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Oregon Legal Forms: The Pyramid

The most frequently asked question, especially from non-attorneys, in public law libraries is,
do you have a form called x (or that will do y)?”

The law librarian’s response depends on the form,
the relative sophistication and experience of the person asking the question,
the issue (substantive or procedural),
and the jurisdiction.

Some states (e.g. California) have lots of standardized, court-authorized, forms.

Other states (e.g. Oregon) do not, though we do have some
(see for example in family law matters).
Public law library employees seldom hand over forms to non-attorneys (primarily because we do not have fill-in-the-blank forms to hand over),
but even when we show non-attorneys sample forms, we always
accompany the handover with a strong recommendation to consult an attorney,
warnings about filing documents that may not be correct, and in every possible way stress the importance of making sure the library patron has the right form for the specific purpose
knows what to do with it. However, the process of searching for a form is fairly uniform from state to state,
starting from sources close in and reaching outward as needed.
As much as I dislike pyramid schemes (of the dietary or of the financial sort),
the pyramid is a useful visual device for describing the body of research sources one uses to search for legal forms.

So, here we go …

Is there a:

1) local court sanctioned (aka official) form?

2) statewide court sanctioned (aka official) form?
3) sample form in a state-specific legal practice book?
4) sample form in a current legal education course book?
5) attorneys only: does attorney colleague have a sample form?
6) sample (fill-in) form at a jurisdiction-specific legal stationer’s store?
7) sample form in a subject or procedure-specific legal encyclopedia treatise?
8) sample form in legal forms self-help (print or online) book?
One source of forms I left out of this pyramid includes
those online legal forms that online legal publishers make available
to public libraries
and those zillions of “I found it online” forms people seem so willing to believe will solve their legal problems.
These databases make me really, really nervous.
Actual, often imperfectly un-redacted, forms
are frequently used as samples in these databases.
As squeamish as that makes me, I have to breathe even more deeply through the problem of non-attorneys using those forms without consulting an attorney or otherwise getting professional advice before completing and filing the form.

I see too many lawyers and judges coming through my law library
who also have to breathe deeply through expensive, and often very sad cases
where the attorneys and judges have to fix what someone tried to do themselves, with online sample forms or online attorneys.
I work with a terrific group of attorneys and judges who, along with me, also say, “if only they had consulted (or listened) to me from the start.”
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