Inexpensive ASMSU legal counsel fills student needs

This past September, the Associated Students of Montana State University (ASMSU) signed a contract with Audrey and Charlie Cromwell to provide affordable legal counsel to MSU students.The couple, who are both Montana natives and graduates from the University of Montana Law School, started their Bozeman firm in 2011. Since then the Cromwell’s quickly realized that the university was the town’s “heart and soul,” and sought to use their legal talents to help college students

Around the same time the Cromwell couple moved to Bozeman in 2011, the Montana Supreme Court passed two orders to revise the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct and the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure in respect to limited scope representation (LSR). During LSR, as defined by the state of Montana, “A lawyer assists with a specific task or tasks including legal advice, document preparation or review, and/or limited appearances.”

Audrey was one of the first lawyers to practice LSR in Montana, immediately qualifying the couple for the position at MSU. When the Cromwell’s heard of the opportunity to work with students, they contacted the university, and their contract soon followed on Sept. 4. Though the current contract is only for the 2014-2015 school year, the couple has expressed interest in returning next year to continue their work.

Located in the ASMSU office, SUB 221, the duo has created a simple way for students to seek legal council. Either Audrey or Charlie is present in their MSU office on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 – 5 p.m. to meet with students by appointments scheduled through the ASMSU office. The cost to students is a one-time payment of $10 per legal issue, regardless of the nature. Even if the Cromwell’s aren’t able to help a student out with their situation directly, both Audrey and Charlie are able to provide references to other lawyers in the area who share the couple’s same passion of helping students with low rates.The cost entitles the student to a thirty minute session, where a majority of legal issues are resolved. If, however, more time is needed to work with a client, the couple does not charge any additional fees given the core legal incident is the same.

Contracting legal services for students is a relatively new development for MSU as previously ASMSU had an attorney on staff. However, at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, the former ASMSU executive team, comprised of President Lindsay Murdock, Vice President Lukas Smith and Business Manager Erica Dunn passed a structural change to eliminate the position of ASMSU attorney. Phyllis Bock, who had held the position of attorney for 31 years, then became the operations manager. Bock retired soon after and ASMSU began the search for an attorney with whom to contract services.

Since the inception of their office in September, the Cromwell’s have already assisted over 45 students, and are operating under their allocated budget; a claim many other offices wish to make. Audrey and Charlie noted that neither of them see their work with the ASMSU as a money-making opportunity but one of service and philanthropy.

Charlie said that the majority of their work is to “educate and inform.” He continued, “MSU students have the skills to fight their issues taught to them here. All we do is give them the legal tools they need to succeed.” Charlie also noted that a majority of the students he’s helped thus far have been from landlord or alcohol related incidents. All of their student clients have since been successful in battling their legal dispute.

Though the couple’s office has been one appointment booking after the next, they hope more students become aware of their office’s presence. What an MSU student receives for ten dollars is valued at roughly $1,600 through the Cromwell private firm. The “golden rule” Charlie would give to MSU students is “when in doubt make an appointment.”