Rutgers University Student Legal Services: An Invaluable Resource at Rutgers University

The Rutgers Office of Student Legal Services (RUSLS), composed of two attorneys and one paralegal, is a valuable resource that students can utilize during their time at the University.

Staff of Student Legal Services poses for a photo

Staff of Rutgers University Student Legal Services. L-R: Michael Nelson, Tina Martins Cruz, Lynn Mendez.

“Honestly, I think that, especially as a young adult, having a team of lawyers at your disposal for free is an invaluable service," said Tina Martins Cruz, director of RUSLS. 

In fact, not only is RUSLS an invaluable resource, it is also a resource that can be used proactively, not just reactively. 

“For students that do know about us, they tend to think about us as something to come to after trouble,” said Lynn Mendez, the administrative assistant for RUSLS who has also worked as a paralegal for over 30 years. “They don’t realize that we can help with lease reviews, with students starting up their own businesses, and that we offer a variety of other useful services for students.” 

RUSLS consults with approximately 200 students per semester on a wide range of topics including but not limited to, immigration, traffic summonses, criminal charges, local ordinance violations, family law, landlord and tenant issues, and more. For students, these consultations provide them with crucial context and information. 

“In the legal realm, a lot of students don’t realize the consequences of some of their actions,” said Cruz. “For example, if they receive criminal charges for underage drinking or disorderly conduct, and they don’t come to us, they might just plead guilty, which can haunt them in the future when they're applying for jobs, grad school, and so on.” 

“Instead, if they come to us when they do get themselves into trouble, we can explain what their options are, what is available to them, and they can then use that information to make more informed decisions.” 

Apart from its work with student consultations, RUSLS often connects students to other resources on campus, from Title IX to Student Conduct to the Dean of Students, among others. Although it does not represent students in court, the office provides referrals in conjunction with the Middlesex County Bar Association to local attorneys who usually take on student clients at discounted rates. 

“I think that one of the unique things about this office is that we work with other departments and offices,” said Michael Nelson, RUSLS’s staff attorney. “When we’re talking and working with students, we get a chance to see the whole human being, to help the whole human being, and the students appreciate that as well.” 

After consulting with RUSLS, students will often send staff members notes expressing their gratitude for the office’s work.  

“Thank you again for all the help today, you have no idea [of] the impact it made on me,” reads one. “I will definitely not forget the great help that Rutgers has been during this tough financial circumstance,” reads another. 

RUSLS hopes to bring more full-time members on board in the future, perhaps even beginning to represent students in court. Additionally, the office plans to collaborate with Rutgers—Newark and Rutgers—Camden's law schools to start an internship program in the future, giving 3rd year law students real-world insight into and experience in the work of legal advising. 

For now, the department will continue its work on behalf of Rutgers students, completing consultations and referrals, as well as performing community outreach and education to students by tabling at on-campus events, speaking at student organizations, providing workshops for other university departments, and putting out monthly informational podcasts on varying legal topics of interest to students. 

“The students that do come here really appreciate what we do,” said Nelson. "If we could have more students coming to our office, whether they need help or whether they are thinking about becoming lawyers, that would be fantastic.” 

Rutgers University Student Legal Services is located in Tillett Hall, Room 247, and is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. To schedule an appointment with RUSLS, students can contact the office at (848) 932-4529 or via email at sls@echo.rutgers.edu

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