Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Public Policy Analysis

Reader 1

Amanda Hollis-Brusky

Reader 2

Vanessa Tyson

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Unlike most other industrialized nations, the United States does not recognize a right to counsel in civil cases. If litigants cannot afford or otherwise get access to an attorney, they must represent themselves in cases as important as domestic violence hearings, evictions, mortgage foreclosures, child custody proceedings, and debt collection cases. Previous research confirms that lack of representation results in worse outcomes for self-represented, or pro se, litigants. Given the expense of providing representation to those who cannot afford an attorney on their own, legal self help centers have emerged as a primary tool for combatting these disparities. The central question of this thesis is how these self-help centers can be improved. Drawing on a variety of literatures – particularly human centered design, education and cognitive psychology – as well as interviews with self-represented litigants and legal aid providers, this thesis explores the obstacles that self-represented litigants encounter when navigating the legal system and proposes ways in which self-help centers can address these obstacles.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.