Self-Help Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Self-Help, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Self-Help?

(n) Self-help is used to identify the actions by which a persons find remedy to his problems without resorting to intervention of court or authorities enforcing law. Example, finding and taking back stolen goods oneself.

History and Meaning of Self-Help

Self-help is a term that refers to individuals trying to solve problems themselves without seeking official help from authorities, courts or professionals. The idea behind self-help is to save time and cost while resolving the problems efficiently. The term self-help originated in the mid-17th century as a legal principle in the U.S. and England, which authorized a person to use reasonable force to defend themselves and their property from physical harm.

Examples of Self-Help

  1. A neighbor who trims their own foliage hanging over onto your property instead of contacting the city's code enforcement or their landlord directly.
  2. A person who repaints their own building or fixes a broken window without waiting for help from their landlord or building manager.
  3. An individual who removes snow from their own driveway, after a snowstorm, without waiting for the city snowplows to clear the neighborhood.
  4. A landowner who removes a tree on their property that's at risk of falling on a fence or building themselves instead of waiting for a city permit.
  5. A small business owner who takes their client to small claim court instead of hiring an attorney.

Legal Terms Similar to Self-Help

  1. Vigilantism: Taking the law into one's own hands without legal authority, resulting in an individual punishing wrongdoers for their actions.
  2. Judicial Review: A review of a lower court's or administrative body's decisions by a higher court to determine whether errors or irregularities occurred during the proceedings that require corrective measures.
  3. Pro Se: A Latin term meaning "for oneself" or "on one's behalf," referring to individuals representing themselves in court, often without attorney representation.
  4. Laches: A legal doctrine that a plaintiff cannot wait to file an action in court for an unreasonable time, as it may cause unjust harm to the defendant.
  5. Forum shopping: A practice where plaintiffs file legal suits in jurisdictions that are historically lenient to their cases' elements or favor their legal position, irrespective of where the incident occurred, or the defendants are based.