Associate Professor Dalié Jiménez is playing a lead role in a large-scale, first-of-its-kind randomized research project to evaluate the effectiveness of various legal and counseling interventions aimed at helping individuals in financial distress – which is defined in the study as people who have been the subject of a law suit in at least one credit card collection case in Maine, where the research participants are based. According to Professor Jiménez, who co-designed the study with Harvard Law Professor Jim Greiner and Professor Lois Lupica of the University of Maine School of Law, the research effort, known as the Consumer Financial Distress Project, is expected to be ongoing for the next five years.
Assisting Professor Jiménez are students from her Consumer Laws and Debt Collection seminar. “Students I taught last spring wrote legal memos answering questions from Pine Tree Legal Assistance (a project partner that will provide lawyer representation) with regard to representing consumers in credit card debt collection cases,” says Jiménez. “During the summer, my [student] research assistant compiled the memos into a 200-plus page manual. In addition, the students in my fall (2013) seminar created four kinds of pro se assistance packets that will be used by one of the control groups.”
The 1,200 people anticipated to participate in the study will be randomized into one of four groups: those who receive an offer of an attorney; those who are given an incentive to get financial counseling; those who receive an offer of an attorney, as well as a financial counseling incentive; and those who receive pro se assistance in the form of the self-help packets. Ultimately, Professor Jiménez expects the study to identify ways to measure the effectiveness of each of the four interventions with regard to its impact on one’s credit score and usability of credit. “We’ll also have enough information to say something meaningful about the effects of bankruptcy on people’s emotional well-being,” she says.