Who do college students turn to when they’re in trouble and don’t live in Gotham or any other city with big name superheroes? Most would say their friends or family but at UW-Milwaukee, there’s a third option: the Legal Clinic.
The clinic which is funded by segregated fees is open to any and all UWM students from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Students, who have a problem pertaining to the following areas and more such as a dispute with a landlord, drinking or speeding tickets, even divorce or immigration can visit the clinic and receive help.
Thomas Witzel is a senior at UW-Milwaukee with a major in Criminal Justice and a political science minor; currently, he’s the Executive Director of the university’s Legal Clinic.
As the son of a cop and growing up, Witzel always thought he’d follow in his father’s footsteps, and in a way, he is, just not the way he imagined. Instead, he’s planning to attend law school and in the meantime is gaining real life experience at the Legal Clinic.
Witzel estimates that roughly 50 percent of the issues the clinic deals with having to do with a problem between the landlord and tenant i.e. the student. Given that it’s a college campus, the Legal Clinic also tends to deal with underage drinking and traffic citations more often than not.
The Legal Clinic, now a campus landmark, began as an experiment by the Psychology Department in 1971. After the experiment ended, the Clinic continued to exist and offered help to everyone in the city of Milwaukee. By 1997, the Clinic had produced nearly 1,500 alumni.
During this time, the Clinic continued to be open to the public, eventually, when the segregated fees students pay with their tuition became the sole funding for the clinic, it narrowed its clientele to strictly UWM students. Part of this reasoning allowed the Clinic to focus more intently on its benefactors: the students.
Getting help from the Legal Clinic is easy and students are rarely turned down. Students in need of legal help should walk into the clinic with their student ID to set up an appointment.
From there they set up a meeting with the student workers. During the meeting, they discuss the issues and how they can help.
Because the students working the office aren’t lawyers they are, “Not allowed to give legal advice.” Instead during the meeting, they get down student’s information and the lowdown on the situation, from there they set up a meeting with the clinic’s attorney, John Wartman.
Wartman has been assisting the clinic since 2001 and in Witzel’s own words is, “beyond essential.”
Each student is allowed one free 30-minute consultation with the attorney during which they discuss the problem. Wartman can provide the information directly to the students and help them figure out what to say. According to Witzel, Wartman seldom goes to court but he instructs students on how to handle it.
As the only staff attorney, Wartman only works part time, the rest of the time the clinic is run by students with all different majors.
Any student who works or has worked at the Legal Clinic began as a trainee. The trainee must work for one semester essentially acting as an intern and doing office work after that should they wish to continue, the clinic takes a vote to determine if they can stay. From there they agree to work for two semesters for at least 10 hours a week.
Most of the students in the office act as paralegals, they’re the ones who write the demand letter to the landlord. Witzel is a part of the Executive board which includes one appointed senior paralegal and three members who run for their position: personnel (HR), office manager, and executive director.
The Legal Clinic is an essential part of UWM’s campus in assisting students and giving them real world experience. So the next time you find yourself in trouble consider venturing into the Legal Clinic, it’s free, all you need is your student ID.
*Photo Credit: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Legal Clinic