Thursday, September 08, 2005

Legal Information for Everyone

Legal information is not just for lawyers, law professors, and law students anymore. Public law librarians, including librarians at state law schools, serve not just law-trained library users but also members of the public.

We are fortunate at the SIU School of Law to have a Self-Help Legal Center that makes simple legal forms and instructions available without charge through its website and by telephone order. This clinic also sponsors self help classes on divorce, taught by volunteer attorneys, to help people complete the forms and to answer questions about filing, court procedure, and hearings. The presence of the Self-Help Legal Center also justifies a good-sized collection of do-it-yourself law books, which make helping a pro se patron much easier.

For law librarians who do not have the benefit of a resident self-help clinic or a self-help law book collection, there are a number of good self-help resources on the web. Here are some of the best:

The ABA's Public Resources page has information on consumer legal issues and a variety of other legal topics; links to legal research sites; educational materials; Practical Law guides to everyday law; and general publications about the law and the legal system.

The Ohio State Bar Association makes its 200 page book, The Law & You available for free on the web.

The Consumer Action Website of the Federal Citizen Information Center has tips and information on consumer topics, a sample complaint letter, contact information for help in filing a consumer complaint, the Consumer Action Handbook , and other resources.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs has legal guides on a wide variety of consumer issues.

The Illinois Attorney General has many publications on consumer and citizen issues.

The Arizona Supreme Court has a comprehensive Self Service Guide for Divorce Cases.

The Northwest Women's Law Center Self Help Program has packets of family law and other law materials.

The Connecticut Judicial Branch's Self Help web page has publications, answers to frequently asked questions, forms and other information to assist citizens navigating the court system.

The Maryland State Law Library has reference guides for non-lawyers on a number of legal issues.

Although all of these sites are available to anyone with access to the internet, many of the people who need the materials do not have access to the internet, so they still rely on public libraries and law libraries for access to legal information.

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