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Hard-Copy Journal

March 2000, Volume 16, Number 3

By Jerry Maizell


If you are unfamiliar with online discussion forums, that acronym is usually used to mean, “I am not a lawyer, but...,” by someone who then proceeds to provide detailed legal advice that he has already declared to be worthless.

Lawyer jokes, like most jokes, derive from our deepest fears and desires. We all want or need legal advice at least occasionally, yet we fear it.

Among the best services a lawyer may perform is disillusioning us. He may tell us what we least want to hear: that we can’t legally do what we are determined to do. And he will certainly charge us for the privilege.

Like the guy who phones a lawyer: “Excuse me, do you have a moment? If I pay you $150, will you answer three questions for me?”

To which the lawyer replies, “Yes. Yes. Now then, what is your 3d question?”

Once entangled in a legal snare, though, whether of our own making or someone else’s, we stop telling jokes and start looking for a lawyer.

But there are times when all we want is a general answer about a general legal matter. Why pay a specialist to give you generalities?

Sometimes just finding the right form will do. The Internet can help.

Until we throw off the chains with which the 16th Amendment bound us, we all have to fill out those infernal income tax forms. Perhaps because I loathe the principle involved, I perennially procrastinate filing tax forms. When I finally get around to it I can’t find the forms.

So I print them from www.lib.umich.edu/libhome/Documents.center/govweb.html or www.irs.ustreas.gov/prod/forms_pubs/index.html.

Need forms to export beer, import drugs, examine cows or any of the other myriad activities regulated by our futile feudal federal overbearing overseers? You’re covered at www.lib.memphis.edu/gpo/forms.htm.

Some simple but useful legal forms and contracts may be filled out free (or cheap) online: www.legaldocs.com.

The legal establishment naturally doesn’t like the idea that folks may be able to get along without it in even the simplest circumstances. Texas tried to ban Nolo Press, publisher of legal self-help books and software, for practicing law without a license.

I’ve never used any of Nolo’s products, but their website is a goldmine of useful information, definitions of legal terms and “faqs” (frequently asked questions): www.nolo.com. I especially enjoy “Auntie Nolo,” a sort of lawschool version of Ann Landers.

Get free answers from volunteer lawyers on everything from personal injury and drunk driving to military law: www.allexperts.com.

If you don’t trust that, how about Martindale-Hubbell, the standard lawyer guide since 1868? Query their lawyers for free, or find one to pay: www.lawyers.com.

The House of Representatives recently discontinued its Internet Law Library. Fortunately it gave publishing permission to private organizations, including IIT’s Information Services, 565 W. Adams: www.infoctr.edu/ill.

Cornell University offers scholarly legal information in plain language: www.law.cornell.edu/topics/topic2.html.

Are lawyers good dancers? Find out how to do the shark tango at www.dancingwithlawyers.com.

For a more comprehensive reference: www.counselquest.com.

If you’re still not satisfied, and promise not to sue me, here’s how to hire an attorney: www.expertlaw.com/library/pubarticles/howtohire.shtml.

Maybe I’ll now be charged with practicing unlicensed law.

But anyone who can’t tell a magazine column or Internet site from a lawyer would also wake you up because it’s time for your sleeping pill. :

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