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Legal Issues Facing our Students
Author: Shannon Sprague, Office Manager, Student Legal Services
Posted: June 13, 2013

Part of what makes Portland State University unique is its non-traditional student body.  The breadth of legal issues faced by students during their time at PSU reflects our students’ range of experiences, personalities, and cultures.  Student Legal Services has several lawyers and support staff available to assist students in navigating the wide variety of legal issues most likely to disrupt their studies and student experience.   EMSA staff should be aware of the different types of assistance we can offer to students so that they can make appropriate referrals to our office.

Practice Areas


Many students are faced with legal challenges through no fault of their own.  None of our students is immune to the impacts of consumer fraud, identity theft, motor vehicle collisions, tricky landlords, or bad employers.  Common issues with landlords may include living conditions, wrongful evictions, or failure to return deposits.  Common issues with employers may include unpaid wages, denial of unemployment benefits, discrimination, harassment, or wrongful termination.  These issues range from very serious to merely inconvenient, but many students feel tremendously stressed and overwhelmed even by seemingly simple legal hurdles.  We encourage students to come to see us as soon as possible, as avoiding even a simple legal problem invariably creates a much bigger and more distressing situation.

Sometimes, students make innocent mistakes or errors in judgment that result in legal complications, including traffic tickets, debt collection activity, and even criminal charges.  When we assist students with these issues, we look for ways to educate students to avoid or better manage similar situations in the future.

Many of our students wear many hats.  They are parents, grandparents, guardians, spouses, or domestic partners, and children.  Our office maintains an active family law practice because we know that the resolution of family problems enables our student clients to focus on academics now and to be positioned for continued success after they finish their studies.  We frequently assist students with domestic violence, divorce, child custody, and child and spousal support.  Whenever these issues are too demanding for us to manage with our limited resources, we turn to our referral system and work collaboratively with students and their new counsel to provide a direction and a plan for resolution of their concerns.

Finally, Student Legal Services offers immigration consultations and referrals to students seeking immigration advice for themselves or their immediate families, including their spouses and fiancés, domestic partners, parents, children, and siblings.  Students using our immigration services receive answers to questions about the United States’ arcane and bewildering immigration system and referrals to immigration attorneys who offer reduced fee services to PSU students and their families.  We offer this service to immediate family members because we recognize that unresolved immigration questions can destabilize students’ family lives in ways that few other legal issues do.

Practical Considerations

It is important to understand there are some situations where we are unable to assist with a student’s issue. These include situations where:

  • The dispute is between PSU students
  • The student wants advice on complaints against PSU administration, faculty, or staff
  • The issue is in a state other than Oregon
  • The issue is highly complex or outside the scope of our services/resources

In addition, some enrolled students are not eligible for our services.  Common reasons for ineligibility include:

  • The student is a PSU staff members enrolled in classes using their staff-fee privilege   
  • The student attends PCC and is co-enrolled at PSU, but does not pay PSU student fees
  • The student is not registered for the current term

If you have questions about whether we might be able to help a student with a particular issue, please contact us. Please be aware that, because of attorney-client privilege, we will not be able to discuss the specific legal issue with anyone other than the student.   If we cannot provide direct assistance, we will attempt to make an appropriate referral.  In order to serve our clients effectively and efficiently, we only provide legal advice in person. We cannot give advice over the telephone or in matters where we have not accepted representation.  Remember, it is always best to encourage students to contact us sooner rather than later, to avoid consequences that develop from inaction.

SLS is funded by student service fees. Free consultations are available to students enrolled in at least four undergraduate or three graduate credits. While there is generally no charge for our services, client costs (e.g. filing fees to the courts, or expert witnesses for example) must be paid by the student, but only after the student has approved these costs. In some cases, students will be assessed a litigation fee if their matter proceeds to trial or hearing.

By helping students to identify and resolve legal problems that threaten to disrupt their education, Student Legal Services allows them to concentrate on school and make the most of their college or graduate school experience. We strive to meet the needs of students and work with a cadre of practitioners in the community who lend their time to assist our students in need whenever possible and appropriate.  If you suspect that a student you are working with may need legal help, have them call us at 503.725.4556.  You can also find out more about us by visiting our website, www.pdx.edu/sls.