With the recent election of 59 new judges in Harris County (civil, criminal, family, probate, and juvenile courts combined), notable changes in court policies and procedures have taken shape. As one would expect, each of the recently elected judges in Harris County has implemented specific rules for conducting business in his or her particular court. As a guide to understanding and meeting their new requirements, some judges have provided updated links to forms online; others have posted checklists of required documents; and several others are providing supplementary links specifically for self-represented litigants, including to the Harris County Law Library’s community resource guide, the Pro Se Litigants Handbook. The Harris County Law Library has been keeping abreast of and adapting to these changes in order to best serve our public patrons. We are also, as always, paying attention to any changes at the state level.
In late February, just shortly after the new Harris County judges were sworn in, statewide change was indeed taking place. Namely, the Supreme Court of Texas issued an order amending Paragraph 8 of the comment to Rule 1.01 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which now says that Texas lawyers must be aware of the benefits and risks of using technology in the practice of law. By adopting this standard, Texas joined 35 other states who agree that technologically proficient lawyers provide better, more efficient client representation.
Certain local court rules also require specific procedures that rely on technology. For instance, Judge Janice Berg, who presides over the 247th Family Court in Harris County, has included the following in her Court Policies and Procedures:
At final trial on divorce matters, parties must bring their proposed property division to trial in Excel or Google Sheets format on a USB drive.
Complying with the ethical standard and local rules may require both access and training on specific hardware and software. If it seems daunting, the Harris County Law Library is here to help! Our 25 public access computers have the software you need (including Excel) to draft and assemble all your legal documents. And, our Hands-on Legal Tech Training courses, which we offer, on rotation, every Thursday at 2pm, will give you the knowledge and skills (and one free hour of CLE credit for Texas attorneys) to use that software and easily meet the requirements of the courts. In January, we introduced five new classes, including a popular new offering, Microsoft Excel for Legal Work. It will be presented again soon on May 16. Don’t miss it!
For a detailed description of all our weekly classes, see the 2019 Legal Tech Institute Course Catalog. Classes always begin with a Getting Started portion. They gradually increase in difficulty until we Level Up. We then Go Pro, giving you an opportunity to build proficiency as the course progresses. We attempt to address every skill level in an effort to meet the needs of all attendees, and we’re always happy to answer any questions you may have about using tech tools and resources to strengthen your legal practice.