Self-Help Annotated Bibliography


A new edition of Law for the Layperson: An Annotated Bibliography of Self-Help Law Books is just out. The authors of this edition (3d ed. 2006, William S. Hein & Co.) are Amber Hewette and Diane Murley, who are both librarians at the Southern Illinois University School of Law Library.

Listing and describing just books published since 2000, the book still has hundreds: 290 pages of annotations times 2-3 annotations per page.

The bibliography begins with a section for general works (e.g., The American Bar Assocation Family Legal Guide and Everybody’s Guide to the Law: All the Legal Information You Need in One Comprehensive Volume. (I’m always skeptical about a work that promises that “all you need” in one volume. Law is more complicated than that — as are Volkswagen repair, dog training, photography, and almost anything else you might undertake as a do-it-yourselfer.)

Following the general section, the authors describe hundreds more books arranged by subject. I counted 74 subject headings, from “ADA and Disability” to “Writers.” It’s helpful to use the table of contents to find a good heading. So, for instance, if you look under “Gay Rights,” you’ll be referred to “Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexuals, and Transgender People,” the heading where you’ll find four different books described. The annotations tell you how a book is organized, what topics it covers, whether it has sample forms, and so on.

A jurisdiction index lets you look up what works are available specifically for your state (lots and lots for California, just two for Iowa). 

A publishers list gives you addresses, phone numbers, and URLs for all the publishers of the books in the bibliography — over a hundred of them, including nonprofit groups and government agencies as well as commercial publishers. I’m a huge fan of Nolo, but it is not the only publisher of legal self-help materials. If you’re raising your grandkids and you’re in Washington State, for instance, your best guide will be Options for Grandparents and Other Nonparental Caregivers, by the Northwest Women’s Law Center. (Many of the Law Center’s publications are available in PDF, but this one is only in print.) Maybe you’d also want to look at a national book on grandparents’ rights — there’s one from AuthorHouse and one from Sourcebooks/Sphinx Publishing.

Who would use this bibliography?

  • People who want to learn more about the law — either for general background or to solve particular problems. You can find an appropriate book to start with.
  • Librarians who want to build their collections to help pro se patrons.
  • Staff who would like to set up legal self-help shelves in courts, community centers, or other places where they can reach people.
  • Lawyers who want to have good introductions to the law in areas where they don’t usually practice (consider the admiralty lawyer who’d like to do some pro bono work in landlord-tenant law or public benefits law).
  • Lawyers who would like to recommend (or lend) self-help books to clients or potential clients so they will understand more about their legal situation.

Although the bibliography was just published last month, the authors finished their work on it over a year ago. That means that some of the books are not the most recent available — but the bibliography is still a great start and you can check for a later edition of the ones you’re interested in. Law for the Layperson isn’t cheap ($78), so you’ll likely just refer to it in a library.

As the author of the first edition noted in 1991, “many books which might be of assistance to the non-lawyer are written with the lawyer in mind.” Many members of the public find practice manuals, hornbooks, and other books aimed at lawyers to be very helpful — so don’t rule them out just because they aren’t targeted at you. Still, it’s nice to start with something that’s sensitive to your needs.


  1. david giacalone

    October 22, 2006 @ 10:23 pm


    Thanks for another useful posting, Mary. I agree that this is a volume that most individual self-helpers will want to use at a Library. So, if your local public library or academic library does not have this book, please leave or send them a written request to purchase it. You and many other consumers will be well-served by the acquisition.

  2. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » Blowing My Own Horn

    January 5, 2007 @ 9:30 pm


    […] A couple of weeks ago I saw that a friend had written about my book (Practicing Reference: Thoughts for Librarians and Legal Researchers) on the SIU Law Library’s blog (Law Dawg Blawg). (The friend is Diane Murley, the coauthor of the self-help law bibliography we’ve mentioned here.) That’s nice, I thought. And then I thought: why don’t I tell people about it myself? I’m a blogger too, aren’t I? […]

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