Legal self-defense hits a snag

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From writing our wills to defending ourselves in court, we Americans can tend to our own legal business without the assistance of attorneys, if we choose to -- and these days, with the price of attorneys ranging from $50 an hour on the cheap side to $1,000 an hour for the Cadillac set, a majority of people are no longer able to afford a lawyer.

This is why a whole line of how-to-be-your-own-lawyer books have taken root during the past couple of decades. Need to draw up a lease, file a sexual-harassment complaint, write an employment contract, handle the sale of your house, fight a speeding ticket? No need to shell-out big bucks to have an attorney shuffle the papers for you, when for less than $30, you can get a self-help book -- complete with the basic papers you'll need to submit -- for each of these specific legal actions. And there are now computer software programs that walk you through the process, allowing you to be your own "cyberlawyer."

But -- Holy Paul Revere -- here comes the legal establishment! In Dallas, a committee of powerhouse attorneys sued Quicken Family Lawyer, a self-help software firm, and this same committee is "investigating" Nolo Press/Folk Law, a publisher of self-help lawyering books.

In both cases, the establishment is charging that these legal tools are so helpful that they amount to the "unauthorized practice of law," and therefore the big-shot lawyers want the tools banned. Sadly, a federal judge recently sided with the establishment, ruling that the Quicken software is illegal.

Aside from the obvious issue of lawyer greed raising its ugly head here, this is an assault on our constitutional right to represent ourselves in America's legal system. Worse, they are using book-banning as a means of denying us that right. To follow this important case and to get more information about this constitutional issue, go to the Nolo Press website.

Jim Hightower is an author, radio commentator, public speaker and political sparkplug from Austin, Texas. For more populist commentary, visit his website.

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