Preliminary investigation: how to find lawyers’ deskbooks

A law is valuable not because it is law, but because there is right in it. – Henry Ward Beecher.

Lawyers desk books are published by legal publishers, of which there are very few nowadays (it seems they’ve all bought each other out and are contracting into a legal publishing black hole).  In fact, several of the web sites I’d researched last year no longer provide certain free resources I was going to recommend. Greedy, greedy.

Legal publishing web sites do provide their books lists:

  • West.Thomson. Their huge, expensive professional data base is WestLaw; we non-lawyers can’t afford to subscribe and probably don’t have the chops to use it effectively. But West.Thomson publishes books in abundance and the site guides you to search its bookstore for specific legal areas and specific states. (I’ve linked you to the specific practice areas page.)
  • LexisNexis, another extremely expensive legal cum publication data base, is, like WestLaw, out of the financial reach of us non-lawyers.
  • And there’s always Amazon. It’ll give you a long list of books. But watch it: you’re looking for professional desk books, not advice books for “dummies.” Stay away from books with cutesy titles aimed at non-lawyers. You want to read what lawyers read, not what lawyers want you to read. So here’s the link to the professional law book catalog attached to Amazon, which gives you a choice of practice areas/lawsuit areas in which to search.

Hooking into these websites, develop a short list of lawyer’s guides (name and authors) in the area of law in which your case falls, as well as the jurisdiction in which you’ll be suing—federal court or state court. As I pointed out, the best resource would be a book that covers the entire United States. (As long as you read the appropriate footnotes.)

Or you might try a general google search for, say, “employment law desk book,” or “personal injury deskbook.” [I’m amused that when I ran a search on Search Warrant Law Deskbook, immediately following a link to the actual (and almost $400) book, was the link to Sidebar for Plaintiffs and its recent references to the Search Warrant Law Deskbook. Is this what is meant by “meta”?]

Now that you have a very short list of possible deskbooks, where can you read them? Two places:

Your local public library system. Contact them (Welcome to the New York Public Library, for instance) and find out whether they have any of the books on your list and at what branch. Carrying a pad and pen or laptop computer, and with plenty of time to spend, pay a visit to the branch library, take the desk book that seems easiest to understand and read the portions that apply to your situation. Oh, and do not overlook the footnotes. Did I tell you that already?

Make notes; make copies of any pages that really elevate your mood by demonstrating that you do have a genuine case.

Court law libraries. If your public library doesn’t have any useful law books, federal and state courts are open to the public. Each court should have a law library at one or more of the court buildings. Find out where your local court library is located.

As an experiment, I googled “Omaha, Nebraska” + “court system” and clicked around until I found a Supreme Court law library, open to the public, with schedule information. I’ve also had success googling the following term: “courts + State of [fill in your state].” So I assume that somewhere in your area you can find a complete law library, whether federal or state.

If you go to a court law library (with pad and pen or laptop), throw yourself on the mercy of the librarian; tell him/her what you’re looking for and that you want to learn some things before you look for a lawyer.

Be very sweet to him/her. And when you’re done thank her/him profusely for the help you will certainly get.

And p.s. read those footnotes.

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