Help the Financial Distress Research Project (FDRP) Over Its First Hurdle
by Marie Lawrence, A2J Lab Summer Research Associate
In case you missed it, the Financial Distress Research Project (FDRP) officially launched in early June! (Read our launch post here.) Over the past month, the A2J Lab has mailed more than 2,000 letters to people being sued in debt collection cases in Connecticut. Our letters recruit defendants into the study, which offers user-friendly self-help materials or direct representation in their small claims cases. After more than six years preparing to launch this large-scale effort, it’s gratifying to be finally on our way.
There’s only one hiccup: people aren’t enrolling.
We know recruiting people into a field study is tricky business, and the average response rate to standard direct mail is in the ballpark of 3% when the sender and recipient don’t have a preexisting relationship. But we thought we could do a little better than the industry standard. After all, in a previous experiment with small claims defendants in Boston (The Problem of Default, Part I), we developed a behaviorally-informed mailer that persuaded 20% of recipients to answer their lawsuits! We started off the FDRP study using a very similar mailer, and estimated we’d need just 4% of recipients to enroll in order to finish the study on time and on budget. No problem, we thought.
But like most error-proofed plans, something has gone awry. Our study’s viability depends on at least 12 defendants enrolling every week. Now in our sixth week of the study, we have just 16 enrolled total, with a couple dozen more in the pipeline.
So, what should we do? What’s the best way to induce pro se litigants to enroll in a study offering free legal help? We’re reexamining the latest literature to figure out how to catch their attention and persuade them to contact our field partner, Connecticut Legal Services. For now, we’re sending this letter in a white #10 (standard business) envelope with handwritten address, adhesive stamp, and a small image of our cartoon protagonist “Blob” in the return address space.
What do you think we should do to boost enrollment? We invite you to send your ideas to improve our mailer and get FDRP back on track.
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