Student Legal Services, Inc. Aims to Become Rare Tool For Charlotte Students
By Wyatt Crosher, Assistant Director of Communications for Student Affairs
Certain situations call for the kind of expertise most college students do not typically have access to, like how to settle a dispute about a lease with your landlord or what to do when facing a traffic ticket.
That's where Ashley McAlarney comes in.
McAlarney is director of the UNC Charlotte Student Legal Services, Inc. (SLS), a nonprofit law firm that opened last year in the Popp Martin Student Union. Current students who have paid their student activity fee can now receive confidential legal advice and learn about their legal rights for no additional charge.
McAlarney, who was previously working as a staff attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina, said this position felt like it was perfect for both her goals and expertise.
"When I saw the position listing, I was so excited. I knew that this role was the perfect combination of my skills, experience, and passion,” McAlarney said. Now a year and half into the job, SLS has a full board of directors, one full-time paralegal, and achieved its official 501c3 tax exempt status.
In fall 2022, McAlarney advised on over 100 student cases, not including notary services. She also delivered numerous presentations to student groups and campus departments, while promoting the firm's services at campus events like Gold Rush, RecFest, and other tabling opportunities.
The road to SLS went back further than Legal Aid of North Carolina for McAlarney. She has wanted to become a lawyer since she was in middle school, though she admits that she cannot remember why. Regardless, by the time McAlarney was in college at UNC Chapel Hill, that desire still remained.
There and later at the UNC School of Law, McAlarney became more specifically interested in public interest law. After working in various areas of the field, that passion ultimately led McAlarney to her current position at Charlotte.
McAlarney feels that previous experience, which includes working with issues regarding domestic violence and landlord-tenant law, is valuable for her role in SLS.
“The majority of my time practicing law has been with a nonprofit, and what we're building here at Student Legal Services expands on my experience with Legal Aid,” McAlarney said. “It's in a new context with university students, but the legal issues that we typically see here are similar to my previous work.”
Along with domestic violence issues and disputes with landlords and leasing agencies, McAlarney mentioned a long list of services that SLS provides. Those include, but are not limited to: reviewing an employment contract, providing legal advice on underage drinking citations, legal name and gender marker changes, and criminal record expunction petitions.
The creation of SLS gives Charlotte a service that is limited nationwide. While there are student legal services programs operating within other universities across the country, UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, and now Charlotte are among the very few that offer legal services through a nonprofit corporation that is a separate legal entity from the University.
To be a part of the creation of such a unique program is inspiring for McAlarney. For the SLS program to also fit so well with her previous experiences and future aspirations just adds to why Charlotte is exactly where McAlarney wants to be.
“It’s exciting. I am honored to be at the ground level of this, and it's an ideal position for me with my background and my interests," McAlarney said.
For more information on SLS, visit the UNC Charlotte Student Legal Services, Inc. website.