University Legal Services Programs

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Education

student legal services

I had an opportunity over the weekend to, in effect, go back home. That is -- I gave a talk to a group of about 200 lawyers who run legal services programs at the university level. I say “go back home” because when I was involved in student government at UCF, I started the legal services program there, and I actually hired the woman who is retiring from that position this year.

It was great to see how far the UCF legal services program has gone but also to see that, since my days in college, having legal services available to students is now the norm rather than the exception. These various legal services programs not only assist students when they have a legal concern, but they are also instrumental in teaching students how to avoid unnecessary contact with the law and how to act in proper and legal ways when dealing with subject matters such as alcohol consumption and social and sexual interaction with other college students.

It was also great to have the opportunity to talk with a group of people who are on the front lines of interaction among college students in regard to race and the criminal justice system. We had a great conversation about the disparity in peoples’ perceptions regarding how the Zimmerman verdict helped or hurt the ongoing conversation about race in America. There are still a number of people who perceive the verdict to be a step backwards in the conversation -- while I still have the perception that the very public trial evidenced that the criminal justice system still does work. If there is a commonality between those two seemingly disparate perspectives it’s that while the system certainly worked in this particular case, there is still a level of mistrust for the way certain participants are treated within the system.