On the second floor of Holton Hall lies the one-woman operation known as Student Legal Services. Sarah Barr, legal services attorney, provides free legal advice to any student enrolled at K-State, and when necessary, will represent students in court.
Student Legal Services was formed in 1971 when Pat Bosco, current dean of student and vice president of student life, was student body president. Of the program’s nearly 50 year history, Barr has been managing the service on her own for the past 17 years.
While Barr said she enjoys being on her own, she also said that aspect of the job comes with its challenges, such as the inability to do a lot of trial work. Barr said trials take a lot of time to prepare for, and due to this, the majority of students who want to take a case to trial will have to either to do it themselves or hire a private attorney.
“I would say that’s probably the most challenging thing, knowing I have a finite amount of time and what’s the best way to use that for the most good for the most students,” Barr said.
If Barr were to prepare for one student’s trial, she said that may equate to her not being able to see and give advice to 20 other students.
“I really liked the action [of trials], but that doesn’t mean that because I’m not doing trials, I’m not fulfilled,” Barr said. “I really love what I do now.”
Prior to becoming a lawyer, Barr had her sights set on teaching, but in 1979, she said she had a hard time finding a job. Instead, she decided to go to law school, which she graduated from in 1985. Barr said law school wasn’t too big of a leap for her as her grandfather was the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court and her father, uncle and brother were all lawyers too.
Following law school, Barr practiced as both a defense and prosecuting attorney. She was employed in southwest Kansas as a child support enforcement attorney and later as an assistant county attorney for Pottawatomie County prior to coming to K-State.
“I’m not going to say I’ve done it all, but I’m pretty well-rounded,” Barr said.
She said she now thinks her current position at K-State is the best legal job in the county as it is a blend of her passion for teaching, law and motherhood.
“Whenever people ask how many kids I have, I say I have one son and however many people are enrolled at Kansas State,” Barr said.
She said one of her favorite parts of her job is when students who are absolutely terrified come in, and she has the opportunity to rationally explain what is happening and talk them down. In some cases, Barr said she sees students who are unable to eat, sleep and concentrate in class, but after 30 minutes together, she is able to help the student relax, formulate a plan and leave her office feeling better than when they came in.
“Not every case is a capital murder case or, in the grand scheme of things, not really that important,” Barr said. “But to that student, it’s really important, and they just need somebody to walk them through and explain what’s going to happen.”
Barr said the most common issues students come to her for legal advice about are minor in possession of alcohol, minor in consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct and traffic citations.
“Although I’m delightful and hilarious and very helpful, I’m probably the one person on campus you don’t want to see,” Barr said.
One of the questions she often asks students before they leave her office is if they could have afforded a private attorney. Barr said many of them say they could not, which reinforces the necessity of her free legal services at K-State. Barr said knowledge is power, and that’s often what students are seeking, rather than representative counsel.
“Honestly, 99 out of 100 kids do not come in here looking to get out of something,” Barr said. “They come in here because they need to know how to manage it, and this is something that they’ve never had to do before in their life.”
For example, when a student has to appear in city court, Barr said she walks them through the entire process, from telling them where the restrooms are to where they are supposed to sit in the courtroom. Barr said she does not want there to be any surprises for students, so they can walk in with some sense of confidence.
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Barr also frequently talks to large groups of students at events like Union Program Council’s Tenants Rights Panel last semester. Emily Muckelbauer, senior in marketing, was one of the students who planned the event, and she said the purpose of the panel was to educate students on their rights if they’re renting an apartment or house.
Prior to the event, Muckelbauer said Barr told her a story about an international student who was hand washing all of their dishes in their bathtub because the apartment did not have a sink or dishwasher, and the student thought this was normal because it was their first time in the U.S.
“Sarah is definitely a valuable resource at K-State,” Muckelbauer said. “She is willing to help anyone with any legal questions they may have.”
Barr said she enjoys talking to large groups because it allows her to give advice to a lot of people at once, and she said she always aims to keep her talks fun and fresh, too.
“I think students respond well to her advice because she is an upbeat and super interactive speaker,” Holli Woodyard, junior in nutrition and health, said. “Sarah makes learning about legal topics fun, but is also able to relay the do’s and don’ts very clearly.”
Barr said she came to her job at K-State in a fairly roundabout way, but she thinks it fits her personality best.
“It’s just great to empower these kids to go out and take care of themselves,” Barr said.