You've heard the saying that the lawyer who defends
himself has a fool for a client. Then, if you try to act as your own lawyer,
does that make you a fool twice over? Perhaps it does. But nevertheless,
if you're interested in self-lawyering, start at Nolo.com (http://www.nolo.com).
You'll get much the same information that a lawyer would provide, and it
will be a lot cheaper.
Nolo.com is the Web site for Nolo Press, the
leading publisher of law books for lay readers. It has deep and informative
content on common legal matters (estates, divorce, taxes, etc.) that most
people will encounter. It serves as an all-around reference encyclopedia
and handbook on everyday law.
Nolo.com, 950 Parker Street, Berkeley, CA 94710,
Nolo.com is the Web site for Nolo Press, the leading
publisher of law books for non-lawyers. Nolo publishes plain, everyday-language
expositions of law and the legal system. It concentrates on the types of
law that average people are most likely to encounter: real estate, domestic,
small business, estates, and taxes. If you'd like a firsthand look at Nolo
books, simply go to your nearest public library. Even the smallest local
branch is likely to have several Nolo titles, which attests to their quality.
However, the books may be checked out, which attests to their popularity.
A '60s Law Ethic
Nolo's stated mission is to help people make
their way through the clutter and complexity of the legal process. The
company has an anti-establishment, "information power to the people" philosophy
that reflects its roots in Berkeley, California, in the late '60s. You
can't have stronger counter-culture credentials than that. Ralph Warner,
Nolo's founder, worked as a legal-aid lawyer in San Francisco and became
frustrated with the obstacles and pitfalls that surround even ordinary,
day-to-day legal matters. In 1971, he founded Nolo in a Berkeley attic,
and today the company, with over 100 employees, is still located there.
(In Berkeley, not the attic—Nolo now occupies an old factory building.)
The company's product line has expanded to 300
titles that cover the types of legal tasks and problems most of us will
eventually experience. There's nothing on constitutional law, but then
you or I aren't likely to be pleading before the Supreme Court anytime
soon. Many titles are available as downloadable e-books. Nolo's growing
line of electronic products includes software; legal forms; and eGuides,
which are short, booklet-length primers on legal topics.
Nolo.com is a publisher's Web site, and like all
others of its kind, its intent is to get you to buy its books. From this
common point, however, publishers' Web sites sort themselves on the amount
of information they provide. Some have a minimal presence in the form of
an unadorned list of the publisher's books; others have content from the
books and other related information. On this scale, Nolo.com is at the
far end of providing valuable information for free (maybe a lingering '60s-style
anti-commercialism). In effect it's a complete, concise reference library
of everyday law, with articles, primers, FAQs, legal forms, and news.
Centers for Your Kind of Law
Nolo.com is organized into 22 Law Centers, each
of which gathers several kinds of legal information on a single area of
popular interest. The centers are clustered into the following larger divisions
that encompass every major category of everyday law:
Each of the 22 Law Centers has several different
kinds of information:
Wills, estates, and retirement
Small business and employment
Real estate and landlord/tenant
Marriage, divorce, and children
Taxes and personal debt
Lawsuits, crimes, and personal injury
The centers are clearly organized and well-integrated
and include links to related content. Pages are sometimes a bit crowded,
with the list of Law Centers down the left frame, product ads down the
right, and the information squeezed in the middle. You normally regard
Web site ads as a necessary nuisance, but those in Nolo.com are often more
relevant. As you're reading about a legal matter of personal importance
in Nolo, you may very well be interested in getting a more thorough book
on the subject. Books purchased from Nolo.com have discounts of 15- to
30-percent off list price. And don't forget that your library's copies
may be missing or checked out with waiting lists.
A legal encyclopedia—This handbook-like reference
source provides a straightforward explanation of the legal system at the
grass-roots level. It summarizes the law, and, more importantly, how it
actually plays out every day in thousands of county courtrooms and lawyers'
FAQs—Hundreds of short FAQs present, in quick-scan
fashion, the most commonly arising questions on legal matters.
"Auntie Nolo" reference service—Auntie Nolo answers
questions submitted by Nolo visitors. Answers are sharp and to the point,
with a tart edge that makes for entertaining reading.
Updates—This is a current-awareness service that
is one of the most innovative and useful things on Nolo.com, and even on
publishers' Web sites in general. Updates contain summaries of recent laws
and cases that affect the information in the books. Each update has a list
ofNolo titles that are affected by the change. Updates are also available
through Nolo.com's e-mail newsletter.
Calculators—Forty calculators help in computing mortgage
costs, retirement needs, etc.
Nolo product information—As you move from one topic
to another, corresponding Nolo publications are displayed.
Elsewhere in Nolo.com
Nolo.com has several content areas that are not
included in the Law Centers:
Law dictionary—Lay definitions for 1,000 frequently
encountered legal terms
NoloBriefs—You can register for this free monthly
newsletter, which, besides the Updates mentioned above, has legal news,
member-only discounts, and (occasionally) free downloadable products.
Lawyer jokes—These are classified by type: lawyers
in love, lawyers on vacation, etc. Warning: Some are pretty rough, so if
you like lawyers don't go here unless you have a thick skin.
Legal research—Although the point of Nolo.com is
to interpret the law's complexities, the site offers help if you want to
proceed to primary sources on your own. Unlike the rest of the site, this
department has no content from Nolo itself and instead relies on public
Web sites. Statutory law is accessed from the law pages of individual state
government sites; federal law is from Thomas and others. State and federal
case law and a few other legal research areas are provided by FindLaw (http://www.findlaw.com),
a leading legal portal.
Nolo for Business and Pleasure
Even if you're facing no immediate legal problems,
Nolo.com is irresistible for browsing, and its clear, sprightly writing
style makes it endlessly appealing. You may find yourself revisiting some
prior legal involvement, or checking to see if your lawyer has done right
by you. (If not, you can turn to the lawyer jokes for solace.)
You may have no intention of ever being your own
lawyer, but it's almost inevitable that you'll become involved in legal
matters. In law, knowledge is power, and Nolo.com will help keep you from
being completely powerless. The lawyers may have the answers, but at least
you can come equipped with the right questions.
Mick O'Leary is the director of the library
at Frederick, Maryland, and a principal in The Data Brokers. His e-mail
address is email@example.com.