One Step at a Time

by Bret Christensen

It's a fork in the roadHave you ever noticed that to do a thing, you need to do some other things, first? Take, for example, getting ready for work in the morning. Usually I’m in automatic mode in the morning, but the other day I had an out-of-body moment and actually watched what I was doing.

So, the first time I woke up it was around 6:30 AM.  My eyes just popped open. I don’t think it was a conscious thought, they just opened. Then, I noticed that before I actually got up or even lifted my head off that soft, cushy pillow that I stretched my legs. That felt great and lasted for about 15 seconds – after which I closed my eyes for another 10 minutes which brought me to about 6:50 AM when I did a full body stretch.

Ohhhhhh, now I know how cats feel after an afternoon nap. I then flopped my legs over the edge of the bed, ambled over to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and then I started to shave. I began by first filling up the sink with warm water, slathered on the shaving cream, and shaved off all the little hairs on my chinny-chin-chin that grew over night. After a five-minute shower and getting dressed, I was ready to help the wife get our kids ready for school (which is a whole other battle).

So, what do you do to get ready in the morning?  Have you ever thought about it? Probably not, since it’s pretty subconscious stuff by now. But watching myself was a real eye-opener. I had to stop and see each thing, each step, and it got me thinking about what I do every day at work.

See, I work at a county law library, and I help a whole lot of different people answer a whole a wide variety of questions. Some people need more help than others and some answers are easier to find than others. What is interesting is that while the process (or steps taken) of finding those answers generally take one of two routes (either people start projects wanting to to know what the law is or they want to learn about the law), everyone eventually winds up at the same place, generally using the same thing(s).

For example, the other day I had a guy come into the library. Right off, he says he wants the law on bankruptcy. I followed that with “Any part of bankruptcy or just the whole thing all in one package?” He responded “All things about bankruptcy.  Just give me all the law you have on bankruptcy.”

The problem with bankruptcy is that it’s a pretty nebulous area of law, and there are a number of side issues. But, guy was adamant, so I led him over to the Bankruptcy Reporter (TR) and also suggested he take a look at Title 11 of the United States Code.

Later, another person came into the library. This person wanted to read up on the difference between the concepts “per stirpes” and “per capita” as they related to the distribution of assets in a will. I suggested that the person snag some secondary authorities and look at

About an hour later, the bankruptcy guy came back all dazed.  “Too many cases!  Too much law!” he declared. I suggested that he now look at some secondary authorities that could help put the cases and codes in context. I suggested he take a look at

Twenty minutes later, probate/will person was back now armed with more knowledge than any mere mortal could handle and asked where the cases and codes referenced in the materials were located. Happy to oblige, I led the person over to some primary authorities and suggested that the person look at the California Probate Code and also suggested looking at the Notes of Decision following the codes as well as take a look at the California Reports and California Appellate Reports. 

See what happened here? The bankruptcy guy started with primary authorities (i.e.  he wanted to know the law) and ended up with secondary authorities (he wanted to read what others thought about the law). The probate/will person started with secondary authorities and ended up with primary authorities.

Two entirely different problems yet both used the same basic steps to get to their respective conclusions in different orders.  I suspect if they were to have had an out-of-body experience right then, they would have been amazed at what had transpired.

Anyway, I suspect the moral of the story is if you don’t know what road to take, your friendly neighborhood law librarian can suggest the best path to help you get you where you need to be (even if you don’t presently know where that place is).


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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