Tools of the Trade

by Bret Christensen

Last September, around the time of my kid’s last birthday, she wanted to go ice skating. She had never ice skated before and sunny Southern California had been having a heck of a summer with multiple 110+ degree days, but to the ice rink we went. The last time I had ice skated, I was 12 years old, could not stand up straight on the skates, and I fell – a lot. I mean, a LOT!  I fell so hard so many times, I could still feel the bruises as I forked over the funds to get my ice skates.

As I was selecting my skates, I noticed something about the ice skates.  Some had a heel with a long blade and others didn’t.  It was explained that the skate with the heel was for figure skating. These skates featured:

  • A long, slightly curved blade, flatter towards the back end and with the largest curve at the front.
  • Toe picks, which are used for take-off jumps.
  • Leather boots, which provide support, but allow for deep-knee bends required for some figures.

The other pair without a heel was designed for ice hockey.  The features of this skate were:

  • The curve of the blade is more pronounced, with the rocker of the blade towards the middle, which aids in quicker stops, sharper turns, etc.
  • Very stiff boots, allowing for more control when doing turns, accelerating etc.

The thing is that every job has tools that it uses that are germane to that trade. For instance, carpenters use a hammer to pound nails, firemen use ladders and hoses, accountants use calculators, doctors use stethoscopes, and airline pilots use, well, airplanes.

As a librarian outside of academia, I have a number of tools at my disposal to help people find answers. For instance, say a person were to come to my library looking for cases about nystagmus. More often than not I’ll turn to my trusty resource, Words and Phrases to answer that question. Words and Phrases contains state and federal cases that relate to words and phrases which have taken on special meaning in case law. This is one of my favorite tools to use because you can quickly find cases involving issues you are dealing with, but most people just skip over it because it’s not hard enough to use and if it’s not hard enough to use then it must not be lawyer-like, right?  Yeah, no. Sometimes, simple is simply the best way to go.

Another set of tools I regularly use to help people include:

I discovered this trio of tools when I was in law school and have used them repeatedly over the years. Causes of Action includes articles and case studies focusing on different types of actions. It is useful when you are drafting a complaint and need to know what elements are required for each “cause of action.” Most pro se litigants and new attorneys don’t know that you have to plead complaints in a particular way (otherwise your complaint gets demurred and things get messy from there). That’s what Causes of Action is for – to help you know what to include in your complaint (and, conversely, what to exclude).

Am Jur Trials is useful to help litigants prepare for trial. Modeled after actual trials, Am Jur Trials often has the actual questions you would ask a witness in a trial. I used this when I took trial practice, and the judge teaching the class gave me special commendation for establishing facts in difficult scenarios (and all I did was copy the text from Am Jur Trials). Why re-invent the wheel, right?

Am Jur Proof of Facts is another great resource when you are preparing for trial. In fact, the later volumes often contain every critical aspect of a case, including sample complaints, discovery requests, and questions to ask witnesses. Geared to getting evidence entered into trial, POF has great practice pointers and discussion to help attorneys understand a particular topic.

While there are literally thousands of tools at my disposal to help darn near anyone solve any kind of problem, one last resource I want to highlight is the National Consumer Law Series. This set of books covers all aspects of consumer law.  Some great resources in this set include:

  • Consumer Warranty Law
  • Fair Debt Collection
  • Odometer Law
  • Student Loan Law
  • Consumer Arbitration Agreements
  • Unfair & Deceptive Acts and Practices, Consumer Bankruptcy and Practice
  • Forclosures

It is pretty impressive that NCLS contains an abundance of information to help litigants develop a consumer related case.

When you decide to litigate (and you happen to practice far away from your alma mater) your best one-stop-shop is going to be your local county law library, and your best resource is going to be your local county law Librarian. Why? Because if you got problems, we’ve got answers.


About mrlibrarian7

I am a law Librarian. No, I don't have thick, black glasses, a bun in my hair or a pointy nose - but I do provide killer legal reference to anyone who walks, rides, crawls, or otherwise gets through the front doors.
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