Law Books for the Layperson

This list represents some inexpensive books that libraries may want to purchase when developing a small law collection.  For more detailed information on developing a law collection, see How to Grow a Law Collection: A Guide for Massachusetts Public Librarians by Margaret Hayden and Janice Shotwell, Administrative Office of the Trial Court, 1994.  This bibliography is divided into three major parts: general titles Massachusetts titles, and publishers.  The general titles are not specific to Massachusetts law. 



Court Cases

Great American Trials
, Edward Knappman, editor, Gale Group, 1994, 872 p. $17.95 ISBN 0-8103-9134-1

    Synopses of 200 trials arranged chronologically from 1637 to 1993.  Indices by both personal name and subject.  An excellent resource for trial-level cases of public interest that are not published in case reporters.


Black's Law Dictionary, Bryan C. Garner, 7th ed. West Group, 1999. 1738 p. $39.00 ISBN 0-314-22864-0

    Authoritative and comprehensive law dictionary. Gives references to court decisions and federal laws.

Black's Law Dictionary, pocket ed. West Group, 1996. 701 p. $23.95 ISBN 0-314-06690-x

    This paperback version is an update of the unabridged 6th edition.

Dictionary of Legal Terms: A Simplified Guide to the Language of Law, Steven H. Gifis, 3rd ed, Barrons, 1998 546 p. $8.95 ISBN 0-7641-0286-9

    Text has been drawn from the author's 1991 Law Dictionary and redrafted in terms for the lay reader with legal citations deleted.

Shark Talk: Everybody's Law Dictionary.   Found  on the Internet at

    Plain English definitions with words being added every month.


The Legal Resource Directory: Your Guide to Help, Hotlines and Websites, HALT, 1997, 180 p. $10.00 ISBN 0-910073-23-6

    This book is filled with the names of organizations and government agencies which will provide answers to everyday legal questions and help with consumer issues.  Addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers and web sites are included with the listings


The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child, Lawrence M. Siegel, Nolo Press, 1999. 300 p. $24.95. ISBN 0-87337-408-8

    A road map for parents through the complexities of the Individualized Education Program process, from testing through the range of IEP meetings and filing complaints. Appendices of laws, regulations, forms and listings of general and legal resources.

The Rights of Students, Eve Cary, Alan H. Levine, Janet Price, Puffin Books, 1997. 166 p. $8.99. ISBN 0-14-037784-0 (ACLU Handbooks for Young Americans)

    "An updated and substantially rewritten version" of the Rights of Students (Southern Illinois University Press, 1988). This edition lacks the in-depth analysis, extensive footnotes and citations of the more scholarly version, but it is certainly more accessible to students.

Teachers and the Law, Louis Fischer, David Schimmel, Cynthia Kelly, 5th ed. Addison Wesley Longman, 1998. 480 p. $44.06 ISBN 0-8013-1958-7

    The purpose of this book is to inform teachers about their legal rights and responsibilities. Covers contract issues, libel and slander, freedom of expression, discrimination, student records, freedom of association, among other issues. Question and answer format with legal citations at the end of each chapter. Also contains a glossary, legal resources for teachers, selected bibliography and a case and subject index.


Your Rights in the Workplace, Barbara Kate Repa, 4th ed. Nolo Press, 1999. 528 p. $21.95 ISBN 0-87337-472-x

    Covers employment issues from hiring to firing and everything in between, including privacy, discrimination, working conditions and family leave. Does an excellent job of relating federal laws to those of states and citing relevant statutes for further research.


101 Legal Forms for Personal Use, Robin Leonard and Ralph Warner, Nolo Press, 1998. 320 p. $24.95 ISBN 0-87337-412-6 (Note: Book with accompanying disk)

    Forms are provided as tear-outs and on disk. They cover issues that people are most likely to face in their day-to-day living such as contracts for home repair and child care, power of attorney, releases, and promissory notes. Written in plain language and often includes optional clauses so users can customize them as well as step-by-step instructions on how to fill out the forms.


National Survey of State Laws, 2d ed., Gale Group, 1997, 605 p. $75.00  ISBN 0-8103-9052-3 (Note: 3rd edition due out Oct. 1999. Price will be $75.00)

    Tables show the code section(s) of the law and give a brief digest of the statute state-by-state for "the most asked about and controversial legal topics".   Topics covered range from abortion to minimum wage to stalking.  The information included is based on laws as of March 1, 1996, so this book is not a substitute for reading the current law.  However, it is a handy reference for an overview of state law comparisons.  

Nolo's Legal Encyclopedia,

    Searching for articles is done by inputting a specific topic or browsing subject categories on the web page.

Nolo's Everyday Law Book, 2d ed. Nolo Press, 1999, 1v. (various paging) $21.95 ISBN 0-87337-426-6

    Handy desk reference for FAQs for over 100 legal topics, contributed by Nolo's expert authors. Contains "resource boxes" with additional print and organization references and special mention made of on-line help. Includes a brief chapter on doing legal research.


Every Landlord's Legal Guide, Marcia Stewart, Janet Portman, Ralph Warner, 3d ed. Nolo Press, 1998. 496 p. $34.95 ISBN 0-87337-471-1 (Note: Book with accompanying disk; forms on tear-out sheets).

    Combines practical and legal information on renting residential property, from screening tenants and preparing leases through the landlord's duties, liabilities, and rights. State law variations are discussed within the text and included in the appendices.

Renters' Rights, Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart, Nolo Press, 1999. 220 p. $15.95 ISBN 0-87337-411-8 (Quick and Legal Series)

    Renters' rights and responsibilities in residential tenancies are thoroughly covered, although in less depth than in the authors' Every Tenant's Legal Guide (Nolo Press, 1997 $24.95) Includes charts of state laws and agencies.

Legal Profession

Finding the Right Lawyer, Jay G. Foonberg, American Bar Association, 1995. 318 p. $19.95 ISBN 1-57073-011-3

    Although it is easy to find a lawyer, this book helps you find the right lawyer for a particular need. Covers the use of recommendations and directories to find a lawyer. Discusses finding, evaluating, hiring and paying lawyers in the U.S. and abroad. Includes a "glossary of legal specialties" and bar-sponsored referral services.

If You Want to Sue a Lawyer: A Directory of Legal Malpractice Attorneys, Kay Ostberg and Theresa Rudy, HALT, 1995. 118 p. $10.00 ISBN 0-910073-22-8

Using a Lawyer and What to Do If Things Go Wrong, Kay Ostberg, HALT, 1990.  146 p. $8.95 ISBN 0-679-72970-4 (Random House Practical Law Manual)

    There is some repetition in these two volumes, but together they cover the alpha and omega of using a lawyer, from selection through litigation. Will help in determining if there are grounds for objecting to a lawyer's performance. Lists state agencies involved in discipline and there is a directory of lawyers who will represent someone in a legal malpractice suit. Useful forms and bibliography included.

Mad at Your Lawyer, Tanya Starnes, Nolo Press, 1996. 352 p. $21.95 ISBN 0-87337-326-x

    Most thorough treatment of attorney-client problem areas--communication, fee arrangements, conflicts of interest--and the possible solutions available to the client. Includes obtaining your file, firing your attorney, fee settlement options, and complaining to the state disciplinary board or filing suit. Does a good job of highlighting state-specific variations.

Legal Research

Legal Research: How to Find and Understand the Law, Stephen Elias and Susan Levinkind, 6th ed., 1999. 1 v. (various paging) $24.95 ISBN 0-87337-525-4

    Explains both text and online legal research tools. Review questions and hypothetical research problems allow the reader to practice their legal research skills.

Web Site: Public Library Toolkit from the American Association of Law Libraries Information Services to the Public,

    This site offers guidance to public librarians on legal research, how to update legal information, collection development and legal referrals.

Motor Vehicles

Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court and Win! David W. Brown,, 1999. 275 p. $19.95 ISBN 0-87337-465-7 (Quick and Legal Series)

    A new guide by the author of the California-specific Fight Your Ticket (Nolo Press, 1997). There is an excellent chapter on all of the methods of speed detection, as well as suggestions for analyzing your situation and fighting your ticket before a judge or jury. Includes appendix of traffic rules for the 50 states.

A Note About Self Help Publishers and Series:

Self Help Publishers: Nolo Press (now  has several other good titles which are not included here. We would encourage libraries to order directly from Nolo, because they give a 30% discount and offer a free replacement for stolen titles that are purchased directly from them. A book entitled HALT's Guide to Self-Help Books, Kits and Software (1999, 242 p. $10.00 ISBN 0-910073-24-4) is an evaluation of other self-help materials. Each item is "graded" from A to F on accuracy, comprehensiveness, each of use, and quality of forms. This would be helpful if a library is trying to build a collection and wanted to avoid unsatisfactory purchases.

Series: In addition to the title mentioned in the bibliography, the ACLU publishes a series of handbooks on the rights of aliens, artists, gays, minorities, people with AIDS, women and others. The handbooks cost less than $20.00 each. For a complete listing and price information, visit their website. The American Bar Association publishes a series of  "guides" on various legal topic such as wills and estates, consumer law, family law, and employment. The guides generally cost $10.00 and are available in some of the larger bookstores and from Random House or the ABA. For a complete listing of the titles, visit the ABA website.



Kids and the Law: A User's Guide to the Court System, Rebecca Pries and Carol Rosenweig, 2d ed. Adolescent Consultation Services, 1998. 193 p. $10.00

    This book is in both Spanish and English with the text for each language on facing pages. Topics covered include: delinquency, children in need of special services (CHINS), school and special education, medical issues, mental health and substance abuse problems. List of community resources and glossary also included.


Citizens Guide to State Services, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Citizen Information Service, March 1997, 237 p. $8.10 (Note: Purchase from the State Bookstore)

Legal Advocacy  and Resource Center Referral Directory, 1994 (Note: There is a new edition currently in production.  It is expected to be published Summer 1999.  Price information not available.  LARC also publishes a monthly update called "Intake Update".  The annual cost is $25.00.) 

    This directory lists organizations in Massachusetts that help citizens with legal related issues such as housing, mental health, domestic relations, immigration, among others.  The legal services and lawyer referral sections are particularly helpful.  For each organization, the listing includes the geographical areas served, languages spoken, advocacy and mediation services, fees charged, and income limits and other restrictions. 

Massachusetts Lawyers Diary & Manual, Lawyers Diary and Manual, annual (1999 ed. $43.00) (Note: New editions come out in October).

    Includes information on the federal and state courts and agencies in Massachusetts, county and municipal offices, law schools, legal aid services, synopsis of divorce practice and procedure, and an alphabetical and geographical listing of lawyers with their address, phone and fax numbers. Accompanied by a paperback with biographical data on judges and maps with directions to courthouses.


The Massachusetts Woman's Divorce Handbook, Isabella Jancourtz, Divorce Handbook, 1998. 142 p.  $19.95, ISBN 0-9618632-3-4  

    Provides alternatives to divorce and guidance on how to find the right lawyer.  In addition to basic information about contested and uncontested divorces, it also has chapters on custody and the  enforcement and modification of divorce judgments.  Appendix contains completed forms, court and legal aid information, and selected state statutes and court rules.

Massachusetts Divorce: A Consumer's Guide, Wendy Sibbison, 2d ed., Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, 1996. 140 p. $14.95 ISBN 0-944490-89-1

    This book explains how divorce works and gives the reader tips on how to choose a lawyer.  Mediation is discussed, and there is an entire chapter on how to handle your own uncontested divorce.  Sample filled-out forms are included.

How to File for Divorce in Massachusetts, Sharyn T. Shoo and Steven L. Fuchs, Sourcebooks, 1998, 226 p. $19.95 ISBN 1-57071-329-4

    More than half of the book is comprised of blank and completed forms.  The chapter on contested divorces is good, but otherwise it is not as instructive as the other two titles above and lacks a sample separation agreement. 

Web Site:

    The most valuable aspects of this site are the state divorce laws and family law dictionary. For the different states, there is a synopsis of the divorce law with references to the actual statutes. The dictionary gives short, simple definitions for legal terms relating to divorce. The listing of family law attorneys is disappointing, because only a few are listed for each Massachusetts county.


Check It Out: A Guide to Rights and Responsibilities for Massachusetts Students , Massachusetts Department of Education, 1992, 100 p. (Note: New edition is due Spring 2000.  Call Student Advisory Council at the Dept. of Education at 781-388-3300 x397 for copies)

    Covers various rights of students such as privacy, freedom of expression, equal education and discusses what to do if those rights are violated.

Web Site:

    Students' rights information has been posted by the Massachusetts affiliate of the ACLU. In a question and answer format it discusses freedom of expression, appearance, searches and drug testing, due process, and discrimination. An excellent up-to-date source.


Your Rights on the Job: A Practical Guide to Employment Laws in Massachusetts , Robert M. Schwartz, 3rd ed., Labor Guild of Boston, 1992. 282 p. $29.95 ISBN 0-9611038-2-5   (Note: There are plans for a new edition, however it will 1-2 years before completion.)

    Excellent book on the rights of Massachusetts employees.  Covers a multitude of topics including wages and overtime pay, working conditions, unions, privacy, discrimination, workers compensation, and unemployment.  Question and answer section at the end of each chapter.  Text supported by legal citations. 


Newcomers' Legal Guide to Massachusetts: Resource Materials for the Community, Massachusetts Bar Institute, 1998. 49 p. $5.00

    Although this book was written primarily for aliens, it contains useful information on topics other than naturalization. Concisely written, the book contains an overview of the courts in Massachusetts, employment, landlord/tenant, health care, education, domestic violence, and other legal issues. An abbreviated version entitled Quick Legal Guide for Newcomers to Massachusetts is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole.

Web Site:

    This site has legal information for Massachusetts residents on a variety of topics. The "bookshelf" section has forms, pamphlets, brochures and articles on matters generally handled by legal services such as family law and housing. Another useful aspect of this site is information about legal service programs in Massachusetts.

Legal Research

Handbook of Legal Research In Massachusetts, edited by Margot Botsford and Ruth G. Matz, Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, 1988 with 1997 supplement, 1v. loose-leaf,  $35.00 ISBN 0-944490-85-9

    Thorough treatment of the history, function and publications of all the branches of the Massachusetts government.  Also information on legislative history, administrative agencies, municipal and tax law.

Landlord Tenant

Legal Tactics: Self Defense for Tenants in Massachusetts,  Annette R. Duke, editor, 5th ed.  Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, 1993. 576 p.  $15.00 ISBN 0-944490-51-4 (Note: Unfortunately an updated edition is not expected. Chapters 19-21 on public and subsidized housing are outdated. The Housing Training Manual (vols. 1 and 2) available at Trial Court law library locations should be consulted).

    Covers many issues faced by tenants such as security deposit and rent questions, evictions, and public housing.  Footnotes reference applicable federal and state laws.  Contains sample forms, glossary, text of relevant laws and regulations, and a phone directory of housing advocacy groups.  

Motor Vehicles

Motor Vehicle and Traffic Laws of Massachusetts, Gould Publications, 1977- Annual, 1v. loose-leaf, $21.95 and $12.95 for supplementation. ISBN 0-87526-231-7

    Reprints all relevant automobile-related sections of the General Laws, the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, and the rules and regulations of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.  Includes civil and criminal infractions, purchase, registration and sale of autos, highway safety and speeding.

West's Massachusetts Motor Vehicle and Traffic Laws, West, annual, $30.00 ISBN 0-314-22904-3

    This reprint of motor vehicle laws and court rules does not contain the regulations or Registrar's materials included in the Gould title above.  However, it might make a handy addition to the circulating collection.

The following pamphlets by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation can be found on the Internet at :A Massachusetts Consumer Guide, The New and Leased Car Lemon Law, The Used Vehicle Warranty Law, and The Lemon Aid Law.

Public Assistance

The following guides were done by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and are available from Mass. Continuing Legal Education.

EAEDC Advocacy Guide: An Advocate's Guide to Emergency Aid to Elders, Disabled, and Children in Massachusetts, 1998. 1 v. $7.95 ISBN 1-57589110-7

Food Stamp Advocacy Guide, 1999. 1 v. $7.95. ISBN 1-57589-149-2

TAFDC Advocacy Guide: An Advocate's Guide to the New Welfare Rules in Massachusetts for Parents with Dependent Children, 1998. 1 v. $7.95 ISBN 1-57589-112-3

Unemployment Advocacy Guide: An Advocate's Guide to Unemployment in Massachusetts, 1996. 1 v. $5.00 ISBN 1-975890-048-8

Small Business

Smart Start Your Massachusetts Business, PSI Research / Oasis Press, 1997. 1 v. (various paging) $19.95 ISBN 1-55571-408-0 (pbk)

    Intended for anyone who wants to start a small business in Massachusetts.  It gives the fundamentals of the different types of business structures, some of the duties as an employer, marketing strategies, sources of business assistance and how to write a business plan.  Sample forms and references to other useful books and software included.  To update the information in the book, go the publisher's website ( ) and click on smartstart for Massachusetts. 


Addison, Wesley Longman, 1 Jacob Way, Reading MA, 01867, Govt. and Corporate Accts: (800) 822-6339; School Accounts: (800) 552-2259

ACLU Publications, PO Box 186, Wye Mills MD, 21679, (800) 775-2258

Adolescent Consultation Services, 40 Thorndike St., Cambridge MA 02141.

American Bar Association, Attn: Orders, PO Box 10892, Chicago IL 60610 (800) 285-2221

Barron's Educational Series, Inc, 250 Wireless Blvd., Hauppauge, NY 11788 (800) 645-3476

Divorce Handbook (prepaid orders), PO Box 743, Weston, MA 02493. For credit card orders, contact Bookmasters at (800) 247-6553

Gale Group, PO Box 9187, Farmington Hills, MI 48333.  (800) 877-4253

Gould Publications, 199-300 State Street, Binghamton NY 13901-2782 (607) 724-3000

HALT, 1612 K Street, NW Suite 510, Washington DC 20006  (888) 367-4258

Labor Guild of Boston, 883 Hancock St., Quincy MA 02170 (617) 786-1822

Lawyers Diary and Manual,   PO Box 50, Newark NJ 07101-0050 (800) 444-4041

Legal Advocacy Resource Center, 197 Friend St, 9th Floor, Boston MA 02114 (617) 371-1270 x640

Massachusetts Bar Institute, Attn: Newcomers' Legal Guide, 20 West St., Boston MA 02111-1218 (617) 338-0500

Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education, Inc., 10 Winter Place, Boston, MA 02108 (800) 966-6253

Nolo Press (now, 950 Parker St., Berkeley CA 94710 (800) 955-4775

Oxford University Press, 200 Madison Ave., New York NY 10016 (800) 451-7556

Penguin Putnam, Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York NY 10014

PSI Research/Oasis Press, 300 North Valley Drive, Grants Pass OR 97526 (800) 228-2275

Puffin Books, see Penguin Putnam

Random House, Attn: Order Dept., 400 Hahn Rd., Westminster MD 21157 (800) 726-0600

Sourcebooks, PO Box 372, Naperville FL 60566 (630) 961-3900

State Bookstore, State House, Room 116, Boston MA 02133 (617) 727-2834

West Group, 620 Opperman Drive, Eagan, MN 55123 (800) 328-9352

Statewide Legal Reference Service: Previously funded by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. Last Modified December 12, 2017. Questions, comments or corrections about this site? Contact webperson. Legal research questions? Contact our reference librarians