As American citizens, most of us have lived here for, well, all of our lives. But how well do we really know the rules and regulations that our own government has set up to guide and protect us? How well do we know our rights in any given situation? If you're not a lawyer, police officer, or other authority figure, it's quite possible that you fall into the "rest of us" category and could use a little guidance about American law. You may just be "legally clueless."
That's where three local young adults -- Eric, Denise, and William Schnapp -- come in. After 19-year-old Eric, the youngest of the trio, was pulled over for speeding, he realized he didn't fully understand his rights. He lucked out with a warning, but the experience left him and his siblings, 20-year-old Denise and 21-year-old William, wondering about their rights in other legal situations.
What did they do? They researched a number of those situations and wrote a book about it. Legally Clueless: A Law Guide for the Rest of Us is a comprehensive guide to the who, what, when, where, and how of the law. And although it's targeted at a young audience, it's a helpful guide for citizens of any age.
"What we're trying to do is inform people. We were ignorant of the law, but hopefully after reading this book, people won't be as ignorant as we were," says Denise. "We want it to help people in everyday situations get out of trouble and stay out of trouble."
The book, which is written in a kind of FAQ format, contains common questions regarding common legal issues. Questions such as "What if I get an out-of-state ticket?" (mail in the fine) and "Can I withhold the rent if the landlord fails to fix the apartment?" (no) are followed by straightforward answers. The guide also lays out what to do when you find yourself in more serious trouble, such as getting arrested or sued in small-claims court.
Legally Clueless even debunks the legal myths. You may think you know the law because you've seen a similar situation in a movie, but the information in the Schnapps' book goes to show that you can't always believe what you see on TV. For example, you've probably heard that undercover cops have to identify themselves as undercover when asked. Not so, say the legally clued-in trio. That's just an old rumor.
So how did three kids in their late teens to early 20s become such legal experts? Lots and lots of research and interviews with local authorities. After Eric's close brush with the law, the Schnapps found that there really weren't any law guides out there that made for a very pleasant read.
"Every book we found on law was too complicated or really simplistic, so we decided to sit down and write one," says Denise. "We looked up a lot of information on the Internet and double-checked it through interviews with judges and police officers."
None of the Schnapps is interested in a long-term career in law, at least not yet. William, who is currently attending Emory University in Atlanta, is an economics major with an additional interest in biomedical sciences. According to Denise, he did most of the outlines to determine what questions they would answer in the book.
Denise, who attends Vanderbilt University in Nashville, is a double major in political science and economics. She says she concentrated on the interviews, while her younger brother, Eric, the family "computer genius," handled the layout and design. He's currently enrolled at Vanderbilt as well.
All three played a part in writing the book. At the time of writing, Eric was still a senior at White Station High School, while the two older Schnapps were off at college. Since they were so far apart, they decided to divide the topics, write them on their own time, and e-mail the results to each other for editing and approval. After all the information was compiled, they had Judge D.J. Alissandratos proofread the book.
"From the idea all the way to print, it took about a year. Research took a lot of time, especially since we were in different cities. We went into this not knowing anything about how to publish or edit a book," says Denise.
One thing they learned along the way was if they intended to keep the rights to the book, they'd be best off forming their own publishing company. So they did just that. After getting a license and patent, the trio were able to publish. And they plan to publish more in the future if Legally Clueless goes over well. Denise says they'd like to pursue a "Clueless" series that would include such titles as Medically Clueless and Financially Clueless.
"The experience turned out to be incredibly valuable, and I learned so much personally," says Denise. "The thing is, you go through school and you think you know the law and your rights, but a lot of that information came from your friends or movies. A lot of things I learned really surprised me."
Legally Clueless can be purchased online at LegallyClueless.com or locally at Borders Books & Music and Davis-Kidd Booksellers.