Take your legal troubles to Kathryn McCauley, director of UNT's Student Legal Services
For 9 years Kathryn McCauley has helped UNT students resolve legal problems that distract them from focusing on their educations. McCauley is director of UNT's Student Legal Services, which provides free legal help for UNT students.
"The idea of helping college students was very appealing to me," McCauley says about her decision to work in higher education. "I didn't choose the law for financial gain, I just wanted to enjoy my work. I knew the university setting would be invigorating and inspirational, and I was right. It's very rewarding to help students."
The road to law school
Kathryn McCauley, director of UNT's Student Legal Services
After McCauley earned her undergraduate degree from St. John's University, she worked in several jobs while she searched for the career that would bring her contentment. Stops along her career journey included the Bank of New York in the Wall Street district, the treasurer's division at CBS and teaching 6th, 7th and 8th graders.
"At the time, I was searching for the type of work that would fulfill me, until I finally realized that returning to school for a law degree would put me on that path," McCauley says.
So in 1990 she went back to school, enrolling in SMU's Dedman School of Law and 3 years later, she was a bona fide attorney.
When she's not assisting students, McCauley enjoys reading and outdoor pursuits.
"Reading is a passion," she says. "Right now I'm a member of a great books club where I get to revisit some of the classics."
She's also a member of the Texas Outdoor Women's Network's Dallas chapter.
"It's a group that organizes trips for hiking, camping, bird-watching, cycling, or anything that involves the outdoors," McCauley says.
Types of Student Legal Services cases
Collectively, McCauley and the Student Legal Services staff provide legal advice, representation and self-help education. Specifically, the office can help you with cases including:
- security deposits
- debts and credit issues
- unpaid wages
- dispute resolutions
- cellular phone billing
- domestic violence
- wrongful termination
- lemon law
- auto accidents
- deceptive trade practices
- sexual harassment
- consumer complaints
- simple divorces
- name changes
- wills and powers of attorney
While Student Legal Services does not represent students in criminal matters (including traffic tickets), the office can refer you to other local attorneys or, through the State Bar referral network, help you find legal representation.
McCauley says most commonly students come to her office to seek help with landlord-tenant disputes.
"Especially cases involving the return – or not – of security deposits," she says.
McCauley's tips to make sure you get your deposit back
- Fill out a move-in inventory (if you aren't given one, ask) and be very specific. Turn it in by the deadline (usually within 48 hrs. of move-in), and keep a copy.
- Take pictures of the condition of the apartment before you move in, paying particular attention to any cracks or dents in the walls, the inside of the refrigerator and stove, the bathroom floors, and the flooring. If you see damage, be sure to print out the picture and note on the back the exact location and date.
- A couple of months before moving out, check your lease to see how much notice you're required to give (sometimes it's 30 days; sometimes 45 or 60). Do it in writing and keep a copy, noting how and when you delivered it.
- A few days before moving out, write a note to the property manager, asking to set up a "walk-through" time and date. Keep a copy, noting how and when it was delivered. Don't be surprised if you don't get a response.
- Before turning in your keys, take pictures of the condition of the apartment, focusing on the empty refrigerator, stove, oven, and bathroom fixtures.
- When you turn in your keys, give the manager written notice of your forwarding address. Keep a copy, noting when and how you delivered it.
By law, a landlord must refund your deposit within 30 days following the date you leave; or if any portion of the deposit is kept, you must be given a detailed explanation with your refund, again, within 30 days.
In August, Student Legal Services reached a significant milestone when the total amount of money the office recovered for students over the last 5 years topped $500,000. The recovered amount includes funds saved for students by negotiating settlements as well as money actually returned to students.
"Mostly we see security deposits returned to students which usually average less than $500," McCauley says. "But every so often we’ll work on something like a credit card collection case which results in a larger single recovery or a car accident case and are able to recover sizeable property or personal injury losses for a student."
The most the office has recovered for a single student was $26,000 in a debt collection case.
How to get legal help
While you may contact the office at any time, attorneys do not provide legal advice by telephone or e-mail. Students need to come into the Student Legal Services office during walk-in times to meet with an attorney in person. The office is in the University Union, Room 322 AA.
"When students come in for advice, they must complete an application (pdf) and depending on the nature of the problem, they are escorted into the office of the appropriate attorney," McCauley says.
Representation in court
Though Student Legal Services staff and attorneys can't represent students facing criminal charges, they can represent students in certain civil cases and do so when the situation warrants it.
"If the student has a dispute that involves a relatively small amount of damages, we encourage them to use Denton's small claims court to file a lawsuit and our office provides detailed information and a self-help packet for that purpose, and we encourage frequent communication throughout the process," McCauley says. "There are times where one of the attorneys needs to represent a student in court, and we have done so on numerous occasions."
Student Legal Services is hosting an open house Nov. 19 from 3 - 5 p.m. in its recently updated office in the University Union, Room 322 AA. You can meet McCauley and the SLS staff, learn more about how the office helps students and enjoy snacks and refreshments.