Thursday, June 02, 2005

My First Textbook of Legal Practice

The law handbook - your practical guide to the law in New South Wales, edited by Vani Sripathy and Lorain Ogle, 6th edition, Redfern Legal Centre Publishing, Sydney, 1997, 1140pp, $60.

HAVING SPENT SIX YEARS AT LAW SCHOOL and then six months of torture at the College of Law, I thought I knew everything there was to know about law and legal practice. Then I started my first job as a solicitor in a general practice at Blacktown. It was sink or swim all the way. I was nervous. I sought help. I rang my uncle (also a solicitor).

After calming me down, my uncle gave me one piece of invaluable advice. He said, "If a new client comes in and asks you about an area of law you know peanuts about, always read up on it in the Law Handbook."

To this day, his advice rings true. The Redfern Legal Centre's Law Handbook is without a doubt the best cure to the jitters experienced by graduate solicitors. In fact, even the most experienced practitioner will find it useful. And with the publication of the 6th Edition, the Handbook has become even better. And it is quite current as well, with the law stated as at May 1997.

The new edition appears to be better arranged than previous editions. It is a masterpiece of plain English law, and covers just about every aspect of law as it affects the common person. Scattered throughout the text are summaries of decided cases, which are presented not as legal precedents but more as practical examples of how the law applies in real life. The arrangement of the chapters makes it extremely user friendly.

At the end of each chapter is a useful guide on helpful resources (including internet sites for surfers), as well as a comprehensive list of names and addresses of government departments and other agencies related to the area covered. This makes the book even more useful for a practitioner, combining as it does, a reference, a bibliography and an address and phone directory.

Given that the book is so useful to lawyers, how much more useful would it be to the average non-lawyer? And can you imagine its value if it were translated into common community languages such as Arabic or Vietnamese? A very expensive project, I admit. But certainly one for governments and ethnic community organisations to consider especially in these times of legal aid cutbacks and increasing complexity in the law.

But don't just take my word for it. Go out and buy one, and see for yourself. With over 75 contributors and at only $60, it's well worth the investment.

(This book review was first published in the Law Society Journal in November 1997. The Law Handbook continues to be an invaluable resource for lawyers and sensible people alike. By the time I finish formatting this article, the Handbook's 10th edition may have been released.)

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