Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I'm Not a Lawyer

As librarians we are sometimes presented with questions that we can not ethically answer because we are not lawyers, physicians, or rabbis. Last night someone presented such questions, not for herself but for her daughter who had no time to visit the library. We have law books (Illinois Compiled Statutes, IL Decisions, ALR, and IL Legal Forms) for our legal assistant, criminal justice, and business programs. The introduction to how to use these materials takes more than an hour not including the exercises. Checking legal materials is totally different from checking books in the sciences and humanities. The answers I give as a reference librarian to reference questions vary by the program or courses the students are enrolled in.

One question was: "What statute deals with to vacate a guilty plea to correct manifest injustice?" (Her words not mine.)

The quick answer is there is no statue. Judges may vacate a sentence or verdict but defendants resend a plea. That of course was not the answer to give to the reader. I did find part of the Illinois Criminal Code in chapter 725 Criminal Procedure of Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) that could have something the reader wanted. I asked what school the daughter attended and the reader didn't know. I offered to e-mail a copy of the material and the reader said ok. I gave her the key board to type in the e-mail address and when I asked her to finish the address with the "@" and a domain she did not know what I was talking about. Finally she said "Oh do you mean ''?

The next question was even more revealing of the reader's background, "What statute deals with contacting witnesses if you are a pro se lawyer?" ILCS does have some articles dealing with witnesses. This is not enough. There is the law and there is the commentary. One also needs to examine the rules of the court in which the case is being tried.

If the person wanting to know the answer was a student in a business and legal assistant program I could help them as an academic exercise. I would point out the need for exact legal terminology, and how to find laws, cases, and procedures. This would be part of their education. They would be learning the skill needed for their future jobs. If a reader wants advice on a personal case, I can't help. I'm not a lawyer.

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