Student Legal Fund Society candidates discuss transparency and accessibility in first debate

On February 25, the Student Legal Fund Society (SLFS) candidates debated how to best improve accessibility and increase transparency regarding the swathes of money the fund is sitting on.

This year’s race is contested between one student slate, Students for Students, and independent candidate Danny Liu, who was originally part of the Students for Access slate until all of its other candidates withdrew.

The Students for Students slate consists of Ryan Wong, Sara Sebba, Nicholas Harterre, Ilaria Cobb, Chris Hakim and Molly Wilson. Only Hakim, who is the current AMS representative on SLFS, and Harterre were present at the debate.

Both Students for Students and Liu are running under a platform of transparency and accessibility.

The SLFS collects $1 from every UBC student as part of the annual AMS fees, which serves as a legal assistance fund for AMS members who require it. But many students are unaware of the services the society provides, which has contributed to the accumulation of a $750,000 reserve.

['auto'] Zubair Hirji

The debate’s central area of contention revolved around how to best reach out to students to increase recognition of the SLFS.

Liu argued in favour of reaching out to students directly to learn what usage of SLFS funds would be most beneficial for them, in addition to raising awareness within the UBC community of the services the SLFS offers.

“Whenever you want to spend money you really want to reach out to as many people as possible … [to] let them know we have all this money and hear from their feedback on what type of things that we may just have overlooked in terms of what cases there are to fund,” he said.

In contrast to Liu’s emphasis on student outreach, Students for Students’s platform was more partnership-based.

“Our platform [is based] around building up more strategic partnerships around new and existing relationships,” said Hakim.

In the past year, the Students for Students slate completed a partnership with the Law Students Legal Advice Program and have contributed to hiring lawyers who provide legal advice to UBC students.

“It’s not that you’re going out to the community asking them what type of cases you want, it’s more so students are coming to you with the cases that they have,” said Hakim. “Not only do you want students coming to you and reducing the amount of barriers there, you want to make sure that when students are getting legal aid from you, whether it’s through monetary compensation or connecting to them to an appropriate and great lawyer.”

Within the current system, Hakim claimed that students who seek help from the SLFS are likely to be connected to lawyers who work pro-bono or who don’t have expertise in their specific case of law.

“Currently within the SLFS, there is no back end support,” he said.

While both the Students for Students and Liu are running on platforms of financial transparency, both teams kept the elaboration of their plans towards this goal to a minimum.

Hakim and Harterre briefly discussed pursuing an audit of SLFS accounts, as well as wanting to utilize both the SLFS’s financial experts and student recommendations to raise awareness of their services.

Liu made no mention of his plan of providing an SLFS budget to UBC students, although it was mentioned in his online platform.

When asked about the progress the slate has made over their past year in charge of the SLFS, Students for Students acknowledge more work could have been done. Hakim placed the blame on the amount of clean-up left to them from their predecessors.

“This current team has had to catch up on making sure that all the bookkeeping is right ... with papers flying everywhere, assets and IT infrastructure not even working at all,” he said.

“So it’s been difficult to complete platforms, but there’s been strong partnerships that have been formed since [the beginning of the year].”

Both slates are scheduled to debate again during the Great Debate, which is going to take place Friday, February 28.