Where is the form….

At some point in the last twenty years apparently people have come to believe that there is a legal form for every situation, and if they just had the right form it will solve all of their problems and do away with the need for a lawyer.

It's true, there are forms for a lot of things out there. Most law offices have basic forms in their computers and most legal publishing companies have books that they will sell you for hundreds of dollars that are just filled with forms. In addition, there are tons of "free legal forms" websites out there but they usually aren't really free and rarely are the forms correct.

However, even if you find a form, just having it isn't enough.

I've used this analogy before, but it is so fitting that I thought I'd put it here as well.

Back when George Washington was a surveyor, he was asked to survey and mark off a particular corner that was in dispute. After he had found the corner, he walked there, drove a simple stake in the ground, and told the man, "That will be three dollars."

"Three dollars!" the man exclaimed. "That's ridiculous! That stick costs a nickel!"

"You're right my good man," Washington calmly replied. "It was a nickel for the stake. It was $2.95 for knowing where to place it."

It's kind of like that with forms. Once you have one, do you know what to do with it?

Most people don't.

My philosophy, and the philosophy of this website, is that you have a right to represent yourself in court. It's why we do The Guerrilla Guides to the Law and why we post on the website. However, if you think you are going to win a contested case by using forms then you are in for a big surprise. 

A form doesn't appear magically out of the air, they don't hand them to you when you graduate law school, and they are of minimal use without knowledge. Instead, take the time and do the legal research to find out what codes or statutes control your situation and then read them very carefully. The forms are created based on the law, most of which is contained in the statutes.

For instance, if you are contemplating a divorce then go through the Family Code or Domestic Relations Code for your state. That will tell you everything that has to be put into your petition for divorce.

The way most young lawyers learn to draft documents is to use the statutes to do the initial draft and then compare that with one that was done by an experienced attorney. When they see a difference, it's back to the books to find out why. When they complete the task they not only understand how to draft the form but, even more important, why each part of it is in there. This knowledge can come in handy if the other side fails to do their pleadings correctly or makes an invalid argument.

The best place to get most forms is not one of the online form shops, although ones like this site  are pretty good for wills, divorces, etc.

The best place to get forms is to go to the clerk of courts office for the court in which your case will be heard and find a case similar to yours where a lawyer has filed the same form you are looking for. Pay a few bucks and then use it like I told you above, create your own from the statute, then compare theirs to yours, noting the differences.

Law isn't about forms, it's about knowledge.

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