Student Legal Services Renovates Office, Offering Affordable, Confidential Legal Support

March 26, 2024
Illustration of person discussion.

Students with legal questions can drop in without an appointment at the University of Virginia Student Legal Services center Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 2 and 3 p.m. (Stock image)

For Rosemary Faircloth, a 2023 graduate of the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences, the challenges of off-Grounds living during her undergraduate experience are all too familiar. Dealing with an uninhabitable living space and an unresponsive landlord, Faircloth and her roommates, like many students, accepted her housing issues as an inevitable aspect of the college experience. 

Their perspective shifted when Faircloth’s roommate scheduled a meeting with Student Legal Services, a UVA Student Council branch offering students low-cost and confidential legal assistance.​​ The organization was founded in 1972. 

Under the guidance of Lester Wilson, the organization’s newly retired legal practitioner, Faircloth and her roommates were advised to issue a “21/30-day notice,” giving the landlord 21 days to address the condition issue. If conditions did not improve, the notice would allow the tenants to vacate the property in 30 days. 

Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do
Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do

With Wilson’s legal guidance, the intervention successfully resolved the issue. 

“Students need to learn how to self-advocate,” Faircloth, who majored in art history and minored in government, said. “A lot of students don’t even realize that they’re being abused by landlords in some situations, and sometimes they just let it happen.” 

Today, Faircloth serves as Student Legal Services’ administrative assistant while taking a gap year before starting law school. 

To increase Student Legal Services’ visibility and engagement with students, the center hosted an open house on Thursday and honored Wilson’s decades of service. After 26 years working with UVA students, Wilson passed the torch of legal support to Teresa Hepler in the fall of 2023. 

Portrait of Rosemary Faircloth

During a gap year between completing her undergraduate degree at UVA and beginning law school, Rosemary Faircloth works as the administrative assistant for Student Legal Services. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Hepler, a 2017 graduate of UVA’s School of Law, served as a public defender in New Hampshire for 3 ½ years before returning to Virginia to work for two years at the Legal Aid Justice Center in the Charlottesville office. 

“I knew I wanted to do law specifically to represent the underdogs and to help change things,” Hepler said. “I still think I represent the underdog because students do not have money. Students are brand-new adults, and many students have never experienced the law, so I think Student Legal Services is so important. It is a judgment-free first step.” 

The open house showcased the office’s recently completed renovations and a lively hand-painted mural that greets visitors entering the space. Inspired by her past experiences with the U.S. legal system, the artist, second-year nursing student Katherine Flores, said she depicted different species of flowers in the mural to represent UVA’s diverse student population. 

“The flowers you see in the mural are all very resilient, and they thrive in very harsh environments,” Flores said. “The lotus flowers, for example, thrive in murky waters, yet they are gorgeous and grow so well. I wanted to highlight the persistence and determination of the student body at UVA.” 

Candid Photo of Lester Wilson and Teresa Hepler.

Lester Wilson, the former attorney of Student Legal Services, retired last fall after 26 years of service. Continuing the legacy of providing low-cost legal assistance to students, Teresa Hepler stepped into the role as the new attorney for the organization last September. (Photos by Dan Addison)

A board of directors made up of students and other stakeholders oversees the long-term vision of the Student Legal Services office. Fourth-year student Finn Pollard and third-year student Roba Metwally are the co-chairs.  

“Our main responsibilities relate to outreach, to make sure students know about Student Legal Services,” Pollard, who majors in religious studies and minors in Chinese, said. “The fact that students can have free legal representation is an amazing thing, but people do not know much about it and don’t take advantage of it.” 

Students can ask Hepler general law-related questions during Student Legal Services’ drop-in hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 2 and 3 p.m. Free notary services are also available during walk-in hours. No appointments are necessary for drop-in meetings. 

While Student Legal Services cannot take on cases dealing with personal injury or worker’s compensation, students can request a consultation appointment, allowing Hepler to assess the case and refer the student to the appropriate resources. For more information regarding what cases can be accepted by Student Legal Services, visit its website

Illustration of Butterfly
Second-year nursing student Katherine Flores received unanimous votes from the Student Legal Services advisory board to paint a mural on the wall, welcoming students as they enter the office. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“I can help students navigate the process,” Hepler said. “Even if I can’t advise them on the law, I can at least give them a bit of an understanding of the law and validate the way they’re feeling.”

Apart from advising and representing students legally, Student Legal Services aims to increase educational opportunities aimed at preventing legal issues before they happen, such as information sessions, workshops, and social media infographics. Hepler calls this a “community lawyering model.” 

Check out Student Legal Services’ security deposit information session, which will be held Friday at 2:30 p.m. in room 389 of Newcomb Hall.

Media Contact

Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications