03. 25. 2008
The Public Library of Law makes legal search easier for non-lawyers
Despite advances made in search technology on the Web, and websites guiding users through the morass of information on specialized topics like medicine, information available on the Web about legal topics is still fairly hard to find for most people outside of the legal profession. Lawyers know that, in addition to costy databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw, there are numerous free information sources online, but there's no obvious starting point for non-lawyers looking for basic information about a given legal topic, such as the requirements to set up a business in a particular state or how to draft a will.
Nolo, a company that publishes legal guidebooks and software packages for non-lawyers (as well as for lawyers venturing into areas where they're not experienced), offers a fairly comprehensive list of topics in their catalog, along with some useful broad summaries of subjects like trademarks and copyrights, but it's not a portal to other resources on the Web.
Bookofjoe (the blogging anesthesiologist) points us to the new Public Library of Law (short name "PLoL"), launched by Fastcase in an effort to "democratize the law." Fastcase is a legal research database for lawyers, so my guess is that much of the information available in the PLoL is redirected from the free areas of Fastcase. The forms database includes free forms for filing bankruptcy, selling a home, and incorporating a business. Other areas within PLoL include caselaw, statutes, regulations, and court rules. With complicated matters, you may still find that you need to hire a lawyer, but you'll be better informed about what the lawyer has to do if you do your own research first.