By Holly Hibner and Mary Kelly
A common reference question received at public library reference desks is whether the library has legal forms. When you get that question as a generalist reference librarian (ie. not a law librarian…), it is very comforting to know that the Gale LegalForms resource is at the ready.
My library has access to the Michigan legal forms, so we know they are relevant to our state laws. There are categories like divorce, bankruptcy, power of attorney, and incorporation (among others). You simply choose a category and then choose from a list of available forms. Each form gives a full description to help laypeople choose the right one. With one click, the form opens with spaces to click and fill in your own information like your name, city, and even case number. Forms are available in a variety of formats, including Microsoft Word, Rich Text, PDF, and sometimes even Word Perfect. The forms included in the database are official forms that law firms use, so you never have to wonder if they will be accepted by the court system.
Forms can be keyword searched by category or title too. This makes finding a form by keyword very easy. Often, patrons will ask for a form “about” a legal topic, and you’re not sure what category it falls into. For example, if a patron asked for information about “quit claim deeds” and you didn’t know that was a real estate term, you could just type “quit claim” into the search box. The search results include every available form related to those keywords.
One of the categories provided is “Sample Letters.” There are letters to use for requesting a credit report of a minor, to remove your name from a mail marketing list, employment letters for suspensions, warnings, and disciplinary action, and a sample letter to request an extension on a lease from tenant to landlord. These are just a few of the handy sample letters available.
There are also links to tax forms available in Gale LegalForms. When you choose a state, the database links you to that state’s treasury department web site. It is a quick, easy way to find the list of available tax forms for your state without having to navigate the whole of the state web site.
An Attorney Directory is also built into LegalForms. You can find an attorney practicing in a particular field of law very quickly by browsing the practice area categories. There is a description of the firm under most entries that includes information like when the firm was established, what the firm specializes in, who to ask for, or how many attorneys are practicing there. Once you find a promising entry, you can click on “Start” next to the name and fill out a client intake form that goes directly to the attorney’s office.
There are external links from LegalForms too. Here you can find links to places to get vital records, the IRS, or the Michigan court system. Again, having these direct links help you find specific agencies of the law quickly and easily. Patrons (and librarians!) don’t always know what different agencies are called, or what they do, so having direct links brings us all one step closer to the right information.
Easy to Use Interface
The left side menu remains consistent throughout your use of Legal Forms. It includes the search box mentioned above, but also a link to “Definitions.” Within definitions is another search box to search for a specific legal term, or choose from A to Z to browse a list of terms under each letter of the alphabet.
Similar in style to the definitions is a “Law Digest” in that left side menu. This is more of a legal encyclopedia, as it goes into more detail about legal terms than just a definition. For example, the entry on “Environmental Protection Agency” includes articles about the agency’s various activities and even a bibliography with links for further reading.
The third item in the left side menu is a “Legal Q & A” button. Here you can choose a category of the law (like “automobiles – insurance” or “civil actions – liens”) and read questions and answers on that subject.
As you can see, this LegalForms contains a wealth of information on virtually any legal topic. Getting the right form and being able to open, edit, and save it immediately for personal use is a wonderful service to library patrons. Legal situations can be emotional and overwhelming, so having trustworthy and convenient links to legal information puts everyone at ease. With remote access to LegalForms, patrons can be assured that their privacy is respected. It’s a great resource for students, too – anyone researching a legal topic for any reason will find complete, trustworthy, well-organized, and useful information! Access a free trial of Gale LegalForms today!
About the Authors
Holly is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, MI. She has a mild obsession with collection quality (ok, maybe not so mild) and can be found at the Readers’ Advisory desk dreaming up read-alikes.
Mary is the Youth Services Librarian at the Lyon Township Public Library in South Lyon, MI. She, too, is obsessed with collection quality, and has taken it up a notch with never ending shelf lists, spreadsheets, and inventory. Mary has a special knack for linking books to readers of all ages.