The University of Wyoming has frozen an attorney position meant to help students with legal questions or receive advice while administration search for alternatives.
“It’s vitally important for students,” said Michael Rotellini, president of the Associate Students of the University of Wyoming. “By and large, students can’t afford to pay for lawyers out-of-pocket. ASUW has put emphasis on this — it’s important to make sure students are taken care of both inside and outside of the classroom.”
Student Legal Service Attorney Betsy Goudey died this summer after three decades with the university.
“It’s a tough position to fill because she was such an advocate for students,” Rotellini said.
Legal services offer a variety of advice and consulting to students about anything from credit card problems to collection issues for free.
“A few examples can be some landlord disputes or a quick run-in with the law,” Rotellini said. “It’s a very appreciated service.”
However, the position is not meant to fulfill the entire role of an attorney, Dean of Students Sean Blackburn said.
“The position and program doesn’t litigate,” he said. “It is meant to provide criminal and civil consultation.”
The position is currently included in the university’s hiring freeze, limiting how quickly a new attorney can be found and hired. However, funding for the job comes directly from student fees instead of other revenue sources.
“If there is no legal service, there should be no charge in student fees,” Rotellini said. “We want to make sure we get what we pay for.”
Student fee money is part of section II budget funding and not directly associated with state cuts, so the hiring process could be easier than other faculty or staff positions.
“We’ll be doing a review of the mandatory fees, but right now, this position (will proceed) forward to get the contract ready for the fall,” Vice President for Student Affairs Sara Axelson said. “Students advise me it’s a critically important position for them.”
The state appointed a lawyer to complete any student cases underway before Goudey’s death. A law firm will likely be hired to fill the empty attorney positions, Blackburn said.
“We have already reached out to law firms in the area to operate on a temporary contract,” he said. “They will provide short-term services while we assess the program.”
The student legal services website — www.uwyo.edu/studentatty — suggests other options for students in search of legal advice. One of these is directly tied to UW’s College of Law, explained Associate Dean James Delaney.
“We have six clinics that not only students but the general public can use,” he said. “They’re run by students and overseen by a faculty member of the College of Law. They are limited, depending on the subject of the clinic.”
Civil legal services would likely be the most useful for students. The clinic has operated for more than 20 year helping many indigent clients, or people who cannot afford regular legal assistance. The civic legal clinic helps with matters such as housing, consumer rights or veteran’s service-related disability benefits.
There are five other clinics available for indignant Wyoming citizens ranging from defender aid to family and child legal advocacy.
“We have a clinic that helps people with matters of domestic violence, and it could be a student or it could be a citizen of Wyoming, and they can come here and enquire as to whether or not the clinic will take them on as a client,” Delaney said.
“We offer the program to make sure students’ rights are represented,” Rotellini said. “Many of these students don’t have experience in the legal realm, and this program is needed.”
The University of Wyoming student legal services, operated by an attorney, was available to students for more than three decades until the death of attorney Betsy Goudey. Legal service’s main job is assisting students with legal questions and to advise — not act as litigator in a courtroom. Goudey’s salary was $59,436 when she died this summer, and UW administration is assessing the long-term sustainability of the legal services program in years to come.