Student Series: Deciphering Credit Reports

Students have been hard at work this semester to continue to develop, test, and improve self-help materials that are part of the Lab’s Financial Distress Research Project (FDRP). There are over 4o students working with the Lab on projects, and within FDRP several student teams are tackling specific tasks such as bankruptcy form instructions, debt management, and applying for fee waivers. We have students figuring out the legal details of these forms as well as constructing the best designs to translate complicated information to a self-represented litigant. If you’ve been following our blog you’ve read about some of the challenges that arise along the way as students try to make legal information and forms comprehensible.

This week, we hear from Alina Wattenberg, a 3L working on credit card debt self-help packets.

The A2J Lab’s First Hackathon

Jack Frost’s Boston relative might have covered the city in snow and forced several flight cancellations, but the A2J Lab pushed through with its first “hackathon” on Monday, February 13! Thanks to videoconferencing and collaborative technology–not to mention the dedication of expert colleagues–we assembled an energizing mix of Lab staff, designers, UX experts, behavioralists, lawyers, and, most importantly, a former guardianship client. Their charge was simple: brainstorm designs for self-help materials applicable to service of process in Massachusetts guardianship matters.

The A2J Lab’s YouTube Debut

The A2J Lab is committed to producing rigorous empirical evidence to support effective innovation in legal services. We also are part of a movement to transform the legal profession into one that values–and embraces–evidence-based approaches to narrowing the justice gap. In addition to our field operations, national presentations, and published papers, the A2J Lab recently hosted its first hackathon. On the snowy morning of February 13, we brought together a fantastic mix of expert, creative minds to develop self-help materials for our guardianship service of process study. 

directorscutIn another first, we are pleased to introduce our YouTube channel!

Guardianship, Service of Process, and A2J

guardinashipdraftBLOGFrom filing a petition to showing up for your first hearing, here is how you get a Minor Guardianship case started in Massachusetts.

That’s right, this diagram is just about service of process, or the steps necessary to just get the case, which can last several months, started. This diagram isn’t necessarily 100% correct either. Depending on the jurisdiction or the judge, certain types of service may be accepted with less paperwork or proof than others. Sometimes if litigants file a regular petition for guardianship after filing for temporary or emergency guardianship they must go through the service of process steps a second time. 

Student Series: Taking on Hospital Debt

As the week gets started, here’s another taste of what students working on one of the A2J Lab’s signature study, the Financial Distress Research Project, are doing. The students who have been blogging thus far have talked about their experiences in Small Claims Court as well as tackling self-help materials for complicated bankruptcy forms. And those aren’t the only two focus areas of the project; students are also entering more uncharted territory, trying their hand at creating self-help materials for hospital debt.

Today, we’ll hear from 2L Rachel Finkel, who works on the Hospital Debt team of the Financial Distress Research Project.

Student Series: Show Me Your Proof

If you’ve been following our student series, you’ve learned a bit about the math involved in filling out bankruptcy forms, the complicated world of wildcard exemptions, and the reality of Small Claims Court for many defendants. Students are tackling all of these issues as part of student teams working on the Lab’s Financial Distress Research Project, creating self-help materials and legal briefs for small claims cases and bankruptcy filings.

This week, Lauren Mercer brings us back to Small Claims Court to talk about how defendants should ask for, and then evaluate, plaintiffs’ evidence.

Student Series: It’s Not That Simple

Last week the student teams had their first meeting of the semester for the Financial Distress Research Project. And they’re pushing ahead on self-help materials! In addition to tackling the Lab’s mission to bring empirical thinking to the legal profession, students are trying their hand at understanding the alphabet soup of bankruptcy forms in order to craft the best self-help materials. It turns out, this can involve a lot of math (sometimes more math than law). Whether it’s calculating home costs, income and benefits to figure out how to apply for fee waivers, or determining what exemptions to claim, students are trying to navigate how best to represent these tasks, concisely and clearly, in self-help materials. Throughout the semester we’ll be continuing this series of student blog posts where students will talk about their work on A2J Lab projects.

Our fourth student blogger is 2L Zain Rifat, who works on the Bankruptcy team of the Financial Distress Research Project.

Student Series: From Theoretical Lectures to Field Research

One of the A2J Lab’s signature studies, the Financial Distress Research Project, has numerous moving parts and as the project has grown has brought new challenges for researchers and students. The Lab’s research seeks to bring empirics to the legal profession and persuade others of the value of rigorous evaluations, including RCTs, to figure out what works and what doesn’t in legal services. To do so our research tackles hard questions of triage, as well as new challenges like using adult education literature to push at the question of what exactly is effective self-help material. And to do so we have the help of many not-yet legal professionals, or law students, who are at a unique juncture to be able to craft self-help materials, bringing their outside knowledge before they are engaged in the profession, along with everything they are learning in the classroom. Throughout the semester we’ll be continuing this series of student blog posts where students will talk about their work on A2J Lab projects.

Our third student blogger is 2L Amanda Lee.  Amanda works on Financial Distress Research Project, creating a legal brief on small claims debt collection cases for judges to use in the proceedings. In this post Amanda talks about why she got involved in this project, what she learned when she did, and how law works in “the real world” for pro se litigants.

Student Series: Wildcard Exemptions

Students are back from break! And ready to tackle some more bankruptcy forms and self-help materials.

As we mentioned last week in our first student blog posts, there a quite a few students working on the Lab’s Financial Distress Project. They are constructing self-help materials, and in doing so learning the ins and outs of the bankruptcy process, interacting with court users, and drawing on literature from other fields.

Last week, Seth Motel talked about what he had learned from a small sample bankruptcy filings from Connecticut. This week, Alvina Pillai, also on the Bankruptcy Team of the Financial Distress Project, talks about how to navigate the complicated assessment of household items and federal “wildcard” exemptions.

Let’s Hear from Students!

The A2J Lab produces quality research on A2J issues and seeks to change hearts and minds about the value of rigorous empirical study, including RCTs, to the legal profession.  It also has a symbiotic relationship with students.  Lots of students.  Currently, over four dozen law students work on A2J Lab projects.  Some of these students will be writing blog entries to show how their work furthers Lab projects, and how the Lab provides them with opportunities to experience the real world of law.

Our first student blogger is Seth Motel.  Seth works on the Bankruptcy Team for the Financial Distress Research Project.  That means he works with several student team members to create self-help materials to allow low-income Connecticut individuals and families to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Self-help materials are one of the primary interventions that the Project will evaluate.

Seth’s post shows that a great deal of empiricism involves good, old-fashioned spadework.