No student wants to find themselves in legal trouble, but when they do, there is a free and easily accessible on-campus resource for them to turn to: Student Legal Services.
Student Legal Services, a part of the Offices of the Dean of Student Life, provides a wide variety of legal services to Texas A&M students free of charge. Covering well over a dozen legal matters that arise among the student population, SLS can offer legal advice when a situation necessitating it comes up. According to students’ attorney Rick Powell, the SLS office is a very important resource for students to have available to them on campus.
“Students [facing legal problems] are stressed out and don’t know what to do,” Powell said. “They don’t know a private attorney and often can’t afford a private attorney, and my goal is to help them get a plan as soon as possible.”
Getting a plan for how students can solve their problems is Powell’s main objective. When he meets with a student, they go over what the issue is, what the law says on the matter, and what actions a student can take. After this process, the student should have a plan of action, which could range from representing themselves in court to hiring a private attorney — whatever is best for the student in their situation.
“My goal is to help students quickly,” Powell said. “I know they can’t sleep because everything is so stressful, they can’t concentrate. Maybe their car is totaled or they’re worried about having a criminal record.”
Powell certainly has enough work to keep him busy – he estimates he handles around 1,200 cases a year. For criminal cases he handles almost exclusively misdemeanors, mostly class B and C charges. He gets about 10-12 felonies a year, mostly for drug-related crimes involving substances other than marijuana. Landlord/tenant disputes are also a very common sight for Powell, as students want to either get out of their lease or force landlords to make necessary repairs to their unit.
Crimes are often seen through the lens of victims and crime prevention, but with SLS, the perpetrator is often the one coming in for assistance. In 2018, the school reported 804 total criminal incidents, about 12.6 per thousand students, which is below the national average. Many of those that come through Powell’s office are alcohol related – minor in possession, public intoxication, DWI and disorderly conduct. Students get worried about their job prospects following a charge, and clearing their record becomes one of their main concerns, Powell said.
“We’ve become an expunction office,” he said. “Students are worried that when they apply for a job their resume will get tossed out when the employer sees they have a criminal record.”
Having served for 30 years as A&M’s students’ attorney, Powell has seen everything, but one thing he stressed is for students to put themselves in a good situation with business transactions. He emphasized the need to Google potential places of residence or others that you may enter into a financial transaction with, as he has advised many students who got taken advantage of by shady businesses.
Students realize the benefits of having a dedicated attorney free of cost, said political science senior Christina Morrison.
“It’s really helpful to have free legal services available to students,” Morrison said. “It’s a great resource to have.”
Jordan Graham, Class of 2020, and master of international affairs student, worked at SLS previously and has seen the impact it has on students’ lives.
“People have been in really tough situations, and legal services has helped them get out of it,” Graham said. “SLS, and Rick specifically, are an invaluable service.”