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Volume II, Issue 3, October 20, 2003
Wells, Sherry A. (2002). Michigan Law for Everyone, 5th Ed. Royal Oak, MI: Lawells Publishing. 224 p. $24.00 [ISBN: 0934981094]
Describing and understanding the law and how it works is a complex and nebulous task because it is continuously shaped and interpreted by the courts. Sherry A. Wells makes an honest, though not perfect, attempt to synthesize and describe the law for non-lawyers. Michigan Law for Everyone, 5th Ed. is a resource guide that provides a basic description of both Michigan and federal law. The book’s target audience includes the general public, legal assistants, legal secretaries, court reporters and human services professionals in the State of Michigan.
For Wells, the purpose of Michigan Law for Everyone is to be a self-help
book for non-lawyers. Her goal, as stated in the book’s Preface, is
to provide “a copy of this in every home and office so (preventive law)
will become a habit and enable people to assert and protect their rights without
increasing the congestion of the courts.” In addition to reading about
their relevant area of law, Wells encourages the general public to educate
themselves on navigating the court system, knowing when to use a lawyer, and
exploring alternatives to litigation.
Michigan Law for Everyone consists of 18 chapters. The first 15 provide informative content on the legal system and various points of state and federal law. It covers topics ranging from, but not limited to, criminal law, family law, and commercial law and contracts. The final three chapters of the book provide helpful tips on how to locate and hire a lawyer, self-representation, settle disputes out of court, conduct legal research, and use legal resources to search for the law and understand what it means. The book also provides an appendix (Off-White Pages) featuring an A-Z dictionary of legal terms and reprint of the U.S. Constitution, including the 13th Amendment that was not included in the 4th edition of the book.
Michigan Law for Everyone provides well-detailed explanations of both Michigan and federal law along with concrete examples that help non-lawyers understand the law and navigate the American legal system. However, there are a couple drawbacks in recommending this book to a lay patron in a reference library. One is that the book does not feature a separate page or section of resource numbers and web sites. They are only provided in the text of each chapter. If lay patrons simply need to contact a lawyer, or look up a legal research web site, they would have to turn to the appropriate chapter to find it. Another drawback is that the book provides only a few titles of Michigan and other self-help law books. Nolo Press, for example, publishes several self-help books on legal issues such as civil procedure, small claims, contracts, divorce and commercial law. An extended list of these books and online legal resources, including FindLaw, LLRX and Hieros Gamos, would be a huge plus for lay patrons beginning legal research.
In spite of its drawbacks, Michigan Law for Everyone, 5th Ed. is a good starting point for any lay patron who either needs to simply research a legal issue or take appropriate steps to resolve a legal dispute.
Reviewed by Christopher T. Bloodworth, Access Services Librarian, Arthur Neef Law Library, Wayne State University, email@example.com.