Wills and Probate Resource Month - October 2018

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October is Wills and Probate Resource Month at the Harris County Law Library. All month long, you will find materials on wills, estate planning, and probate and trust administration on display in the Law Library and online.

Self-Help Guides from Nolo Press

Nolo’s Plan Your Estate is your go-to estate planning guide. With coverage of common estate planning goals, such as leaving property, providing for minors, planning for incapacity, avoiding probate, and reducing the estate tax, it is a go-to source for easy-to-understand estate planning information. Another useful Nolo resource is Estate Planning Basics. Both of these Nolo titles can be found in our Self-Help Collection in the Law Library. For assistance in finding these guides, please ask a member of the reference staff.

TexasLawHelp Wills & Estate Planning

TexasLawHelp.org is an incredibly useful online legal research tool for the general public. Take a look at their Wills & Estate Planning resources for information about filing a small estate affidavit, a transfer on death deed, or an affidavit of heirship. Also find a link to the Texas Probate Passport, a publication of the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association.

Harris County Law Library Research Guides

Visit our Research Guides page to download a free copy of our Probate, Trusts, and Estates Research Guide. This topical guide helps you quickly find the most practical resources available at the Law Library, including the Texas Probate System, a State Bar of Texas publication, and O’Connor’s Texas Probate Law Handbook (both of which are pictured above).Ask for these and other titles at the Law Library reference desk.

Latest & Greatest – Fastcase: The Definitive Guide

By Brian Huddleston  Published by American Bar Association Law Practice Division  KF 242 .A1 H833 2018

By Brian Huddleston

Published by American Bar Association Law Practice Division

KF 242 .A1 H833 2018

In 2017, Fastcase released Fastcase 7, a new version that promised greater ease of use with its new features and tools, including an overhauled interface. For those of you who may not know, Fastcase is an electronic legal research service providing users with access to cases, statutes, and regulations and secondary sources like treatises and law reviews. If you are new to Fastcase or just want to search more efficiently, Brian Huddleston’s book, Fastcase: The Definitive Guide, is the book for you. From the basics of searching to downloading and printing documents, Huddleston demonstrates how to get the most out of Fastcase and your time. With this book, you will learn how to:

  • Search for cases using official reporter citations or natural language or keyword searching;
  • Search across different jurisdictions;
  • Narrow search results with filters or through the Tag Cloud;
  • Perform authority checks using the Bad Law Bot;
  • Print, email, or save documents or copy and paste text; and
  • Perform legal research using the Fastcase mobile app

Fasctcase isn’t simply limited to finding relevant case law. As the author explains, users can search statutes, consult Statute Annotations Reports, and look at historic statutes and session laws. They can search regulations and administrative law resources for most states and the federal government. Based upon their subscription, users can also access secondary resources, such as treatises, law reviews, bar journals, practice guides, and forms. No matter what the search, the author provides ample illustrations throughout the book demonstrating how users can find the desired information.

Fastcase: The Definitive Guide is just as its title implies. It provides all of the information you need to know to use Fastcase 7 like an expert. You can find this book at the reference desk in our new Legal Tech Collection.

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Did you know that as a member of the State Bar of Texas, attorneys have free (yes, free) access to Fastcase? If you are a member of the State Bar of Texas, you already should be taking advantage of this membership perk.

If you would like additional training using Fastcase, Harris County Law Library can help. Come to our Free Legal Tech for Legal Professionals course offered by our Legal Tech Institute.

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. 

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.

Legal Research & Writing Resource Month

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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: