Stephen R. Elias, an important and beloved part of the Nolo family for more than 30 years, died last week after a heart attack. He was 70. His passing is a great loss to Nolo and to the communities and movements to which Steve gave so much.
Steve was a part of Nolo almost since its beginning. Like his close friend Jake Warner, Nolo’s founder, Steve was passionate about access to law and tireless in his pursuit of anything that would get information and advice to people who needed it. Steve and Jake dreamed of a “streetcorner law machine” that would make mass-produced legal information and forms available to the public, and when personal computers became widespread, immediately saw their potential for do-it-yourself legal software. Steve was also an early and enthusiastic proponent of giving away plain-English legal information on the Internet, and championed Nolo’s early (1994) foray online.
Steve was an author of many Nolo books, including How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, The Foreclosure Survival Guide, Trademark, Legal Research, Special Needs Trusts, and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. He played a crucial role in developing WillMaker, software produced by Nolo in the 1980s that continues to help millions of Americans prepare their own wills and other estate planning documents. The program is famously both complete and easy to use–a result that was achieved in large part because of how much thought Steve put into it.
Books and software were only part of his efforts. Steve and his wife Catherine helped create the profession of legal document preparer (independent paralegal, in his original term), founding an organization for California document preparers. Steve also personally provided low-cost, high-quality legal help to thousands of clients over the years. His strategy, unsurprisingly, was unique; for $100, Steve provided a phone consultation and written report, designed to prepare clients to represent themselves.
Always advocates of free speech, Steve and Catherine were deeply involved in their community radio station, KPFZ, hosting shows every week and serving on the station’s board of directors.
Steve’s generosity of spirit was legendary. He had time for everyone, listened to everyone. He could talk books, baseball, politics, music, ideas–conversations with Steve were never dull. All of us lucky enough to know him will miss him deeply.