The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 8, 2008

Book review: Library resources provide legal information

The Joplin Public Library Reference staff answers all kinds of questions throughout the day on many different subjects. Some subjects come up rarely while others generate several queries a day.

If you ask Reference staff what they help with most often, you would hear directory assistance (phone numbers, addresses, etc.) and legal questions. For directory assistance questions, the staff uses phone books, city directories, Web sites and ReferenceUSA.

For legal questions, the source used depends on the information sought. Books, forms, databases, and websites are all used to help answer questions.

A legal issue that comes up frequently at the Reference desk is pro se divorce. For those who are seeking a divorce without the aid of an attorney, the library can provide varied resources to use. The resources can sometimes be confusing but library staff is not legally allowed to offer advice on the forms needed or how to fill them out.

A new Web site from the Missouri Supreme Court should help alleviate some confusion. Representing Yourself in Missouri Courts ( is designed to help those who are going to court for family matters. The site provides valuable information for anyone going to court without an attorney.

Be sure to look at the First Time Visitors link to get information on how to use the site. The Legal Forms section includes a Dissolution of Marriage form package, which should prove very helpful for those seeking to file for divorce.

If your legal question is not divorce related, the library offers many other resources.

One source used is the database Lawchek. When the Library added access to Lawchek in 1999, the database offered some basic Missouri legal forms and information on topics associated with the forms.

Today the database still offers these basic forms and information but for all 50 states. It has also been redesigned to offer help to both the layperson and legal professionals.

The basic forms and information are for eleven areas of law. They are identified as bankruptcy, contracts, corporation, criminal, domestic, education, intellectual property, landlord/tenant, litigation, probate, real estate and taxes.

Some of the things you would find are leases, rental agreement, lien waiver, bill of sale, definition of a petit jury, petition for dissolution, definition of common law, living will and quit claim deed. On the Lawchek home page, click on the down arrow under the Forms, Legal Documents, & Help Guides heading. You can then choose the area of law then the state and see what is offered.

Lawchek includes links for federal and state codes and cases. You can search the U.S. Code, Supreme Court decisions, and Federal Circuit Court opinions using the search box at the top of the home page. Just enter you search term and choose the codes or court from the drop down menu. You can also scroll down the home page and click on the link for the entity you want to search. A third option is to choose the entity under the Government Information & Directories heading.

The choices on the Government Information & Directories drop-down menu include more than the U.S. Code and the courts. You can also access federal rules, U.S. Congress, executive branch directory, federal directories (government agencies), state codes, state rules, state court cases, state directories, bar associations and trial associations. Choosing any of these will link you to a Lawchek directory or the official Web site of the state or agency.

Scrolling to the bottom of the home page provides other tools for you to use. The Letter Pro link takes you to 12 categories of letters. The categories cover home, auto, medical, school, banking, credit, business, shopping, federal, state, insurance and personal. Examples of letter templates include tax assessment challenge, request for medical records, correction of account error, request for credit report and a condolence letter.

The Name Change Sample gives information on how to legally change your name and Selecting An Attorney gives information and tips on how to choose an attorney.

On the left side of the page you have search boxes to use a Merriam-Webster Dictionary or Thesaurus. You can also access a language translator. Clicking on the icon takes you to a site where you can translate from English to Spanish, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Norwegian, and Japanese. You can also translate from these languages to English.

So the next time you have a legal question, please come to the Reference Department at the Joplin Public Library and see how Lawchek can help you.

Patty Crane is the reference librarian at Joplin Public Library.