Ed Sherman started a revolution 35 years ago when he wrote “How to Do Your Own Divorce in California.” Since then, millions of people have found they needn’t resort to the adversarial and expensive step of hiring a lawyer to reach a divorce settlement. A new industry — independent paralegal services — was born.
Sherman, 68, an attorney since 1971 and co-founder of Divorce Helpline, which has an office at 615 Mission St. in Santa Cruz, is still going strong. The author of 18 books, he has a new one coming out to help couples stay together.
He will be among the featured speakers at the annual conference of the California Association of Legal Document Assistants Friday through Sunday in Ontario. The group has 225 members and will mark its 20th anniversary this year.
Sherman, who is married, responded to questions posed by Sentinel business reporter Jondi Gumz.
Q You co-founded Nolo Press, which is based in Berkeley, and now own Nolo Press Occidental in Santa Cruz. Why did you make the change?
A I founded Nolo Press when I published “How to Do Your Own Divorce in California” in 1971. Shortly thereafter my roommate Jake Warner started writing books, too, and I let him use the Nolo name. Over the years, he grew a very big company in Berkeley and I was still fairly small, so in 1994 we agreed that I would call myself Nolo Press Occidental to distinguish us. My company was based in Occidental at that time. People still don’t know there are two Nolos or understand the difference.
Q Your latest book is “The Couples Contract for a Lasting Relationship.” How can a written agreement make a relationship better? Give me an example.
A Here are two examples:
The couple promises to pay attention to the positive features of their relationship: Friendship, trust, respect, etc. If, over time, anyone notices them waning, they promise to do something to reinforce the positive — read a book from our recommended list, get a video, go to a workshop, see a couples coach or counselor. Maintaining and reinforcing the positive is the key to a lasting relationship, proved by 30 years of research by Dr. John Gottman.
The couple promises, out of love, that no matter what happens between them they will never use the court system to try to solve any problem—it doesn’t work, makes things worse; but if ever they can’t resolve a problem even with outside advice and counselling, they’ll use mediation and binding arbitration rather than the dysfunctional court system.
I’m going to republish the book next year as “Promises Every Couple Should Make.”
Q You started putting out software 11 years ago to help people work out child support issues. Which self-help tool is more popular: Software or books?
A They are both very popular and each has its place. The sad fact, though, is that people read less so we are starting a little belatedly to make information available in downloadable form on the Internet, starting in a few months from now and increasing over 2007.
Q Your newest software, “DealMaker Settlement Agreement,” came out of a discussion by members of the California Association of Legal Document Assistants. What was your goal in developing this product?
A The concerns the legal documents assistants expressed were the inspiration and motivation for the idea, but as I worked on it, the concept grew and is becoming more comprehensive. The goal is for legal document assistants to make a tool available to the public to help individuals craft a fairly sophisticated “settlement agreement” — they make their own choices and let the software do the drafting. This makes it safe and legal for legal documents assistants to help more people and broaden the range of services they can provide at a reasonable price.
Q Legal document assistants used to be called paralegals. Why the name change?
A When I first started the movement in 1973 to have non-attorneys help the public complete legal forms, we called them divorce consultants. That changed to independent paralegals, never just paralegals. Because the service grew so fast and became so entrenched, legislators co-opted it in 2001, made it legal with some regulations and came up with the term legal document assistants.
Q What’s the outlook for the legal document assistant profession?
A The outlook is strong because attorneys other than my Divorce Helpline service have still not figured out how to give decent service at a fair price that doesn’t do more harm than good.
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