More and more people are doing it themselves when it comes to the courts, and Dakota and Scott counties offer law libraries that help.
If you have legal affairs that need tending, but not much cash on hand, the big counties south of the river are ready to help.
For many problems that do need an attorney, law librarians say, you can do a lot of the legwork yourself when it comes to basic problems affecting consumers, families and businesses.
Dakota County's law libraries, in Hastings and Apple Valley, offer reams of electronic and hard copy information, covering common issues such as property lines and neighbors' pesky pets.
And with a growing number of people doing it themselves, Scott County just last week convened a brainstorming session of judges, lawyers and others aimed at discussing what more could be done to help people pursue their own cases, said law librarian Mary Freyberg.
Amid high fuel prices and a sluggish economy, people want to cut expenses, Dakota County spokesman Tim Mozey said. "There are services and programs available that many people don't know about or are unaware of."
But take note: The law librarians do not provide free legal advice or interpretations. "We point people to resources, and I can help people do research, but I cannot provide legal advice," said Dakota County Law Librarian Jennifer Munnings.
What you can get
Research resources range from the Dog Law book to one Munnings refers to as the "garage-band" handbook for people who want to run their own band's business.
Some resources, mostly from family law, are used extensively and others rarely are tapped, Munnings said. All materials at Dakota are for use in the law library only, though Scott does allow some to be taken home.
"The public library does contain circulating copies of many of these materials," Munnings said.
Users can get detailed how-to information, and even watch educational videos, on topics ranging from filing a small-claims case to filing motions for expungements. They can get legal forms, including for deeds, affidavits, health-care directives, and powers of attorney.
Both counties offer an online service called "Ask a Law Librarian." It's an e-mail reference service in which patrons seek information about legal materials at any time, from any location. The librarians give a brief response within three business days in Dakota and within 24 hours in Scott.
Here's what they offer:
• Help finding books or other legal research materials.
• Help with search strategies legal research databases, on the Internet, in the library catalog and among print materials.
• Help finding court forms.
• Information about the Family Court Self-Help Center and services.
• Referrals to government and law-related organizations.
There's no charge except a per-page fee (15 cents in Dakota, 10 in Scott) for printing information from Lexis, Westlaw and the Minnesota Judicial Branch self-help work station, which is strictly for people to access forms and information to help them get through pro-se (self-representation) cases.
In response to an increasingly diverse population, Dakota has included materials written in the native language of Somali and Hmong immigrants, too, while Scott has some things in Spanish.
"It's amazing, the number of people who do actually represent themselves," said Scott's Freyberg. "It's the Home Depot approach, only in the courts."
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017