Self-Help, Reimagined

This report describes a legal self help project started in the State of Maine to better help low and moderate income people deal with consumer law problems on their own. Researchers working on the project started with the premise that self-help materials cannot be successful unless:

  • people can find the materials in a timely fashion
  • having found the materials, people can "deploy" them or use them to address their problem

The researchers note that while there are presently many self-help materials available through state courts and legal aid organizations, there is a significant difference between being able to find information and knowing how to use it effectively. In order to address the latter point, they look at examples from other fields such as public health, education, and cognitive psychology. They use these examples to envision types of self-help materials that can address the hurdles faced by laypeople trying to navigate the legal system without representation.

The self-help project informed by this research identifies people who are being sued in a debt collection case and assigns them into four groups, each of which will receive a different level of self-help or professional support. Participants will be tracked over a three year period to determine whether the project's self-help kits have a positive impact on their credit scores and financial wellness. These self-help kits contain several basic cartoon drawings that aim to help consumers overcome fears and intimidation of going to court on their own.