested domestic cases, domestic violence, restraining orders, etc. We help a hundred or more students a year expunge their criminal records, which enables them to find jobs and to be professionally licensed. We review 75-plus job contracts a year. We expect that to increase once NC State University increases the number of engineering students on campus. USLS also provides Notary services on an appointment basis. For legal issues outside the scope of USLS services (i.e. intellectual property law), we will direct the student to resources and references that can assist them in the furtherance of the resolution of their legal issue.
What is something that students may not realize about Student Legal Services?
All of our services are confidential and will not be shared with outside parties unless the student consents. That prohibition includes discussing matters with their parents or the school. USLS owes an equal duty to all students of the university. If a conflict involves two or more students of the university, or the dispute directly involves the university itself, USLS can provide limited resources to help further the student’s legal goals.
Further, students do not have to be “in trouble” to use our office. We advise 100-plus non-profit student groups and organizations a year. Many are surprised that about 85-90 percent of what our office does is help students who have been taken advantage of as opposed to just helping students who are in trouble.
Finally, one of the attorneys in my office would like me to mention that we have over 87 years of combined legal experience. Every attorney in our office comes from a Legal Aid background, which practices public service law.
Learn more about Student Legal Services and all of the ways they assist NC State students at https://studentlegal.dasa.ncsu.edu/.