Indiana Law Journal

Article Title

Self-Help, Reimagined

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2017

Publication Citation

92 Indiana Law Journal 1119 (2017)


We will never have enough lawyers to serve the civil legal needs of all low- and moderate-income (LMI) individuals who must navigate civil legal problems. A significant part of the access-to-justice toolkit must include self-help materials. That much is not new; indeed, the legal aid community has been actively developing pro se guides and forms for decades. But the community has hamstrung its creations in two major ways: first, by focusing these materials almost exclusively on educating LMI individuals about formal law, and second, by considering the task complete once the materials have been made available to self-represented individuals. In particular, modern self-help materials fail to address many psychological and cognitive barriers that prevent LMI individuals from successfully deploying the substance of the materials. In this Article we make two contributions. First, we develop a theory of the obstacles LMI individuals face when attempting to deploy professional legal knowledge. Second, we apply learning from fields as varied as psychology, public health, education, artificial intelligence, and marketing to develop a framework for how courts, legal aid organizations, law school clinics, and others might reconceptualize the design and delivery of civil legal materials for unrepresented individuals. We illustrate our framework with examples of reimagined civil legal materials.