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The Undergraduate Assembly offers legal services at no cost to Penn students. | Courtesy of Fayerollinson/Wikimedia Commons

Ever find yourself in a legal jam? The Undergraduate Assembly can help by providing a lawyer — for free.

In the past, the UA’s legal services have helped with issues ranging from assault and harassment to landlord problems and traffic violations. The legal services have also helped expunge the record of a student who was convicted of shoplifting from the Penn Bookstore and that of another student who was cited for public drunkenness. Under Pennsylvania law, the expungement guarantees that these students’ offenses are purged from official files.

Legal services, provided by the UA along with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, are available to all students in the Penn community. All cases are kept confidential, and students are not charged.

Originally, the UA used a law firm in Center City to provide legal services to Penn students but the firm decided that it was not economical to continue doing so. The Office of the General Counsel then reached out to attorney James Higgins, who began working with the UA in 2006.

“I provide my services [to Penn] at a cut rate because I have a great relationship with the Office of [the] General Counsel going back to the year 2000 and I’m happy to do this particular work,” Higgins said. “It’s professionally rewarding because there [is] a broad spectrum of problems and I enjoy helping young people.”

Higgins can handle most cases during the 30-minute consultation but will not deal with cases in which a student has an adverse relationship with Penn and is seeking help for a disciplinary problem, because that would be a conflict of interest.

Students can seek help by first getting in contact with College sophomore and the UA’s legal services coordinator Justin Hopkins, who serves as a liaison between Higgins and student clients .

“Everyone who uses this service appreciates the help and students can really gain a lot without losing anything,” Hopkins said.

The service is also free to students, since the UA allocates a portion of its annual budget to providing legal services each year.

Since 2014, the UA has granted $1,200 to legal services annually, and Higgins explained that in the past, he has had as many as six to seven cases per semester. In the past two years, though, a lot fewer people have used this service. In the 2016-17 budget — which is still being finalized — only $800 has been allocated, reflecting the reduced demand.

“Of course we want legal services to be used, so if the costs exceed that allocation,” College junior and UA Treasurer Kat McKay said, “the UA can take money out of its contingency account to cover them.

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