On March 22, 2016, UNH Student Senate decided against renewing the university’s contract with Student Legal Services after this year, and many students have been left wondering why.
“They have sent me a non-renewal of my contract but have told me I can apply…for what I do not know,” Attorney Bronwyn Asplund-Walsh said.
According to UNH Student Senate judicial affairs chairperson Samuel Paris, “The current legal services firm’s contract will not be renewed because of current plans to research and possibly implement a large scale restructure of the Student Legal Services department.” However, there have been no official complaints against the firm nor is there any animosity towards this particular firm.
“Given that no firm decisions on type or model have been made I cannot say how they would apply at this point but I can say that the current firm is welcome to apply, bid, or approach Student Senate about the application for student legal services. We are grateful for all the hard work the current attorney and their office has put into UNH and Student Legal Services over the last year and are certainly willing to consider them with all due respect, just as we would any applicant that wishes to apply,” Paris said.
Paris said that the cause for this lies in benefitting students. “While some complain about all students paying for services that only a fraction use, this is not the big problem,” he said. “The problem with the students paying … is that students are paying for a service that is severely limited in its scope and, in particular, in the type of cases it can handle.”
Paris noted that the current contract mandates many restrictions upon the attorney and in particular, limits the level of cases they can handle to cases that are less than and not including Class B Misdemeanors.
“To give some perspective to this, Class B misdemeanors do not allow jail time in [New Hampshire], rather they are limited to fines and probations. In these cases’ defendants in the state of [New Hampshire] are not even appointed a public defender if they cannot afford a lawyer. Given that the attorney cannot handle even these cases the nature and limitations of her contract bring into question the value that students get for the money they contribute through the fee,” Paris said.
Another reason not to renew the contract, according to Paris, was so that a look could be made into restructuring the office to avoid the contract issues as well as to reduce cost.
Paris detailed the research that the Student Senate is doing on this project, which included consulting with UNH, UNH Law, USNH Counsel and other sources in order to look at the feasibility of changing the current model to something less expensive for students.
“To do this we are looking at retainer, contract, reduced rate, recommendation, and in house style models for the Student Legal Services department. As we have not made any final decisions at this point, we have not approached nor have we been approached by firms about filling this role but we expect to begin some part of that process soon as a feasibility and cost setting experiment,” he said.
Paris said that the Student Senate is open to all questions and suggestions from students regarding the issue.