Legal forms used to be retyped from form books, purchased from stationery stores or given away or sold by the court or other governmental agency that promulgated the form. Legal publishers still publish books full of sample contracts and wills and such, although most books we see these days come with an accompanying CD-ROM or are published on CD-ROM alone. In addition, governmental agencies are still giving away “fill in the blanks” type forms — although increasingly these forms are available for download or completion through the agency’s site on the Web. In addition, there are now Web sites that claim thousands of forms available for download free of charge, on a fee-for-form basis or by subscription only.
This week we look at a Web site that collects government forms. We also report some interesting news from Lexis.
USCourtForms.com claims more than 40,000 federal and state forms. Despite the name, the form lists include non-court forms of many federal and state agencies. If you want to download a corporate form from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office or a form from the U.S. Copyright Office, USCourtForms has both.
Finding a form is easy. After logging on, the user is presented with a United States map. Click on a “federal forms” box or on the state that you want to obtain a screen listing the offerings for the particular jurisdiction you have chosen, divided into typical Windows folders and subfolders. A search box with a pull-down list lets you search in your particular area of interest. We found it more convenient to scroll down to the appropriate jurisdiction and then chose from the descriptions or titles of the presented forms.
Once you have selected the appropriate form, you can download it in one of several formats. If you have chosen an interactive form, you can fill it out on the screen, then download the completed form, ready for printing.
The non-interactive forms are available for download free of charge. Each user of interactive forms — currently available in the federal, California, New York, Illinois, Florida and Texas libraries — must pay a $29 per month or $228 per year fee for a subscription to any one state or to the federal forms. Each set after the first costs an additional $180 per year. Access to all of the interactive forms carries a $2,400 annual fee. In addition, each paid subscriber must pay a $25 one-time initial license fee. Multi-user pricing is negotiable.
While these fees are not outrageous (assuming that the forms you want are currently available on an interactive basis), we should note that many courts and government agencies currently publish their forms — sometimes interactive forms — on their own Web sites. All of the federal courts can be accessed through links on the federal judiciary Web site at www.uscourts.gov. Additionally, it is increasingly possible to guess at the URL for various governmental agencies. The Commerce Department’s Fedworld site and the private FindLaw Web site are two other sites that can get you to where you want to go in the federal government.
State courts and agencies are a little more difficult to find. Findlaw, once again, can be a good place to start, but most, if not all states maintain a major site at www.state.[abbreviation].us, where “abbreviation” is replaced by the standard two letter state name abbreviation of the state (e.g. Minnesota would be “mn.”) If that doesn’t get you what you want, you should point your browser to Google, the best general purpose search engine we know, enter search terms of interest without Boolean connectors (and, or, not) and click the “Google Search” button. More often than not, the site you want will appear on the first page of search results. (To find Hennepin County court forms, for example, you could enter “Hennepin Minnesota court forms.”)
We should not have to remind you to immediately bookmark any such site or add it to your “favorites” list. Having searched for the site once, it should, thereafter, be just a click away.
Making forms interactive
If the court or governmental agency has only noninteractive forms, or you opt for the free forms from USCourtForms or other sites, you can download the form, print it to paper and use a typewriter to fill in the blanks. Alas, we’ve thrown away all but one small portable typewriter and aren’t interested in such retro technology. One answer, of course, is an inexpensive scanner and some “fill in the blanks” software that comes with the scanner. If you will be using the particular form often, consider purchasing Adobe Acrobat and creating fillable forms as fillable Portable Document Format (PDF) files. For this purpose, you won’t need a scanner an Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) or high resolution — and it doesn’t make a lot of difference if it takes five seconds or 25 seconds to scan a page; don’t spend more than $100.
Obviously, this technique also works well if you can’t find a needed form online and are reduced to accepting a printed form for the court or agency.
We pointed our browser to lexisone.com — the Web site offering free broad (all states and federal) but shallow (five years only) caselaw searching, free legal forms and a variety of other information from Lexis. The legal forms as designated by LexisOne are more than the court and agency forms dealt with by USCourtForms, and include the form agreements, powers of attorney and so forth that were the staple of the old printed form books. There seem to be more forms than when we last looked. Some are still static forms for download, but a lot of them are accessed through interactive HotDocs scripts, permitting the user to download a fully customized form.
We like what LexisOne is doing, and find it a good site for browsing when looking for drafting ideas and samples.
Lexis pricing alternatives
While browsing the LexisOne.com site, we came across an offer from Lexis that we hadn’t seen before. It seems that Lexis is now offering short (a day or a week) limited time searching of parts of its data libraries. A single state costs $40 for a 24-hour search window, and 24-hour access to caselaw and codes for the federal government is $100. Libraries for each of 22 practice areas include primary and secondary material, each at its own price. (Cyberlaw and Immigration are each $55, while Securities is $75 and Intellectual Property $85.) The fee for a week, in each case, appears to be double that for one day. Each of the libraries includes access to Shepard’s Citations.
These fees are high when compared to a regular subscription — the $40 a day state library might cost $100 to $150 per month on an annual basis. Nonetheless, it may be just the thing for a small firm or solo who doesn’t seem to need Lexis most of the time, but can easily afford the fee when a particular project is being planned or the important trial or appellate brief is due. We think the concept is sound, and will be interested in seeing how well it sells.
Wireless Lexis access
The LexisOne site also included information about an experimental project involving Lexis access through RIM and Palm wireless handhelds. If you have the proper equipment, you can access a free news library, a customized daily opinion service and search the free LexisOne caselaw database. If you have a paid Lexis account, you can
also retrieve a statute or case from Lexis or Shepardize a citation.
As this claims to be an experimental program, we won’t give it a formal review at this time. The Web site claims that this experiment is open to the first 500 who apply. If you have the proper equipment, give it a try. The Lexis folks will certainly be interested in your comments, and so will we.
USCourtForms.com claims over 40,000 forms from courts and governmental agencies, most of them available without cost.
LexisOne provides a different sort of form, also free of charge. If you have an important project pending and don’t have Lexis or Westlaw, Lexis is offering one day or one-week access at a reasonable price.
Users of wireless Palm or RIM handhelds should sign up for experimental Lexis access.
Barry D. Bayer practices law and writes about computers from his law office in Homewood, IL. To contact him, write to Law Office Technology Review, P.O. Box 2577, Homewood, IL 60430; call him at (708) 957-3322; or send an e-mail to [email protected]