You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

getting self-help help


If you’ve decided that you want to try to solve a legal problem without using a lawyer, to learn about an area of the law before deciding whether to hire a lawyer to work on all or part of an issue or case, or simply to be a better-informed client, there are a lot of resources available to assist you in your task — online, at courthouses and libraries, or in book stores.  Several organizations have already compiled very good lists of self-help resources and other information on the law (see, for example, the websites that we have listed in the Self-Help Gateways section of our SHLEP SideBar).

Below, we list websites that can get you directly to Self-Help or Pro Se centers in your particular state (usually court-based resources), or help you find other forms of legal information that are likely to be helpful to self-represented litigants or do-it-yourself legal problem solvers. Then, we’ll link to a few of the best online Self-Help Centers, and mention a couple books that might help you to choose wisely, if you plan to invest time and/or money on self-help publications.

red check is primarily focused on helping pro se practitioners better serve self-repesented individuals.  Nonetheless, it has accumlated a lot of information for the consumer who is trying to “self-represent” in court or to solve other routine legal problems himself or herself.   Their main page of Resources for the Self-Represented Litigants has grouped information and links in five categories:  Legal Aid Services, Online Legal Information, Court Forms, Self-Help Centers and State Court Websites.
. . . . .

. . . . .The State Court Websites link will allow you to quickly find out what resources are available online from your state’s judiciary.  SHS says “Often the website of the court where your case is being tried is the best place to begin a search for self help programs and court forms.” 

. . . . . The Court Forms section lists two major mega-lists of forms available state-by-state that can make the task of representing yourself considerably easier (especially if they are written in “plain English” and are accompanied by helpful instructions). 


. . . . The Online Legal Information – section lists some of the most robust and well-respected websites for many kinds of law-related information (e.g., The Library of Congress’ Guide to Law Online; the Virtual Chase Legal Research Guide; and the Open Directory’s list of Law Libraries by state).  

. . . . . Self-Help Centers — SHS links to the Pro Se Self Help/Information Centers and Resources page of the National Center for State Courts.  NCSC lists Self Help Centers organized by state, including both online Centers and onsite Centers (which offer help at the courthouse, or with a helpline and/or walk-in hours). 

. . . . . The Legal Aid Services links present a wide-array of resources for those needing legal aid or low-cost legal services.

You can find another helpful list at The Pro Se Law Center – State-by-State Court Links, which has, for each state, a link and short description of online resources helpful to the self-reprented. This is a collection of links to court pro se sites and other court-based services for pro se litigants.
. . . . . . 

. . . . . .  A few examples of successful Self-Help websites   

If you’re wondering what a good Self-Help Center looks like, we suggest that you take a look at the following sites (there are others, and we hope to add to this list frequently): 


–  The Maricopa County [AZ] Superior Court Self-Service Center has been a trail-blazer. It offers much information and has over 400 court forms available online, covering domestic violence, family law, guardianship, estate, dependency, small claims, and tax appeal.


–  The California Courts Self-Help Center is thorough and user-friendly, with extensive help for Small Claims litigants and parties in Family Court matters, a good Glossary of legal terms, Ask a Librarian services, and much more.  


–  The Wisconsin Court System Self-Help Center doesn’t have a lot of whistles, buttons or bells, but it is straightforward, easy to use and understand, and has a lot of information.


–  The Florida State Courts Self-Help Program focuses on Family Court matters (e.g., divorce, custody, child support, paternity); many forms have been created with the pro se litigant in mind, and local self-help centers provide a variety of onsite services. 


sleuth  Don’t forget (as we explained in this post), you can get useful and trustworthy help with your legal research and problem-solving from the reference librarians at public law libraries or your local public library.  You can do it in person, by email, and even through Virtual/Chat Reference services. 

. . . . What About Books?

There are many sources of legal self-help publications. and the legal reform group HALT have been leaders in the self-help movement and are both known for quality products.  HALT has put together a group of Do-It-Yourself Best Buys, and has also published a volume entitled Do-It-Yourself Law: HALT’s Guide to Self-Help Books, Kits & Software (2006, 189 pp.), which reviews the most popular self-help legal products on the market and identifies the best and worst in eight legal areas including property law, family law, taxes and small business. 
Law for the Layperson (3rd Edition, 2006, 485 pp.), by Murley, Diane and Hewette, Amber is far more comprehensive (and expensive).  It reviews hundreds of books, pamphlets and articles which seek to help non-lawyers help themselves, and can help the layperson determine which of these sources is best suited for their particular need.  You may be able to locate a copy of this reference volume at your local public library or law library.

. . . . How Judge Online Sources? 

If you’re worried about the quality of online legal resources (especially the ones who want your money), take the time to read Legal Websites: Separating the “Good from the Bad and the Ugly by the Maryland Peoples Law Library and Maryland Legal Assistance Network.  PLL and MLAN have put together this brochure/webpage, which asks “How can you tell a reputable legal information site from one published by the con artist?”  To help you decide if a website is reliable, it suggests “10 signs of excellence in a legal website.”









Log in