Legal Reference Services for the Public

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The reference staff at the Harris County Law Library is always happy to help you find the resources you need to answer your legal research questions. Whether you are a legal professional or a self-represented litigant, we strive to provide the most appropriate and thorough information to meet your legal needs.

Our print materials, especially the titles shelved at the Reference Desk, are heavily used on a daily basis. O'Connor's annotated codes and the O'Connor's legal form books are requested most frequently, along with the State Bar of Texas Practice Manuals for Family, Probate, Real Estate, and Guardianship matters.

The do-it-yourself legal website, TexasLawHelp.org, is another indispensable tool. It provides library patrons with the information they need to file for divorce, arrange for child custody, request name changes, apply for occupational licenses, and expunge criminal records. It also provides a wealth of information about common legal matters including court structure, basic civil procedure, and what to expect when going before a judge in a court of law. 

The Harris County Law Library is a self-service, public law library committed to providing open and equal access to justice for all. We aim to offer the best service possible for every individual who walks through our doors. We partner with the Houston Volunteer Lawyers to offer you the legal advice that we as librarians are not permitted to provide. As a constant reminder to ourselves and to those we serve, we post signs clearly displayed throughout the library, informing patrons of our dedication to providing legal information but not legal advice. We can point you to resources that we know to be reliable, accurate, and authoritative, but we cannot interpret legal forms, statutes, or cases. We must remain neutral and impartial, providing legal definitions and procedural explanations that facilitate access to and understanding of the legal system without providing advice, research, opinions, legal counsel, or subjective evaluations.

As providers of legal reference -- not legal research -- we must remain objective and unbiased. Law librarians are passionate about facilitating access to legal information and empowering library patrons to educate themselves about the law. Ensuring that all library patrons -- especially pro se litigants -- have the tools they need to successfully navigate the complex legal machinery of our justice system and gain access to the legal process is our goal.

To answer any questions about the kind of service we can provide, please refer to this helpful quick reference guide. We're happy to clarify any of the points covered. We look forward to serving all your legal reference needs.

Recursos en Español - Spanish Language Legal Resources

The Harris County Law Library has created several research guides on a number of popular legal research topics such as family law, labor and employment, real estate law, and civil and criminal litigation. Our newest guide, now available in the Law Library and on the Law Library's website, is the Spanish Language Resources Research Guide.

Provided is a directory of Spanish language materials in the Law Library's print collection as well as links to digital resources available online. Topics covered are immigration, wills and estates, landlord/tenant, family law, consumer law, and criminal law. Community legal resources are also included along with general reference guides on the legal system in Texas.

If you have any questions about accessing these resources or about finding Spanish language legal services in the Greater Houston area, please speak with a member of the Law Library's reference staff. 

 

 

Access to Justice – Transfer on Death Deed

Chapter 114 of the Texas Estates Code authorizes an owner of real property to designate a beneficiary to whom that property will pass upon the owner’s death. This process alleviates the expense that the beneficiary would otherwise have had to bear if the property had passed through the probate process. This alternative to probate is called a transfer on death deed. Executed by the property owner during his lifetime, the deed is a non-testamentary instrument that is freely revocable should the property owner change his mind regarding the primary or alternate beneficiaries named in the deed. To be effective, the transfer on death deed must state that the transfer of real property is to occur at the property owner’s death and must be recorded with the county clerk in the county in which the property is located prior to the death of the transferor. Once the deed is in effect, a will may not supersede the validly executed deed. In other words, if a will names a different individual as beneficiary, the property will go to the individual designated in the transfer on death deed, not the one named in the will.

TexasLawHelp.org has a packet on its website with information about and instructions and forms for the transfer on death deeds. There are links to forms and instructions for property owners who want to transfer real property using the transfer on death deed, for property owners who want to revoke a prior transfer on death deed, and for beneficiaries who want to know what needs to be done to acquire title to the property named in the deed.

There are more alternatives to probate that have been proposed. There are two bills before the current legislative session (SB 869 and HB 1753) that, if passed, would enable an owner to transfer his interest in a vehicle to a designated beneficiary, thereby allowing the vehicle to pass outside of probate. The Texas Access to Justice Commission, one of the champions of the need for low-income Texans to have equal access to the civil judicial system, is supporting this legislation.

A Look Back at Brown v. Board of Education on the 63rd Anniversary

On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that racial segregation was unconstitutional and that permitting "separate but equal" treatment for black students in public schools was a violation of federal civil rights laws. 

"We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

This year's Law Day theme is The 14th Amendment: Transforming American Democracy, so today, on the 63rd anniversary of this historic case, it's appropriate to remember Brown v Board of Education and the impact it's had on shaping the civil rights effort from 1954 to this day.

Latest & Greatest – Texas State Directory

Published by Texas State Directory Press, Inc. JK 4830 .T4

Published by Texas State Directory Press, Inc.

JK 4830 .T4

Have you ever been curious about how the legislative branch in Texas works? Are you interested in learning more about our state’s lawmakers and the people who make up the state’s three branches of government as well as the agencies, boards, and commissions? If so, then we recommend that you have a look at the Texas State Directory and its companions, Texas Legislative Handbook and Texas Legislative Guide. Published by Texas State Directory Press, Inc., Texas State Directory is the go-to source for information about Texas government. In fact, its subtitle is “The Comprehensive Guide to the Decision-Makers in Texas Government.” Now in its 60th edition, Texas State Directory is divided into five sections: the State Section, the County Section, the City Section, the Federal Section, and the Reference Section. As you would expect, the State Section covers every branch of state government and has information about elected and appointed officials. The County and City Sections contain detailed information about county public officials and the elected officials in the incorporated cities, respectively. The Federal Section provides information about the Texans who represent the State in the federal government, including United States Senators, members of the United States House of Representatives, and Federal Circuit and District Judges. The Reference Section is where you can find names and addresses associated with the two main political parties, some Texas facts, and qualifications for office, among other things.

Texas Legislative Handbook is a handy pocket guide featuring photographs and useful information about our state senators and representatives, addresses and telephone numbers for the Texas delegation of the 115th United States Congress, and the names of those members who comprise the various Senate and House Standing Committees. Of interest as well are the Senate and House seating charts and the Senate and House district maps.

The last of this trio of governmental resources is the Texas Legislative Guide: A Guide to the Texas Legislative Process. This volume is separated into four principal sections. After providing a brief historical synopsis of the early Texas legislatures, the first section addresses the powers granted to the legislature and how the legislature is structured and how it operates. The second section of the book delves into the legislative process and walks the reader through the various stages from the initial preparation and reading of a bill to its enrollment and ultimate signing (or vetoing) by the governor. The third section lays out the responsibilities, immunities, and restrictions of the legislator and describes the three libraries located within the capitol complex. Political parties, administrative agencies, and interest groups are discussed in the fourth section as are the public’s participation in the legislative process and the role of the press.

Be sure to ask for the Texas State Directory at the reference desk.

Choose Privacy Week, May 1-7

Harris County Law Library is celebrating Choose Privacy Week, an annual event established by the American Library Association (ALA) to engage library users on privacy issues in the digital age. The ALA encourages all technology users to observe the following:

  • Be aware of the risks associated with using technology.
  • Take action in defending online privacy.
  • Adopt practices that counter surveillance and minimize unwanted data collection. 

Check out the ALA Choose Privacy Week website for tools to protect user privacy. Included are browser extensions for encryption and ad blocking, a selection of privacy-enhancing tools for mobile and desktop applications, and surveillance-free search engines, such as Start Page and Duck Duck Go.

For items at the Harris County Law Library related to privacy and data security, especially for practicing attorneys, we suggest the following. 

  • Wiretapping & Eavesdropping: Surveillance in the Internet Age, a 4-volume loose leaf service, includes chapters on computer evidence, Internet technology, and the Fourth Amendment. Relevant federal and state laws regarding digital communications and surveillance in the information age are also discussed.