National Pro Bono Week

This week (Oct. 21-27, 2018) is the 10th Annual National Pro Bono Week! Legal organizations across the country have planned events to celebrate and educate pro bono attorneys in their communities, and the Harris County Law Library is no exception. On Thursday, Oct. 25, at 2 p.m., we’ll offer our first session of Free Legal Tech for the Public, which is designed to help pro bono attorneys and self-represented litigants make sense of all the great online resources available to help individuals representing themselves in legal matters. Everyone is welcome to attend this Hands-on Legal Tech Training from the Law Library’s Legal Tech Institute and Texas attorneys can earn 1.0 hour of CLE credit. Click for details and registration information.

Hats Off to Houston Volunteer Lawyers!

In the tradition of celebrating excellence in pro bono work during National Pro Bono Week, the Law Library would like to give a hat tip to Houston Volunteer Lawyers! HVL attorneys staff the “Library Booth,” which is a legal information booth where self-represented litigants with limited means can speak with a licensed attorney for free. The Library Booth is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the lower level of our downtown Houston location. Working in close proximity with HVL attorneys, our law librarians see the positive impact it has on our patrons to have ready access to pro bono attorneys who can answer basic questions. With guidance, self-represented litigants can make better use of the Law Library’s collection and have improved access to justice. Visit www.makejusticehappen.org to see all the ways HVL supports pro bono.

Further Reading

Gender Marker and Name Change Resources for Transgender Individuals in Texas

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For the transgender community, updating one's identification and other legal documents is an important and necessary step to achieving a complete transition. Finding the right resources to help transgender individuals navigate the Texas court system can be a challenge. Fortunately, the Houston Volunteer Lawyers are ready to assist. HVL offers regular legal clinics to guide individuals through the legal transition process, providing assistance in drafting the forms required for a gender marker and/or name change. Simply visit the HVL website for details about the application and pre-screening process. Submit your completed Gender Marker Questionnaire to an HVL staff attorney who will review all applicants for suitability prior to making an appointment for the next gender marker clinic. 

Travis County Law Library in Austin also provides resources for those in need of assistance in drafting documents for a gender marker and/or name change. Visit the Travis County Law Library website for detailed information and forms. These forms are drafted specifically for use in the Travis County courts.

The University of Texas Law School also offers help via its student-run initiative, the Trans Name and Gender Marker Project, whose stated mission is "to provide low-income trans applicants with free, high-quality services in preparing petitions for legal name and gender marker changes." Like the Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the Trans Name and Gender Marker Project at the University of Texas Law School requires all interested applicants to complete a short intake form, but once accepted, transgender individuals will get the help they need to both draft a petition for the requested changes as well as guidance in how to proceed with changing identification and other legal documents once a court order is granted. 

For additional information about the legal rights and challenges of transgender individuals, consult the book, Transgender Persons and the Law, which is available in our print collection at the Harris County Law Library. And don't forget to ask for assistance from our reference staff who are always available to help answer questions and direct library patrons to further resources

On a final note, sometimes the best information and support come from within one's own community. The Texas Name and Gender Marker Change Facebook group is a good place to look for answers to commonly asked questions from others who have completed the legal transition process. 

Kincare Forms for Voluntary Non-Parent Caregivers

As summer approaches, requests for information about the supervision of a child by a non-parent caregiver are on the rise. Fortunately, TexasLawHelp.org and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have the forms and information that grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, and other blood relatives may use to establish their rights as caregivers. These rights, which are put into place as part of the Kincare program*, allow a voluntary non-parent caregiver to enroll a child in school or daycare, make decisions regarding his or her medical well-being, sign school permission slips, and take other steps to ensure the child's welfare and safety.

To learn more about the Kincare program, TexasLawHelp.org is the perfect place to start. Download a copy of the Texas Kincare Primer to find answers to commonly asked questions about the authorization agreement for non-parent or voluntary caregivers.  Also available on TexasLawHelp.org is a form for consent to medical treatment by a non-parent or voluntary caregiver. Take a look at both forms to determine which will best meet your needs and the needs of the child in your care.

As always, if you have any questions about the Kincare program, we recommend that you consult an attorney. The Harris County Law Library partners with the Houston Volunteer Lawyers, who provide free legal assistance for this or any civil legal concern five days a week in the basement at 1019 Congress. Volunteer lawyers are available Monday through Friday from 9:00 am - 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm on a first-come, first-served basis.

*Please note that the Kincare program is different from the Kinship Care program, which is designed for children in CPS care. For information about the Kinship Care program, please visit the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website. 

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Be an Einstein. Use the Library.

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Happy Birthday to Albert Einstein, who was born on this day in 1879. Celebrated as a brilliant theoretical physicist and one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, Einstein's very name is synonymous with genius, but in some ways, he was just a regular guy. He enjoyed smoking his pipetook great pleasure in riding his bicycle, and encouraged playfulness as the key to discovery and creative thought. He also placed great value in visiting the library.

Einstein claimed to possess no special talents but described himself as "passionately curious." What better way to satisfy one's curiosity than to visit the library? He once said, "The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library," a sentiment that we at Harris County Law Library share. Knowing where to access accurate, authoritative, and trustworthy sources of legal information is critical for both legal professionals and the public. Those who represent the best interests of their clients need not only information but a supportive environment in which to work, and those representing themselves need unrestricted access to unbiased sources of information to help them address their legal needs.

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In the digital age, libraries have changed tremendously, evolving from the traditional institutions that Einstein would have known to vibrant, dynamic hives of activity where people from all walks of life come in search of not only information but for guidance, services, education, training, support, and community. We at Harris County Law Library take the needs of our visitors very seriously, and we continue to expand our range of offerings on an ongoing basis.

For guidance, we partner with the Houston Volunteer Lawyers to offer our pro se patrons access to attorneys at no expense (Monday - Friday, 9:00 am - 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm). Our reference staff provide services and support 11 hours a day, 5 days a week by assisting self-represented litigants in finding forms for a variety of legal needs. Our Legal Tech Institute, an ongoing series of free learning opportunities for attorneys and the public, provides legal tech education and skills training in both face-to-face and virtual settings. 

We aim to cultivate a sense of community for our regular visitors, both attorneys and the public, and to create an environment conducive to productivity, exploration, problem-solving, and achieving justice. Knowing where to find this kind of environment and the resources it offers is a must. We like to think that Einstein would agree.