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lawlibrary Maryland Law

Tax Season is Upon Us 

Tax filings are due in less than a month, and like many, you have probably been putting them off. Fortunately, there are online tools and helpful information available through our library for those who just need the tools and forms to get them done, learn more specific aspects about tax filing, or become more proficient in tax law.

General Tax Filing Information and Tools 

Assistance 

Appeals 

Library Resources  

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lawlibrary

Writing for Everyone: The Benefits of Plain Language

Girl happily reading
Closson, William Baxter. “Girl Reading.” Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Museum of American History, Division of Graphic Arts, Smithsonian Institution

Most non-lawyers would probably agree that legal writing is difficult and hard to understand. Latin, French, Old English and Anglo-Norman terms abound, as do double negatives and coupled synonyms (like “null and void”). This jargon is strewn across lengthy, complex sentences that may need to be read several times – with a legal dictionary – to understand, if at all.

While frustrating, there are reasons for the strangeness of legalese. It should not allow any ambiguity, which means the language needs to be as precise and accurate as possible, to the point where specialized terms and lengthy, comprehensive text are sometimes necessary. Everyday speech evolves all the time and can cause disagreements, while the constancy – hence antiqueness – of legal language is intended to prevent these disagreements.  

The danger of misinterpreting the law and legal documents is, of course, why people need lawyers. Unfortunately, lawyers are too expensive for most people to afford. They are also surprisingly few: for every 10,000 Marylanders, there are only 40 lawyers available, and there are just 1.49 lawyers who provide pro bono or low-fee services for every 10,000 low-income Marylanders. As a result, there is a huge number of people fending for themselves in the court system. That said, shouldn’t the lawyer-less, who are still subject to local and federal laws, be able to understand those laws without an interpreter?   

A great number of people and organizations say yes, hence the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010. This act requires all federal agencies publish their documents in plain language. While legal language is intended to minimize ambiguity, it is probably safe to say that most people skip reading lengthy and incomprehensible legal documents. When is the last time you checked “accept” for an online agreement without taking the time to scroll through the small print? These poorly understood contracts can enable unpleasant surprises down the road and cause the very disputes they are meant to prevent.  

Some of the guidance on plain writing best practices, such as white space, bullet points, headings, and active voice, could benefit legal professionals as well. While research studies on this last point are scant, a 1987 study by Robert Benson and Joan Kessler did suggest that documents written in clearer, plainer English are deemed more convincing by judges.  

That said, writing clearly, plainly, and accurately in a way most people can understand is hard. In writing this blog post, I could not make its readability go below an 11th grade level, according to Microsoft Word’s readability statistics (here’s how to find that function). There are information hubs, guidelines, tools, and samples to help with this, however.

Here are a few resources:  

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What’s New…In the Catalog

While it’s in no way new to the library, our FAQs webpage can now be found in our catalog. For those who have never seen it, the FAQs page provides links to our comprehensive resource pages on the most frequently asked-about topics (See the page on bankruptcy, for an example). Each individual resource page also has a new record in our catalog for those who want to search under specific topics.

These pages provide links to statutes, videos, free articles for the layperson, forms, and bibliographies of relevant print resources in the library. If you need help figuring out which resources to start with on the list, we at the law library can point you to those that would be most helpful and relevant to your situation. 

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lawlibrary Legal Technology Self Represented

Getting Organized for Court: The Maryland Justice Passport is Here

Woman looking down at her phone and grinning

It is tough navigating the court system. There are fees, deadlines, jargon, forms, paperwork, hearings, and many other details to remember. What is a lawyer-less litigant to do? 

To help SRLs (self-represented litigants) keep themselves organized and get help navigating the legal process, Civil Justice and the Maryland Judiciary, with A2J Tech, have partnered to create the Maryland Justice Passport, a free online tool that allows participants to scan and upload their documents, share those documents with legal service providers, set up timelines and reminders, learn about legal topics, and connect with legal aid organizations. Litigants can use the Passport as an app on their smartphone or at the website. 

Interested litigants can sign-up online, and can receive help with the process here at the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library.

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lawlibrary Self Represented

Where to Find Legal Information on Neighbor Law (and Related Topics)

Patrons who attend our Lawyer in the Library program frequently ask how to handle conflicts with their neighbors. This is such a common concern that there are countless sources on relevant law, or lack thereof, governing overhanging tree branches, fence placement, etc. For example, look at the number of search hits on Westlaw after entering some relevant keywords in Figure 1.

Westlaw search results for query "adv: (fence! boundar! tree harass! noise) & dispute!" filtered to "Secondary Sources," showing more than 10,000 results.
Figure 1: Westlaw search results showing sources on neighbor law

Below, I have collected print and electronic secondary sources available through the library that cover neighbor law for attorneys and laypersons. We also have a page on mediation resources, which may be a preferable first step in resolving many of these conflicts.

On the shelf and online through the Maryland Judiciary network:

On Lexis Advance:

On Westlaw:

Possible further reading:

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What’s New … in Family Law 

A stack showing the spines of the listed new books.

The law library has added a number of recently published books to its shelves for both family law attorneys and others interested in family law. A list of them follows, with links to their more detailed records in our catalog.

The complete QDRO handbook: dividing ERISA, military, and civil service pensions and collecting child support from employee benefit plans
4th edition  
KF3512 .C37 2019 
Patricia Shewmaker and James R. Lewis 
[Chicago, Illinois]: American Bar Association, Section of Family Law, [2019] 

The family law practitioner’s guide to social securit
2nd edition  
Lydia S. Terrill 
KF3649 .S73 2020 
Chicago, Illinois: American Bar Association, Family Law Section, [2020] 

Forms, checklists, and procedures for the family lawyer  
Mark A. Chinn 
KF505 .C478 2021 
Chicago, Illinois: American Bar Association, Family Law Section, [2021] 

Litigating parental alienation: evaluating and presenting an effective case in court  
Ashish Joshi 
KF540 .L58 2021 
[Chicago, Illinois]: ABA, American Bar Association, Family Law Section, [2021] 

The military divorce handbook: a practical guide to representing military personnel and their families Third edition 
Mark E. Sullivan 
KF535 .S85 2019 
Chicago, Illinois: American Bar Association, Section of Family Law, [2019] 

Parent-child reunification: a guide to legal and forensic strategies 
Stanley S. Clawar 
KF547 .C57 2020 
[Chicago, Illinois]: American Bar Association, Family Law Section, [2020] 

Top challenges in Maryland family law
KFM1294.A75 B4 2021 
Eau Claire, WI NBI [2021]

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New in Our Catalog

From the Maryland Judiciary:

2019 Strategic Plan Update: Building for the Future (Document URL) (Catalog Record). This document reports on the Judiciary’s progress towards its strategic goals for 2015-2020.

Handbook for Guardians of Minors. (Document URL) (Catalog Record): This guide provides help for court-appointed guardians of minors. The handbook includes instructions, sample forms, and resources to contact for additional information.

Serving on a Maryland Grand Jury. (Document URL) (Catalog Record): This pamphlet, written for new grand jurors, explains a grand jury’s purpose and the duties and responsibilities of serving on one. It also includes a helpful “Frequently Used Terms” glossary in the back.

Journalist’s Guide to Maryland’s Legal System. Sue Kopen Katcef & Robert D. Anbinder, eds. Third edition. (Document URL) (Catalog Record): Here, journalists can read about Maryland laws that affect them, the structure and functions of the courts, explanations of different court processes, and other pertinent legal topics. The third edition to this handbook is available on-line only; our library holds superseded, print versions of this handbook for those who prefer them. Find them in our catalog.