It's National Margarita Day!


Today is National Margarita Day, a chance to celebrate the beverage that pairs so well with our beloved Tex-Mex cuisine. It's also the perfect time to “distill” some legal trivia pertaining to margaritas and the law.

  •  The frozen margarita machine was invented in 1971 in Dallas by an innovator and restauranteur named Mariano Martinez. Inspired by the Slurpee machine at his local 7-11, Martinez decided to modify a soft serve ice cream maker, converting it to a slushy margarita machine. It was a hit! And Martinez was finally able to meet the demand for the popular drink at his restaurant, Mariano’s Mexican Cuisine. The margarita, according to this ABC News segment, is now the most popular cocktail in the world with Americans consuming 180,000 margaritas every hour. That’s a lot of tequila!
  • Speaking of tequila…Just as true champagne must be produced in France, genuine Tequila (with a capital T) must hail from Mexico where it is manufactured in compliance with the laws and specifications of that country. The Code of Federal Regulations stipulates a “standard of identity” for Tequila, defining it as "an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash derived principally from the Agave Tequiliana Weber." See: 27 CFR Section 5.22(g)
  • An authentic margarita must contain four ingredients: salt, lime, triple sec, and, of course, Tequila. However, in order to comply with the law, some establishments adapt this recipe in complete disregard for tradition. In Texas, where "margaritas and daiquiris to go" are a recent trend, Tequila is replaced with wine, much to the horror of margarita purists. On its website, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission addresses the legality of drive-thru margarita stands, explaining that making margaritas with beer or wine  is "the only legal way anyone can sell margaritas or daiquiris for take-out or to go. The drinks cannot be made with tequila or rum or any distilled spirit." Suffice it to say that these drive through beverages are more in keeping with the letter than the "spirit" of the law. 

However you celebrate National Margarita Day, please do so responsibly! Cheers!

Latest & Greatest – The Invention of Legal Research

By Joseph L. Gerken Published by William S. Hein & Co., Inc. KF 240 .G47 2016

By Joseph L. Gerken

Published by William S. Hein & Co., Inc.

KF 240 .G47 2016

Have you ever wondered about the evolution of legal research and how the seed for finding the law germinated and bloomed into the system that we now employ to find relevant case law and statutes? Author Joseph L. Gerken did, and the result of his curiosity is The Invention of Legal Research. Noting that no new legal research methods were developed or conceived until computer-assisted research appeared in the 1980s, the author focuses his examination upon what it was about the so-called “golden decades” from 1870 to 1890 that revolutionized the way legal research was performed and the methods by which cases were located. He begins his analysis with a discussion of some of the early pioneers in legal publishing: Francis Hopkinson, the editor of Judgments in the Admiralty of Pennsylvania; Ephraim Kirby, the editor of Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Superior Court of the State of Connecticut; James Kent, author of Commentaries on American Law, and the seven nominative Supreme Court reporters. Of course, no discussion of legal publishing visionaries would be a complete without a mention of John West and his contribution to the formation of legal research with his National Reporter System. Gerken remarks that West’s system rose to prominence and dominated the world of case reporters because he fashioned a true nationally-focused reporter system.

This increase in the number of reporters inevitably led to the creation of the case digest and the legal citator. Digests are almost synonymous with Benjamin Vaughn Abbott and his brother Austin, who developed a system based on the holdings of the cases, rather than the cases themselves, as well as a classification scheme based on legal topics. Frank Shepard is credited with developing his eponymous citator, a work known for its accuracy, reliability, and currency. In a later chapter, the author examines the causal relationship between case reporting and case finding and the advent of the doctrine of stare decisis. Gerken attributes the stress on the precedential value of cases for the shift in the primary purpose of legal research.

Gerken also delves into the history of statutory law in the 19th century and how the notion of codification was at the forefront during this era. Two men of note in this regard are Jeremy Bentham, the inventor of the term “codification” and a staunch advocate for the adoption of an encompassing code for statutes emanating from the federal government and from individual states, and William Sampson, who kept the issue of and need for codification at the center of the legal world. Both of these men (although more so Sampson) are credited with influencing the drive to create the first American legal code, the New York Revised Statutes. The author presents a lengthy discussion of the New York Revised Statutes of 1829, historically significant for its organization of disparate laws into one place. he also speaks of the Field Code and its adoption and the first codification of federal statutes, which eventually were published as the United States Statutes at Large.

Gerken rounds out his book with a discussion of law reviews and how they influenced the law. From the earliest law journals written by lawyers and other legal professionals to the modern-day law reviews edited and published by students, Gerken examines how these periodicals “contributed to the development of legal doctrine” and defines how these journals fit into the grand scheme of legal research.

Lastly, Gerken explores the parallels between law and librarianship in the late 19th century and how both developed into sciences.

For the legal researcher, the law librarian, the legal scholar, or anyone who has in interest in the development of the methods by which legal research is carried out, The Invention of Legal Research provides a glimpse into those “Golden Decades” from 1870 to 1890 when modern-day legal research had its heyday and became “the way” of finding the law.

Part 1: Countdown to Mardi Gras

Today's blog post is part 1 of 2. Tune in tomorrow for more of Mardi Gras and the law.

A law librarian hopes for a throw from an Endymion float.

A law librarian hopes for a throw from an Endymion float.

Around the world, it goes by many names: Fettisdagen, Masopust, Pancake Day. If you’re in the United States, you probably know it as Mardi Gras. Literally “Fat Tuesday,” it is a Christian holiday that falls every year on the 47th day before Easter, with ancient roots as it marks the latest stored meats and animal fats could safely be consumed until the spring harvest. Carnival, or its culmination, is defined by different cultures to encompass different days, and is celebrated on every continent (the first recorded celebration in Antarctica took place in 1908) in endlessly creative ways (from Sambadrome dance spectaculars to epic food fights).

A weekend day parade.

A weekend day parade.

In the United States, approximately 1.4 million people descend on New Orleans for Carnival festivities, which launch on the Twelfth Night of Christmas, January 6, building in a gradual crescendo through Fat Tuesday. The annual celebrations pump an estimated $1 billion into the south Louisiana economy. Where people and money meet, lawyers and politicians will follow, so that even the gratuitous excess of this pre-Lenten revelry is shaped by a web of local ordinances, Louisiana state law, and even the United States Constitution.

Spectators eagerly await the Mystic Krewe of Barkus, New Orleans' premiere all-dog krewe.

Spectators eagerly await the Mystic Krewe of Barkus, New Orleans' premiere all-dog krewe.

The most obvious legal issues are criminal. New Orleans Police Department has its hands full between inspecting floats, escorting parades, and containing the masses. While that inevitably means some less-than-legal behaviors might go unchecked, testing the patience of the police can easily land you in Orleans Parish Prison, as the cops focus on stopping problems before they start. Unlucky arrestees will languish in O.P.P. until the overburdened courts can process them back out, sometimes only after the bells of Saint Louis Cathedral solemnly herald Ash Wednesday. Popular ways to get arrested include fighting, public urination, and drinking until you fall asleep on the sidewalk.

Interior of a Nyx float about to roll.

Interior of a Nyx float about to roll.

Liability is also a major concern. Chapter 34 of the New Orleans Code of Ordinances, “Carnival, Mardi Gras,” requires krewes to carry liability insurance for issues relating to their floats and other aspects of the parade before a permit will be issued. But who is liable for the conduct of the individuals riding on the floats, drunkenly hurling trinkets at the roaring crowd? The largest parade, staged by the Super-Krewe of Endymion, has over 3,000 riders, which can make behavior difficult to police even with vigilant Float Captains empowered to enforce rules of conduct on the route. It is, then, no surprise that through the Revised Statutes, the Louisiana legislature has limited krewe liability beyond “deliberate and wanton act or gross negligence of the krewe or organization.” Unlimited liability would render such massive parades financially impossible. In the same statute, the state asserts that parade attendees assume “the risk of being struck by any missile whatsoever which has been traditionally thrown, tossed, or hurled by members of the krewe.” Which is to say, if you are watching a parade and get hit hard in the face with a bag of beads, forget about litigating and instead shout “Laissez les bon temps rouler!”

Further reading on Mardi Gras in New Orleans:

Latest & Greatest – Veterans Benefits: A Legal Research Guide

By Lauren M. Collins Published by William S. Hein & Co., Inc. KF 7709 .C65 2017

By Lauren M. Collins

Published by William S. Hein & Co., Inc.

KF 7709 .C65 2017

Throughout the month of February, the Harris County Law Library is featuring legal research and writing resources. Today's blog post highlights a resource that doesn't show you how to perform legal research but rather helps you find specific sources to get you the answers you need. The 69th volume in a collection of research guides, Veterans Benefits: A Legal Research Guide provides researchers with a resource for locating benefits that available to veterans and their families. From the outset, author Lauren M. Collins stresses the need for a research strategy prior to embarking upon a search of this kind because of the difficulty involved with finding information regarding benefits. She notes that the most common resources available are secondary sources, specific federal statutes and laws, and relevant state laws and programs and provides some examples of each type of resource. She briefly explains the procedural steps for filing a claim for benefits and for filing an appeal should the request be denied. She also describes some benefits that are available for family members of veterans and some benefits that are provided by federal agencies other than the Department of Veterans Affairs and how to locate them. Ms. Collins also points out several internet resources, including government websites, websites maintained by advocacy groups, blogs, online training resources, and news alerts.

Although not meant to be a comprehensive guide, Veterans Benefits: A Legal Research Guide provides some of the tools necessary to locate the benefits that veterans need and deserve. Stop by the Harris County Law Library to have a look at this vital research tool.

Legal Research & Writing Resource Month

LRW Resource Month - Fabruary 2018.png

February is Legal Research & Writing Resource Month at the Harris County Law Library. Whether you are an attorney drafting a motion or a self-represented litigant navigating the court system, writing is a necessary component of your legal work. Visit the Law Library all month long to find resources on display that you can use to improve and enhance your legal research and writing skills.

To improve your legal writing skills, look for the following: 

To improve your legal research skills, look for the following:

Latest & Greatest - Unbundled Legal Services: A Family Lawyer’s Guide

By Forrest S. Mosten and Elizabeth Potter Scully Published by American Bar Association KF 299 .D6 M67 2017

By Forrest S. Mosten and Elizabeth Potter Scully

Published by American Bar Association

KF 299 .D6 M67 2017

Using the prevalence and proliferation of self-representation as an impetus, authors Forrest S. Mosten and Elizabeth Potter Scully have embarked upon the advancement of a method of legal representation known as unbundled legal services, or as it also called, limited scope representation in their book, Unbundled Legal Services: A Family Lawyer’s Guide. Broken down into its simplest terms, unbundled legal services refers to the practice of offering various legal services and allowing the client to select the “discrete lawyering tasks” he/she wants the lawyer to perform. The authors have identified seven categories into which these tasks fall and have provided a framework through which such unbundled services can be delivered, thereby allowing a family lawyer with the flexibility to offer full service court representation or become a non-court family lawyer offering limited scope services. Each chapter focuses on the various roles that a family lawyer is typically called upon to assume and explains how such roles can be transformed into one unbundled service. For instance, in many cases, lawyers are, at the same time, dispute resolution managers, negotiators, document drafters, and litigators for their clients. However, according to the authors, each of these roles can be unbundled and offered to the client as separate tasks as opposed to the typical all-or-nothing approach that most full service representation presents. Thus, the client can hire the attorney for those tasks for which he or she might need the most assistance. At the end of most chapters, the authors have provided their readers with practice tips for putting the presented models into play. Also, the authors have set forth the ethical considerations involved with unbundling and possible malpractice “minefields.”

If the idea of the unbundled legal services approach is new to you or if you have not yet considered it as an option for your law practice, come to the Harris County Law Library and have a look at Unbundled Legal Services: A Family Lawyer’s Guide. Who knows? It might be the right plan for you.