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What Is a Self-Help Law Center?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

A self-help law center is an online or physical location where non-lawyers can get legal forms, information and advice. In some cases, a self-help law center is located in a courthouse and provides assistance to people who are filing lawsuits or are involved in cases being tried at that courthouse. Legal aid or legal service organizations might also sponsor self-help centers for low-income individuals. Many of these centers offer services online as well. Occasionally, lawyers or paralegals are available to assist users in choosing forms or making decisions about their case.

Many people are unable to afford to hire a lawyer or, in some cases, might feel that they are capable of handling minor legal matters on their own. A self-help law center can assist these people by giving them information about legal and court procedures, including step-by-step instructions for filing or responding to a case. In some cases, courthouses support these centers with funds because it is to the advantage of the court system to prepare non-lawyers for efficiently presenting their cases in court. Free legal service organizations might support similar centers, because these organizations frequently do not have the resources to provide lawyers for everyone who requests legal help.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Typically, a self-help law center concentrates its offerings on assisting people with common and relatively simple legal issues, such as housing eviction, small claims court cases and uncontested divorces. In many cases, the same assistance that is available in a physical location might be available online. A self-help law center might provide access to legal form completion software so that laypeople can completely and accurately fill out and file the paperwork that is appropriate to their case. The center might also provide information in simplified language about person's legal options given their circumstances. Visiting a self-help law center at a courthouse can be particularly convenient, because a person can complete legal paperwork and then typically can file it in the same building.

When using a self-help law center, individuals should keep in mind that, without the benefit of legal counsel, they are in a vulnerable legal position. In some cases, a self-help law center might be staffed by volunteer attorneys who can offer short consultations to people who use the center. These attorneys might be able to advise law center users about whether it is a good idea for them to be handling their case on their own or whether they should try to find some type of free legal representation.

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