University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management

Academic life

Law students offer free legal advice to other young people: »At work I advise companies. Here it is people like myself«

In the association UNG RET (Young Law), law students offer free legal assistance to young people. And it's a win-win thing, according to the association. The young people get help, and the students gain experience.

Can you terminate your roommate’s lease in an apartment if you got into an argument?

This is the question a group of law students are trying to answer one Thursday evening in the Student Council’s premises on the central Købmagergade street in Copenhagen. This is not a teaching class. Neither is it a student job. It is the association Ung Ret, which offers young people, between 16 and 30 years of age, free legal advice.

»The question is, has the father rented the whole apartment to the son, who has sublet a room to the roommate, or is the roommate also on the contract,« Thomas Koldborg Christensen wonders. He studies sixth semester law.

»Yes, because this changes which section of the law it is that we should be looking at,« says Ellen Rosenmeier, who is a fourth-semester law student on the other side of the table.

UNG RET

A free legal aid service, which offers counsel to young people between 16 and 30 years on legal issues.

The association consists of volunteer law students, who go through a so-called job interview in order to work in legal aid.

If you have legal questions, you can contact Ung Ret here or at kontakt@ungret.dk

In a tiny room behind a glass wall, eight law students have showed up this evening to discuss two different enquiries from young people who are in a legal dilemma. The first question is about insurance, the other is about terminating the lease of a roommate. A question that turns out to contain a lot of subtleties.

The eight have divided themselves up into two groups, each of which is now studying the wording of the emails they have received, and discussing the cases with each other. There is a quiet buzz in the room as they study the enquiry. But within a short period of time, the conversations transform into those of passionate law students discussing the nuances of the Danish Tenancy Act with gesticulations and raised voices.

Win-win

Questions about rent and leases turn up often, because legal questions typically revolve around the classic things that you become acquainted with as a young person, explains Cathrine Carstensen, who is a so-called legal aid head and who studies 6th semester law.

»It is often rental law, student grants, and contract terms that people ask questions about,« she explains.

You might wonder why law students would spend their Thursday evening on volunteer work as legal counsellors. The law, after all, already takes up their whole study programme and maybe even a paying student job. But this is because Ung Ret offers something else, according to Emilie Nørgaard, who is the other legal aid head and who is doing the first year of her master’s degree.

»I went for this because I think it’s great to work with enquiries about things that can happen to anyone. We are young people themselves, and problems with tenants and student grants are not strange to us. At my student job, I offer counsel to companies. Here it is people like myself.«

»And then it’s also really cool when you get feedback, where you really can feel that you’ve made a difference,« adds Cathrine Carstensen. She points out that the association got a long thank you email from a student a few weeks ago. He had been told that his landlord had no right to withhold his deposit.

The specific thing about Ung Ret, according to Cathrine Carstensen and Emilie Nørgaard, is that it links up the students who want to get legal experience on different cases, with young people who need free legal advice.

»It’s a win-win,« says Emilie Nørgaard.

Needs a job interview to get in

Even though Ung Ret is a volunteer-run students association, they take their function as legal aid seriously. There are so-called job interviews when new law students apply to the association.

Job interviews are part of the process of ensuring that the volunteers have the necessary skills to be able to provide counsel. Twice a year, the volunteers are given a presentation by the law firm DLA Piper, that delves into the specifics of a particular legal issue that they would like to hear more about. Just like other legal organisations, the association has taken out an insurance policy, that covers them in case of improper counselling.

»But we usually have a good grip on things. Much of what we do is quite close to what we learn on our study programme. Here we do our ‘cases’ based on a specific issue from which we should then offer legal counsel. So the foundation is already there,« says Cathrine Carstensen.

Nevertheless, the association has a rule that you never respond to an enquiry without having at least two reading and discussing it. The idea is to safeguard the quality of the responses to the young people.

»And it’s also often in the discussions that we come up with the best responses. Because then there may be a different interpretation of the situation, which means that we have to give a different response,« says Cathrine Carstensen.

Many to help

Back in the small room, the students are still discussing the query about throwing out a roommate from a flat that has been bought by parents. On the screens in front of them, they have the student enquiry and the Danish Rent Act, and they have reached the point where they realize that there are two rental contracts at stake: In the first one, the son rents the apartment from his parents and then sublets a room for the roommate. In the second, newer, contract the parents rent the apartment to both of them.

»That’s why it’s not just one month’s notice, but three months,« Thomas Koldborg Christensen offers.

»They have probably changed it because you can’t get housing support if you rent a room without a kitchen, so they have changed it to make her a co-tenant of the apartment,« speculates Ellen Rosenmeier, who is a fourth semester law student.

Thomas Koldborg Christensen gets enthusiastic and starts to talk faster while he waves a pen.

»And this even only applies if she has neglected all good practice and order, and this has to be substantial. If it is problem between the two people themselves, I don’t think it’s enough. So it can be very difficult to throw out the roommate.«

A third person breaks in and interjects that an alternative method could be to have the father make it known that he himself wants to live in the apartment. Then the person has 1 year’s notice.

The case discussion continues, and a window is opened into the tiny room, which has become suddenly all-too-confined after the lively discussions about the legal paragraphs. Five minutes later, Ellen Rosenmeier concludes the case.

»I think that we should explain to him how difficult it is to terminate this tenant, and that they must try to solve this among themselves. If they can reach an agreement about how she can get six months notice, for example, then this is better than the father having to prove that he wants to move back into the apartment and all kinds of stuff. Otherwise, we can start by asking for him to send the tenancy agreement, so we can be sure that there are no stated exceptions.«

And this is how it sometimes ends. You give a response that the inquirer does not necessarily want, says Cathrine Carstensen.

»This is part of the game. And it’s not always the coolest thing to do to have to send a message back saying that they can’t do anything. But we can offer some clarification, and they can then relate to their situation from there.«

The number of enquiries that the legal aid service gets fluctuate from week to week, she says. When there are many, there can be seven inquiries, but some weeks there are only two.

»And that’s a shame, because there are definitely people out there who need help. And we are a group that really wants to help, so you just have to write in.«

This is part of the University Post series on University of Copenhagen (UCPH) clubs and associations. Read more about the Concentus choir here.

Seneste