The term "form" carries many meanings. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary gives two definitions that are particularly useful to legal researchers: "a prescribed order and set of words" and "a printed or typed document with blank spaces for insertion of required or requested information." Both kinds of forms are available in the Law Library, located in resources that provide standard language as well as resources that contain fill-in-the-blank forms. This research guide lists resources in print and electronic formats for each type of form book.
Law students who are just beginning to draft a document often turn to forms to identify the language that will accomplish their goals. Experienced attorneys use forms as checklists, to ensure they have not overlooked any possibilities. In the case of "boilerplate" contracts (contracts using standardized language), the use of forms saves the drafter's time. In some areas, such as bankruptcy and patent practice, the use of certain forms is required by law. Also, many non-lawyers use form books for help with writing a lease, a will, or a contract.
The sources for forms in the library can be divided into the following categories:
- General forms
- Forms for particular subjects or proceedings
- Forms for particular geographic jurisdictions
- Combinations of types 2 and 3
Books containing general forms are often arranged as encyclopedias, with an alphabetical arrangement of the subjects and forms. Multi-volume sets and abridged sets are available. Most have a topical index to aid in finding the appropriate forms.
General forms can be categorized as legal forms or pleading and practice forms. Legal forms address substantive matters, such as forms for contracts, wills, and leases. Pleading and practice forms provide language used in pleadings and motions filed with a court in litigation. These supply language for complaints, answers, motions to dismiss, and other motions.
American Jurisprudence Legal Forms, 2d ed. (Practice & Procedure KF170.A542 & online in Westlaw) is a multi-volume set now owned by West. It uses an encyclopedic arrangement and is supplemented by annual pocket parts. It provides brief tax analysis for many forms and there are cross references to American Jurisprudence 2d and annotations in American Law Reports.
West's Legal Forms, rev. 2d, 3d, 4th, v 5th eds. (Practice & Procedure KF170.W47 & online in Westlaw) is a multi-volume set arranged alphabetically by major types of forms, rather than as a straightforward encyclopedia. For example, “business organizations” is the first major topic and comprises forms relating to corporations and partnerships. This set also supplies a brief tax analysis for many of its forms.
Current Legal Forms with Tax Analysis (KF170.R33 & online in LexisNexis), published by Matthew Bender, is also commonly known as Rabkin & Johnson after its authors. Like many other Matthew Bender publications, the set is housed in looseleaf binders. It provides extensive discussion of the use of the forms and of the topics to which the forms relate. The set is organized by broad topics. NOTE: the Law Library no longer receives printed updates of this title, although the older forms may still be useful as a starting point. Current members of the Duke Law community may access more recent versions of Current Legal Forms with Tax Analysis on LexisNexis.
Cyclopedia of Legal Forms Annotatedby Clark Nichols (Practice & Procedure KF170.N54 & online in Westlaw) is published by West. The set was first published in 1925, and has undergone several revisions. One advantage it has over West’s Legal Forms is the presentation of forms from various jurisdictions. For example, the chapter on acknowledgments gives the statutory forms of acknowledgment from all of the states. Nichols uses the encyclopedic arrangement.
Other general form books can be found by searching the Duke University Libraries catalog, with a "subject keyword" search for "FORMS LAW." The search can be limited geographically, e.g., "FORMS LAW UNITED STATES" or "FORMS LAW NORTH CAROLINA."
Forms can be found online in a variety of websites and subscription resources. Note that access to some of the listed databases may be restricted to current members of the Duke Law or Duke University community.
- LexisNexis and Westlaw provide a variety of options for forms of all types. To browse available forms on Westlaw, select the Directory link labeled “Forms, Treatises, CLEs and Other Practice Materials”. To search all available forms, go to the database “FORMS-ALL.” LexisNexis forms can be found under Legal > Secondary Legal > Forms & Agreements.
- The Practical Law Company (PLC) includes a number of model documents and sample clauses for transactional practice, especially in the areas of corporate, bankruptcy, intellectual property, and securities law. Current Law students, faculty and staff may register for an account.
- The Legal Information Reference Center is a resource for consumers which provides access to thousands of sample forms in its library. Forms are organized by subject and can also be searched by keyword and/or jurisdiction. Off-campus access to this resource requires a current Duke University NetID and password.
- Findlaw Forms and Contracts provides topical links to a variety of forms. Results also link to actual contracts produced by major corporations.
- WashLaw Legal Forms links to various free legal form sites, including court forms, tax forms, and business & contract forms. The site is maintained by the Washburn University School of Law Library.
Many publishers provide form books limited to a particular type of practice. In some cases, particular forms are required, while in others they are recommended. In addition to the four topics below, a number of other specialized subjects, including corporations and real estate, have form books available. To find them use a “subject keyword” search in the online catalog using the following terms (without the quotes): "[your subject] UNITED STATES FORMS.”
One example of required forms would be those promulgated by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts for bankruptcy proceedings. Bankruptcy forms can be found in many publications, including United States Code Annotated and United States Code Service (Federal Alcove), as well as in bankruptcy practice manuals and form books published by many companies:
- Norton Bankruptcy Law and Practice 3d (online in Westlaw); Norton Bankruptcy Law and Practice 2d (KF1524 .N67).
- Collier on Bankruptcy, 16th ed., rev. (KF1524 .C655 & online in Lexis) published by Matthew Bender. The contents of volumes 11-13 of the set are bankruptcy forms.
- Bankruptcy Code, Rules and Forms (Reserve KF1511 .B36).
- Other bankruptcy forms can be located by a search of the online catalog using either a “subject keyword” or “subject begins with” search "BANKRUPTCY UNITED STATES FORMS."
By its nature, the field of contracts involves the drafting and interpreting of documents. Contracts is a broad topic that can be further subdivided, e.g., real estate and commercial law. The best-known general contracts forms books are:
- Forms of Business Agreements with Tax Ideas, Annotated (KF886 .C3), published by Institute for Business Planning.
- Warren's Forms of Agreements: Business Forms (KF808 .W37), published by Matthew Bender. Note: The Library’s print Matthew Bender forms publications are no longer updated regularly. While their content may be somewhat outdated, they are still valuable starting points from which to construct legal forms. Current members of the Duke Law community may access more recent versions of Matthew Bender publications on LexisNexis.
- Williston on Contracts 4th: Forms (Reserve KF801 .W53 4th Forms & online in Westlaw). Forms from all aspects of contract law, corresponding to the chapters of the treatise Williston on Contracts (Reserve KF801 .W53).
- Other contracts form books can be found by searching using either a “subject keyword” or “subject begins with” search: "CONTRACTS UNITED STATES FORMS" or "COMMERCIAL LAW UNITED STATES FORMS."
Law students and new lawyers frequently wish to know how to draft a pleading or a motion. Official forms are often found in or as an appendix to rules of procedure. For example, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure include various official and suggested forms. For day-to-day pleading and motion practice, other resources are available:
American Jurisprudence Pleading and Practice Forms Annotated (Practice & Procedure KF8836.A45 & online in Westlaw) is arranged similarly to American Jurisprudence Legal Forms. Once again, this set includes cross references to American Jurisprudence and American Law Reports. The book contains forms suitable for federal and state practice.
West's Federal Forms (Practice & Procedure KF8836 .W4 & online in Westlaw) is arranged by the court one is practicing before, e.g., the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Courts of Appeal, and U.S. District Court. Volume I begins with forms used in practice before the United States Supreme Court.
Federal Procedural Forms Lawyers Edition (Practice & Procedure KF8836.F4 & online in Westlaw) is a multi-volume set of forms used in federal civil, criminal, and administrative proceedings. For each of the more than 65 chapters, there are outlines, research references, annotations, state considerations, law practice checklists, and the forms themselves.
Note: The following form books, published by Matthew Bender, are no longer updated regularly in the Library’s print collection. While their content may be somewhat outdated, they are still valuable starting points from which to construct legal forms. Current members of the Duke Law community can access the most current versions on LexisNexis.
Bender's Forms of Discovery (Practice & Procedure KF8900.A3 B458 & online in LexisNexis) covers the practice of discovery, the portion of pretrial practice used to learn information about one's (and one's opponent's) case. The set contains interrogatories arranged alphabetically by the subject of the action.
Bender's Federal Practice Forms (Practice & Procedure KF8836.B45 & online in LexisNexis) is arranged to parallel the federal rules of procedure.
Moore's Manual: Federal Practice Forms (KF8836 .M67 & online in LexisNexis), a companion set to Moore's Federal Practice, also published by Matthew Bender, has several volumes of forms.
The Internal Revenue Service provides IRS forms and related publications dating back to 1864. The following sites also provide links to federal and state tax forms:
Most states have form books for practice in that state. They may be published by the state courts, by the state's bar organization, or by private publishers.
Pattern jury instructions are forms used by lawyers and judges to draft the charge given to a jury. North Carolina pattern jury instructions are in the Walker North Carolina Alcove (Level 2), and available electronically to members of the state bar via Fastcase. Check the online library catalog for other jurisdictions by doing a “subject keyword” search for "instructions to juries [STATE]" (e.g. Instructions to juries North Carolina).
The library has a number of forms sets for North Carolina. Douglas, R.D., Douglas' Forms, 5th and 6th ed. (NC Alcove KFN7468 .D682 & online in LexisNexis) is a multi-volume set, updated with pocket parts, containing both pleading and practice forms and general forms, such as for real estate and wills. The set uses broad topics for organization.
Thorp, W.L., Thorp's North Carolina Trial Practice Forms, 7th ed. (NC Alcove KFN7930.A65 T48 & online inWestlaw) is a detailed two-volume book which tracks the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.
Van Camp, J.R., et al., North Carolina Criminal Procedure Forms, 3d ed. (NC Alcove KFN7975.A65 V3), a one-volume book, arranges its forms to parallel the chronology of a criminal case, from pretrial through motions, trial and notice of appeal. Each form is referenced to a provision of the North Carolina General Statutes. Irving Joyner’s Criminal Procedure in North Carolina, 3d ed. (KFN7975.J69 2005 & online in LexisNexis) follows a similar chronological arrangement. Forms are included in the appendix to each chapter.
Price, R.M., North Carolina Criminal Trial Practice Forms, 6th ed. (NC Alcove KFN7975.A65 P742 2012 & online in Westlaw) presents a comprehensive list of forms for criminal practice, also arranged to parallel the chronological order of a criminal proceeding.
To find general forms for a particular state, search the online catalog using either a “subject begins with” or “subject keyword” search for the term "FORMS LAW [STATE]." The library has a limited collection of forms from other states. Publishers also offer form books on specialized subjects for individual states. To locate these, search the online catalog using the subject keyword terms: “[STATE] FORMS” (e.g. North Carolina Forms).
An increasingly popular type of form book is designed for the non-lawyer, and is commonly referred to as “self-help”. One of the major publishers of such books is Nolo Press. Nolo publishes books on general and specialized legal topics such as bankruptcy, divorce, and wills and estates. Many self-help books, such as 101 Law Forms for Personal Use, are kept in the Reference Collection. To find self-help form books in the online catalog, use a “subject heading” search for "LAW UNITED STATES POPULAR WORKS."
Many Nolo Press titles are available to the Duke University community online, via the Legal Information Reference Center.
rev. jw/jlb 10/2012