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Reviews: Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, 7th ed.

Reviews: Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, 7th ed.

by Stephen Elias and Susan Levinkind, Nolo Press, 392 pages.

Reviewed by Allan Parmelee

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a brief and a memorandum of law? Feel intimidated by the "stuff" in a court rules book or a law library? I wish I had had this book when I got started doing pro se litigation. The good news is that now it's here.

The very latest text in explaining legal research and what it consists of and how to do it, it carefully explains what a statute, cite, digest, legal encyclopedia or practice book is. This book has it all, including a great chapter on internet legal research.

What do you do when you enter a law library? Legal Research provides detailed "how to" steps from the beginning to the end of your law subject. For example, do you want to know if you have a valid constitutional law claim to sue a jail or police officer? Or what grounds you can challenge a criminal conviction on? By following this well written, easy to use, step by step legal research method you will know. Don't pay a lawyer or lose a valid claim when Legal Research can show you how to easily research it yourself.

Lawyers get paid the big bucks because they go to law school for three years to learn how the legal system works. Legal Research lifts the secrecy from legal writing and understanding how to write a brief and most importantly, how to do research to understand what the law on a given topic is and what it actually means.

Legal Research is invaluable to the lay person learning how to do legal research as well as more advanced litigators. It uses pictures and illustrations to show what a case citation like 42 F.3d 387 (7th Cir. 1994) means. In 13 chapters and two appendixes, the authors clearly cover every phase of legal research, from dusty old books to the internet, they cover it all. Most importantly, the book includes research exercises so that readers can put their new found skills to use and determine if they can actually do the research the book has told them about. Anyone who reads this book will walk away with a clear understanding of what is in a law library and, most importantly, how to effectively use it.

Legal Research is a must for those who either can't get counsel to represent them or who wish to represent themselves in court. Even if you have counsel, this will provide you with the means and ability to do legal research on your own and gain an understanding of your own legal issues. With this book you can spend your time writing winning court pleadings. This is a must for any law library as well as the bookshelf of any pro se litigant. Cost is $24.95, plus $3.20 priority mail shipping. Order from: PLN, 2400 N.W. 80th St. PMB 148, Seattle, WA 98117.


Finding the Right Lawyer
by Jay Isenberg, American Bar Association, 256 pages

Reviewed by Allan Parmelee

Clear and to the point, while easy to understand. In Finding the Right Lawyer, the author presents one of the most concise, detailed and powerful presentations of a checklist of what to look for in a lawyer and how to find it. For example, the use of free sources, yellow pages, referrals, the Martindale-Hubbel Law Directory, etc., are all unmistakable methods to find the lawyer right for you. The Martindale Hubbel directory only lists about 30% of the nation's lawyers, the ones who are "A" rated on an A, B, C scale. The author explains why about 60% of the people who call a lawyer referral service either don't need a lawyer or cannot afford one. He also strongly explains why people should not represent themselves pro se or go small claims.

While this book was written in 1995, its underlying message is timeless. The internet is emerging as a good place to find legal counsel, which this book only briefly mentions. The lack of more internet information is its only drawback. The book also discusses attorney fees, contingency cases, costs and much more. I bought this book myself in 1996 and I am as excited about it today as I was four years ago. It is a must buy if you are contemplating hiring an attorney or seeking counsel on a contingency or pro bono basis. Highly recommended. The many listed resources are worth the price alone. Cost is $19.95. Order from: PLN, 2400 N.W. 80th St. PMB 148, Seattle, WA 98117. Add $3.20 priority mail shipping.


Prisoners' Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada: High School, Vocational, Paralegal and College Courses

by Jon Marc Taylor, Audenreed Press, 243 Pages

Reviewed by Paul Wright.

The steady demise of educational programs in prison means that prisoners seeking an education can no longer rely on prisoncrats to provide it. While there are books on the market discussing correspondence courses, they are all aimed at non prisoners.

Prisoners' Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada is written by Missouri prisoner Jon Marc Taylor who has successfully completed B.S. and M.A. degrees by mail while imprisoned. This book offers a complete description of 212 programs that are ideal for prisoners seeking to earn high school diplomas, associate, baccalaureate and graduate degrees and vocational certificates. In addition to giving contact information for each school, Taylor includes tuition rates, text book costs, courses offered, transfer credits, time limits for completing course, whether the school is accredited, and if so by whom, and much, much more.

Taylor also explains factors to be considered in selecting an educational program and how to make meaningful comparisons between the courses offered for the tuition charged. No money to pay for school? Taylor covers that too. Any prisoner seeking to begin or continue their education behind bars will find this to be an invaluable road map. Cost is $21.95, plus $2 shipping. Contact: Audenreed Press, PMB 103, P.O. Box 1305, Brunswick, ME 04011. 1-888-315-0582.


Voices From Within the Prison Walls

by D.A. Shelton, News and Letters, 71 pages

Reviewed by Rick Card

"Criminals have become the 'bogeyman' so that corporate America can continue to commit atrocities against the proletariat throughout the nation and around the world," says David Shelton in Voices From Within the Prison Walls. In a book that covers the breadth of our nation's massive prison explosion, Shelton delivers a concise and lively look behind the walls.

By explaining the characteristics of who is really rotting behind bars in our nation, Shelton unsheathes a fact that lawmakers and enforcers would rather remain hidden. While demonstrating that minorities are imprisoned disproportionately, an article of virtual common knowledge, Shelton doesn't stop there. He points out that economic conditions are also a huge factor, and specifies that in 1994 79% of those imprisoned lived in poverty and 67% were unemployed at the time of their arrest.

Another factor often missed by writers reporting on the prison industrial complex is the educational status of those imprisoned. Shelton points out that 40% of prisoners are unable to read or write and that 73% never completed high school. If illiteracy is a characteristic of those incarcerated, the continuing deterioration of our public schools is bound to create another round of explosive prison growth.

David Shelton is an Iowa State prisoner and PLN subscriber who uses the voices of prisoners to take us on a guided tour of the wretched conditions of confinement. Along the way he manages to dispel some popular myths. For example, the media often portray prisoners as litigious people. However, Shelton exposes this fable by showing that in 1992 prisoners filed only 1 civil lawsuit for every 33 prisoners, while civilians filed lawsuits at nearly double that rate.

The book addresses a litany of inhumane prison conditions, including sexual abuse of women prisoners, brutality, control units, and the death penalty. Surprisingly, considering the brevity of the book itself, the author managed to leave few stones unturned.

Despite the wealth of information contained in Voices From Within the Prison Walls, Shelton's real purpose is a call to action by prisoners in the name of Marxist-Humanist ideology. Using the vast and sweeping oppression endured by prisoners, Shelton condemns capitalism and points us all toward the revolutionary light of socialism--presented as the path to liberation and equality.

It isn't clear in this writer's mind whether socialism is the answer to our nation's crisis of confinement, but it is clear that Shelton has powerful ideas for changing the collective minds of prisoners about what it means to struggle. That by itself sets this work apart from others.

The book is available from News and Letters, 36 S. Wabash, rm.1440, Chicago, IL, 60603. The price is $5, which includes postage. News and Notes also publishes a newspaper which is available upon request.


Federal Criminal Defendant's Handbook: Negotiating the Long, Lonely Road from Arrest, to Prison, to Freedom

by Douglas Hill, J.D., Kensington Publishers, 208 pages

Reviewed by Paul Wright.

A common refrain among jailhouse lawyers that have successfully learned how to navigate the legal system while imprisoned is "I wish I knew at the time of my arrest what I know now." Knowledge of how the criminal justice system works in the real world is invaluable to anyone facing criminal charges.

Douglas Hill practiced law in California for 25 years before going to federal prison for six years after fighting criminal charges against him for five years. Now released from prison, Hill has written the Federal Criminal Defendant's Handbook. While primarily aimed at those who are dealing with the federal government, its general advice will be useful to anyone facing criminal charges in state court as well as federal court.

Hill provides criminal defendants with honest, down to earth information about the criminal justice system that is realistic and tells it like it is. While people that have previously had no dealings with the criminal justice system will probably benefit the most from this book, those that have been through the system before and haven't quite figured it out will also benefit.

Divided into three sections, Hill covers everything from arrest, indictment, to trial, prison and release. He explains the importance of finding the right lawyer and assessing the evidence against you in deciding whether to go to trial or make a plea agreement. For most people, these are the most important decisions they will make in their lives but there is surprisingly little information available on the topic. Criminal defendants generally have to rely on, and trust, the advice their lawyers give them. Anyone who reads this book will be in a much better position to critically assess the advice their lawyer gives them, as well as knowing what questions to ask their attorney.

Hill then tells people going to prison what they can do to influence their prison placement with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), post conviction relief and what arrangements to make to put family, legal, business and other affairs into order before they go to prison. This information is especially useful since Hill gives real world advice to people going to prison. A lack of planning usually results in criminal defendants losing all their worldly possessions when they go to prison.

The Federal Criminal Defendant's Handbook gives an overview of the BOP, what spouses can do to support their imprisoned loved one, an excellent primer on what to expect in prison and how to constructively use your time while locked up.

The book concludes with chapters on halfway houses, parole, probation and supervised release. All told, this is the best book on this issue that I've read to date. The insights that Hill offers are practical and invaluable. Anyone facing the prospect of being a criminal defendant and/or going to prison, especially federal prison, will find this book to be a useful and worthwhile investment. I wish I had had it when I was first arrested in 1987. Cost is $44.95, plus $3 shipping. Order from: Kensington Publishers, 1563 Solano Ave. PMB 533, Berkeley, CA 94707. (510) 524-7729.

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