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Representing yourself in court without a lawyer is not a new idea. Books designed to help self-represented litigants were published as early as the second quarter of the eighteenth century.

“Some earlier books were aimed partly at a non-legal audience, particularly readers dealing with the rights and duties of landlords and tenants. However, the credit for producing the first law book intended for a general audience goes to the prolific legal author Giles Jacob. His Every Man his Own Lawyer first appeared in 1736, with a further ten editions before the end of the 18th century. The book’s title page addresses ‘all manner of persons’, promising them enough knowledge of the civil and criminal law to enable them to defend themselves and the estates.”-The Oxford Companion to the Book, edited by Michael F. Suarez and H.R. Woudhuysen (2010).

In the preface to a 1764 edition of Every Man His Own Lawyer, Giles Jacob is quoted as saying: “In this treatise is contained the most useful and requisite learning in the law, for all degrees of persons to acquire and understand” and “the publick will here reap benefit and security to themselves, at the same time attornies and solicitors confess it affords a very just instruction.” Not so different from today’s legal self-help material.

A 19th century American title followed, intended for women to understand their “legal course and redress” in matters such as marriage, divorce, alimony, children, property, widowhood, abandonment and the state laws relative to these and other common concerns. This tome by George Bishop, Every Woman Her Own Lawyer (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1858) is available at your local Mass. Trial Court Law Library.

Image credit: Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

 

 

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