Preliminary Investigation: Lawyer’s Desk Books

Reason is the life of the law; nay, the common law itself is nothing else but reason … The law, which is perfection of reason. – Sir Edward Coke, First Institute (1628)

If you’ve read Before finding a lawyer: What’s your lawsuit? here under the category called Types of lawsuits, you’ve got a pretty good idea of the kind of lawsuit your situation falls into.

It’s now time to find out more about the laws themselves. You’ll get this information from a lawyer’s guide, or desk book (a professional guide and summary of all legal issues), on the type of law that governs your lawsuit.

Don’t even think of buying a desk book: most are prohibitively expensive (one excellent book on employment and labor law costs over $1700). You should be able to find one either in your public library system or your local court library. I’ll tell you what to find and where to find it in an upcoming post.

I learned about the usefulness of desk books when I had that employment trouble that led me to Miss Missouri Martin and the EEOC, et al. Fortunately, our law office had a three-volume lawyer’s desk book on employment law, encompassing both federal and state laws.

Nowadays, few individual or small-firm lawyers physically own that expansive collection of law books you see as background in TV shows or interviews. For research they access web law data bases like Lexis or West Law. But since I had that employment law desk book at hand, I stayed late at the office for a number of evenings and read through the sections of the book that covered my problem, made notes, made copies, highlighted good stuff.

It was exhilarating. There were actual laws barring almost every bit of unpleasant behavior that had been directed at me personally. For instance, one other employee was breaching a law when she falsely put me in a “bad light” with my employers (a/k/a backstabbing).

Everything I read confirmed my sense of law as basically fair and reasonable. Until I glanced down at the ample footnotes, some of which occupied virtually a whole page.

It is the layman’s tendency not to read footnotes; it’s one reason we need lawyers, who do read footnotes. True, there were laws barring certain forms of bad behavior in an office but … not the laws of New York State! New York State permits all sorts of egregiously vile behavior in offices, up to but maybe not including waterboarding.

Oh, yeah, I did have certain specific, if less sexy, causes to sue my employers, but not as many as offered in, say, North Dakota. Bummer.

Reading a comprehensive law book will give you details about your potential “causes of action,” i.e., the reasons supported by law for which you can actually bring a lawsuit. You’ll learn, as I did, that many wrongs can be done to you that are not necessarily legal causes of action. Knowing this will settle you down into a state of modified reality even before you see a lawyer, so when the lawyer says,“That’s not a cause of action,” you won’t go ballistic.

But reading a lawyer’s desk book will also give you encouragement about what causes of action you do have. And knowing that your case really is supported by law is empowering, as if you were, up to this point, floating in limbo but now can feel floor boards beneath your feet.

You have standing.

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