Free legal counseling now offered to students
By Jennifer Johnson
Melinda Stoops, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students, announced in an email on Oct. 5 that there is now free legal counseling available to students.
Craig C. Stern, an alumnus and former hockey player who graduated in 2007, will provide free legal advising to students. He is currently a founding partner in a law firm in Framingham, which will allow him to be available on campus once a month.
Stern was recently chosen to be on the FSU Alumni Association Board of Directors.
According to Stern, this past August, he was informed that there were multiple students, including student-athletes, who were homeless during winter and summer breaks. “As a former FSU hockey player, this resonated with me, and as an attorney, I knew that many of the issues these students faced were not simply monetary in nature, and most of them probably needed some degree of legal counsel as well.”
The Alumni Association Emergency Grant Fund is a resource that is available to students who are suffering economically and in need of assistance. However, Stern recognized that there may be issues students are having that are not necessarily related strictly to money.
In regards to how much attention the program has received thus far, Stern said he was “shocked by the number of students who signed up in such a short period of time.”
Stern added Rita Colucci, university chief of staff and general counsel, as well as Stoops have been vital in “getting this program off the ground.”
Stern said that, generally speaking, universities with law schools offer free legal clinics to students, and “most are overseen by practicing attorneys, but the law students are usually the ones giving the advice.”
He noted that he hasn’t heard of any free legal counseling available at schools without law programs, similar to the one that FSU is now o4ering, but that does not mean they don’t exist.
“I want students to know that they don’t need to hide or sugarcoat anything during our meeting. Any communication we have is completely confidential,” said Stern.
According to Stern, common issues among students are landlord/tenant, workers’ compensation and civil/criminal issues. However, “nothing is off the table.”
Stern said, “I don’t treat students any differently than I would a client in private practice. I take pride in my professionalism and ability to develop successful client relationships, which are built on honesty and mutual respect. From there, I am confident that I am a positive influence on students.”
According to Stern, students who plan on meeting with him should bring any paperwork that they believe may be helpful. “For example, if a student is having a problem with their landlord, I want them to bring in the lease agreement and all communications, such as voicemails, text messages, emails and letters they’ve had with this landlord.”
Stern noted that there are other affordable resources available to students depending on the issue a student is facing. According to Stern, there are lists of attorneys who take cases at a reduced rate at most bar associations, such as the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Boston Bar Association.
Stern has assisted both students and alumni of FSU in recent years and said, “It is always very rewarding to help out fellow Rams.”
Senior Jenny Frazier said, “‘Free is for me’ is the overall thought process of most college students. I feel like many students will take advantage of this free service.”
Senior Philomena Nessralla said, “I actually think that’s pretty cool that it’s being offered to college students because, personally, I would have no idea what to do if I was to be in a situation where I needed to go to court for any legal matter, and it’s comforting to know that someone is there to guide us in the right direction.”