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Got a legal question related to COVID-19? SMU law students want to help

SMU Dedman School of Law is offering free, coronavirus-related legal information through a “helpline" that launched June 1. Just call 214-SMU-COVD.

DALLAS — SMU Dedman School of Law is offering free, coronavirus-related legal information through the school’s first ever “helpline.”

The law school launched its COVID-19 legal helpline on June 1. Forty-five law students run the helpline under faculty supervision.

North Texans can call 214-SMU-COVD and explain their legal, COVID-19-related issues to law students.

The school told WFAA they get about 10 calls per day with topics ranging from unemployment to evictions.

“You can expect to get someone to listen to your problem and (to get) free legal information and, in some cases, where we can, limited legal advice,” SMU Dedman School of Law Professor Mary Spector said. “(Callers) may also receive a referral directly to an outside law firm, a pro bono attorney, or to an agency.”

Spector came up with the idea for the helpline. Due to the pandemic, many law students lost summer opportunities so she wanted to create a program that would help students and the community.

“Students have told me that they’ve gained confidence (through working the helpline),” Spector said. “It’s been rewarding to them to hear the relief in a caller’s voice when they call them back with information.”

Law students answer calls and get information about a caller’s legal situation related to COVID-19. Then the students do extensive research about the problem and consult with partnering attorneys, legal agencies, and supervisors. Finally, the law students call the person back and present free legal information.

“We (can’t) really give legal advice because the students aren’t lawyers,” Spector said. “We are not providing legal representation. We’re providing legal information as best we can. We’re providing some very limited advice on a very specific matter.”

Spector said about 70% of last week’s calls were questions about evictions.

Bach Norwood just finished his first year of law school at SMU Dedman School of Law. He’s been working at the helpline since June.

“People are calling, and they say, ‘I think I have to get out in three days. My landlord put something on my door. What should I do?’ Or, ‘I live in Dallas County, but not Dallas city, what are my rights?’” Norwood said.

“This is my first experience actually working with real people,” Norwood said. “You start to understand what kind of an impact you can have in people’s lives.”

Spector said the helpline was originally supposed to end at the end of July. However, she says they are working to continue the helpline (in some form) through the fall semester.

The COVID-19 legal helpline is open:

  • Monday: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • Tuesday: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.; 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Thursday: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Friday: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Call 214-SMU-COVD to speak to someone.

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