Being thankful for access to legal information

Table setting for Harris County Law Library staff Thanksgiving potluck among historical statute books.

Our staff celebrated this week's holiday with a Thanksgiving potluck in our break room/historical statute room. We're posting this photo for anyone who would like to know why our decades-old statute books are so aromatic.

The time we spent together gave us a moment to reflect on all the many things for which we are thankful. As law librarians, we see the positive impact access to legal information can have on individuals' lives each day, so we are always grateful for the partnerships that allow us to make information available to our patrons. We are thankful for the partnership between the Harris County Attorney's Office and the Houston Bar Association that makes it possible to provide a Houston Volunteer Lawyers information booth in the Law Library to connect self-represented litigants with a licensed Texas attorney for free, accurate legal information. We are also grateful to work with TexasLawHelp.org to be a point of access for Houstonians who are in need of the legal information posted there. And we are thankful for the great many community resources, from Houston Lawyer Referral Service to TexasLegalAnswers.org to AVDA, we refer our patrons to each day when the best information we can provide is a specialized service to help connect them with a licensed attorney. Finally, we are grateful for the publishers, including Westlaw, Lexis, O'Connor's, the State Bar of Texas, HeinOnline, and many more, who work with us to make their wealth of legal information open and available to all within steps of the courthouse. We are thankful to work with so many to ensure open and equal access to legal information.

Updated Legal Research Guides

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When conducting research in an unfamiliar area of the law, one of the best resources for getting started is a pathfinder or resource guide. The Harris County Law Library has a number of helpful guides on a variety of legal topics in the most commonly practiced areas of the law: Family Law, Probate, Real Estate, Labor and Employment, and Civil and Criminal Litigation.

Two additional Research Guides -- Law Practice Management and Attorney Networking Resources -- were created specifically with solo and small firm legal practitioners in mind, and yet another guide, Recursos en Español, was written just for Spanish speakers. 

To access all of these Research Guides, please visit our dedicated webpage where links to all ten of the guides are posted. Open each link to view a full-page, printable PDF of every title in the collection. For help locating any of these resources in print or online via our Westlaw, Lexis, HeinOnline, and O'Connor's legal database subscriptions, please stop by the Reference Desk for assistance from our friendly staff. 

Position Opening: Assistant Law Librarian

Click to download PDF of "Job Description for Assistant Law Librarian"

Click to download PDF of "Job Description for Assistant Law Librarian"

The Harris County Law Library seeks a dynamic, public-service oriented law librarian to join our collaborative, innovation-driven team as an Assistant Law Librarian. The position focuses on providing reference support for self-represented litigants, attorneys, and county officials of the nation’s third most-populous county. Through participation in the Law Library’s outreach efforts, instructional services, and digital content development, the position also presents a real opportunity for professional growth for a motivated law librarian seeking new challenges, including the chance to build innovative programs and create digital content through the Law Library’s Legal Tech Institute.

See the complete job description for a detailed list of duties and responsibilities. All qualified candidates are encouraged to send a cover letter and resume to Law Library Deputy Director Joseph Lawson at Joseph.Lawson@cao.hctx.net. The position is currently available and applications will be considered as received.  

About the Harris County Law Library: The Harris County Law Library first opened its doors in 1915 and is the oldest, continuously-operating public law library in the State of Texas. Today, as a part of the Office of Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney, the Law Library seeks to be of service to all and promote access to justice through access to legal resources. Located within steps of more than 80 courts and several more county agencies in downtown Houston’s courthouse complex, the Law Library is located at the point of need for access to legal information and provides the resources and educational opportunities self-represented litigants and local attorneys need to effectively participate in government processes. The Law Library also works with community partners to provide additional services, including a Houston Volunteer Lawyers information booth and circulation services from the Harris County Public Library.  

The Spirit of the Law

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In the spirit of the Halloween season, Harris County Law Library is exhibiting several spooky selections from our print collection. The sources we uncovered will be on display through the end of the month. Don't miss your chance to see them before they vanish! The following featured items are included in the exhibit. 

Burchill v. Hermsmeyer, 212 SW 767 (1919), is the case of the ghost who inspired a contract dispute and a fraud claim. Mr. Hermsmeyer sued to recover the $10,000 he invested in Mrs. Burchill's corporation. She claimed that ghosts, with whom she consulted via a medium, told her there was oil under her land. When no oil was discovered, Mr. Hermsmeyer argued that Ms. Burchill's claim was a fraudulent misrepresentation of facts. The court rejected his argument saying that the existence of ghosts is a matter of belief, not of fact. His claim was, therefore, "insufficient to form a basis for relief for the plaintiff."

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Purtell v. Mason, 527 F.3d 615 (2008), involves Halloween yard decorations which caused a neighborhood dispute and raised questions about the right to insult every person on your block. Jeffrey and Vicki Purtell displayed six wooden tombstones in front of their Chicago home, each bearing unflattering references to their neighbors and the details of each person's fictitious demise. One of the neighbors identified on the tombstones argued with Mr. Purtell over the offensive decorations resulting in a call to the police. Officer Bruce Mason arrived at the scene. He arrested Mr. Purtell and ordered the removal of the tombstones. The Purtells asserted their free speech rights, but the Seventh Circuit found no loss of First Amendment Protection under the "fighting words" doctrine. 

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The Law of Cadavers and of Burial and Burial Places by Percival E. Jackson is the "standard work on the subject of the law pertaining to the care and disposal of bodies of deceased human beings, and the establishment and maintenance of burial places." Included in this volume is a thorough treatment of the law regarding sepulture along with "approximately a hundred pages of forms pertaining to the regulation of cemeteries, the transfer of plots, graves, and monuments therein and the care, transportation, and burial of human corpses as well as some forms of legal proceedings in both tort and contract, germane to the general subject." (Book Review by Charles G. Coster, 2014) This title, 2nd edition, is available in the Harris County Law Library's print collection and also via HeinOnline's Legal Classics Library, which you can access at the Law Library.

In the early 1900s, three creative thinkers designed new and improved lanterns in the category of "decorative and grotesque illuminating devices commonly called jackolanterns." (Andrew B. Heard, Patent No. 715,379) Their patent drawings are featured in the exhibit and shown in in the graphics throughout this post.

To see the rest of the Halloween-themed legal materials on display, visit the Law Library before November 1st. Happy haunting!

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Harris County Law Library provides access to resources for victims of domestic violence and their families. If you or someone you know is a victim of physical abuse, the following resources are available. 

AVDA’s Legal Advocacy Program has a staff of attorneys who will provide victims of abuse with free legal representation for protective orders, divorce and child support and custody.

The Houston Bar Association provides a thorough list of resources including a list of hotlines and shelters in the Houston area. Also provided are links to information about services available in surrounding counties.

The Texas Advocacy Project offers free legal services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault throughout the state of Texas.

The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault is committed to helping victims of sexual abuse, including abuse that happens in the home. AVOICE is a program offered by TAASA that provides free, confidential legal advice and representation for all victims and survivors of sexual assault in Texas. Call AVOICE at 888-343-4414.

The Texas Council on Family Violence provides good information about protective orders as well as a service directory of legal advocates who can assist victims of family abuse.

If you are in need of immediate help, please contact the Houston Area Women's Center at the numbers listed here. Assistance is available twenty-four hours a day.

  • Domestic Violence Hotline: 713-528-2121
  • Toll-Free Line: 800-256-0551
  • Rape Crisis Hotline: 713-528-7273
  • Toll-Free Line: 1-800-256-0661
  • Office: 713-528-6798
  • TTY: 713-528-3625