The Harris County Law Library’s Legal Tech Institute is pleased to announce a special visitor, D. Casey Flaherty, a recognized leader in legal tech innovation and the creator of the Procertas legal tech audit. Please join us on Monday, August 19 and 11:00 am for a CLE presentation called Legal Tech is not optional. Mr. Flaherty will share his insights about using technology in the practice of law and will highlight how the Procertas Legal Tech Assessment, which is available to all for free at the Harris County Law Library, can help attorneys work toward legal tech competence. Texas attorneys will earn one hour of CLE credit and .5 hours of ethics credit for attending. Join us!
In order to better serve our visually impaired patrons, we at the Harris County Law Library recently explored our options for providing text-to-speech services. We were happy to discover three free tools: Otter, TTS Reader, and Microsoft Word. Each is described below.
Otter: Otter is more than just a text-to-speech application. Also included are a dictation feature and automatic, real-time transcription. The app and the basic plan, which offers 600 minutes of dictation per month, are free.
TTS Reader: Text To Speech Reader converts any text to spoken language. TTS will read your text in a natural voice. Choices include UK and US English in a male or female voice, in a range of reading speeds from Very Slow to Too Fast. Drag and drop files or paste content into the provided text box. TTS Reader will read aloud for you in whichever voice you select and at whichever speech you prefer.
Microsoft Word: The newest versions of MS Office (2016, 2019, and Office 365) include a Read Aloud feature, allowing you to listen to your document for better comprehension. Words will be highlighted simultaneously as they are being read. To use this feature, simply open Word, click Review tab > Read Aloud, or press Alt+Ctrl+Space on your keyboard. Click Play/Pause to start and stop the narration. Select Settings to change the reading speed.
If you are using MS Office 2013, there is another option for accessing the text-to-speech conversion feature. Follow the steps outlined here (and see image below) to turn this feature on in Word 2013.
Click the “Customize Quick Access Toolbar” button which is located at the very top of your window above the Tabs (File, Home, Insert, Design, Layout, etc.) Select “More Commands”
On the “Choose Commands From:” dropdown menu, select “Commands Not in the Ribbon”
Scroll down to the “Speak” option, then click Add. Click Add when you are finished.
Now, highlight the text to be read aloud. Click the Speak Button, which looks like a small speech bubble, on the Quick Access Toolbar. Word will read your text. It’s that easy!
The American Bar Association’s annual guide to legal technology has arrived here at the Law Library. Newly updated, The 2019 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide is the guide to assist solo and small firm attorneys navigate the world of legal tech. The Guide offers information and recommendations to help attorneys find the technological equipment that will give them the most bang for their buck. From hardware to software to smartphones and anything else in between, the Guide takes the guesswork out of purchasing the computer equipment that is most appropriate for your office and business. Updated topics include:
new hardware and software recommendations;
best products to protect sensitive data;
tips for secure remote access to data;
suggestions to help you prepare for the unexpected and unthinkable, such as data breaches, lost smartphones, natural disasters; and
a roundup of tomorrow’s legal technology trends.
Intrigued? Come to the Harris County Law Library and ask for The 2019 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide at the reference desk. It can be found in our Legal Tech Collection.
The subject of a recent opinion piece in the New York Times discusses the “privacy paradox,” a sort of cognitive dissonance that compels us to share information about ourselves on every available platform while simultaneously cursing the technology that makes our compulsive sharing habits so addictive. That paradox can have wide-ranging implications for the legal community, which now has an ethical obligation to “remain competent in the practice of law, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” The ubiquity of Google makes it necessary for lawyers to understand the impact it can have on the clients being served. For example, when Google periodically pings your device to track your location even when your device-location feature is turned off , it might implicate jurisdictionally-specific privacy rights or contract law, as a recent investigation by the attorney general of Arizona suggests.
Mapping a device’s location is only one tracking method commonly employed by prominent tech companies. Google tracks you in all sorts of ways through apps, it’s Chrome browser, and more. The information is used to facilitate marketing efforts, including sales to third-party marketing firms, and to integrate your online experience. A recent New York Times op-ed by Google’s CEO provides the company’s view on protecting data privacy while using the data collected to create a more customized economy. At its annual developer conference just weeks ago, Google reinforced its commitment to privacy with the launch of two new efforts — better cookie controls and guards against fingerprinting. Additional trust-building measures are likely in the works (including security features in the redesign of Gmail), especially as increasing numbers of users defect from Google to alternative browsers like Brave and Vivaldi.
The takeaway for legal professionals: Follow news about Google and keep reminding clients who find themselves in a privacy paradox about how information is used in the information economy.
The Legal Tech Institute at the Harris County Law Library has just released a new video CLE. Practical Cybersecurity for Lawyers is the latest addition to our Learning On-Demand CLE library, where you can earn CLE credit in Texas while staying up to date on legal tech. Visit the Law Library's Legal Tech Institute page for more on our legal tech learning opportunities.
This year’s topic for the University of North Texas Open Access Symposium was Is Open Access an Answer for Access to Justice? Held this past weekend at the UNT Dallas College of Law, the symposium drew speakers and attendees from a variety of backgrounds including academia, legal aid, law librarianship, and the judiciary. Joe Lawson, Deputy Director, and Heather Holmes, Assistant Law Librarian at the Harris County Law Library, were fortunate to be in attendance and also to appear as speakers on a panel called Engaging the Public.
For their contribution, Joe and Heather presented a program called Minding the Gaps, an exploration of the barriers to access that self represented litigants, especially those of low and modest means, encounter when interacting with the justice system. Joe and Heather also discussed the important role that trusted intermediaries, such as legal aid attorneys and public librarians, play in mitigating the impact of barriers to justice. Citing the work of others in the field who have written on the limitations of techno-optimism and over-reliance on digital resources, Joe and Heather presented a model for providing access — supplemented by support and guidance from trusted information professionals — to reliable, authoritative sources of legal information that pro se litigants can use to effectively engage with the courts and achieve just outcomes for their civil legal needs.
Concluding the two-day symposium was an interactive workshop called A2J By Design: Prototyping Innovative Legal Solutions with Open Legal Information. The workshop was conducted by Kelli Raker and Casandra Laskowski, librarians at Duke University School of Law. For the activity, two teams used design thinking principles to devise creative solutions for providing access to justice. Pictured here, Joe Lawson and his teammate, Jason Sowards, Law Librarian at the Nevada Supreme Court Law Library, explain their team’s project idea, an interactive kiosk for legal aid services at senior centers.
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.
The Harris County Law Library is excited to announce a significant investment in new and improved technology — a 70 inch, wall-mounted digital monitor — for our Legal Tech Lab, the home of the Law Library’s Legal Tech Institute Hands-On Legal Tech Training program.
The Lab is fully integrated into the Law Library's research space and provides the perfect setting for participants to learn the tech skills they need to get legal work done at the Law Library and downtown courthouse complex. With seating for nine, the Lab also provides opportunity for participants and instructors to interact closely, ensuring individualized attention. Now, with last week’s installation of an impressive and much improved display screen, the Legal Tech Lab is even better equipped to offer legal tech training to attorneys, self-represented litigants, and members of the general public.
Consult our 2019 Course Catalog to find out which classes might interest you. Then, register online for the course of your choice, or drop in any Thursday afternoon at 2:00 pm at the Harris County Law Library Legal Tech Lab. Texas attorneys will earn one free hour of CLE credit for each hour of class attended.
Harris County Law Library Deputy Director, Joe Lawson, recently appeared on The Geek in Review podcast to talk with hosts Greg Lambert and Marlene Gebauer about the kinds of services and resources the library provides on a daily basis to the residents of Harris County, most of whom are self-represented litigants.
As discussed in the podcast, “Lawson believes that there is a duty of the law library to help train lawyers, not to just be more efficient in their personal practices, but to help them have more capacity to help assist pro se litigants. Lawson’s calculation is that a 3% increase in capacity, through advancements in technology usage, could help eliminate a majority of the pro se issues in the county.”
Tune in to hear Joe share his thoughts on how the Harris County Law Library and our Hand-On Legal Tech programs in particular can help train lawyers to assist the burgeoning number of pro se litigants who are filing suit in this, the third largest county in the United States. .
Today is National Let’s Laugh Day, 24 hours dedicated to jokes, laughter, and all things funny. In honor of this silly day, which happens to fall on Tech Tuesday, we at the Harris County Law Library are turning our attention to legal humor with a tech focus. Instead of highlighting a new development or trend in technology, however, we’re calling for a moratorium on tech (just for today) with a reminder to remember a simpler time when artistry, craft, community, and tradition still mattered. Reclaim this heritage, slow your pace, and embrace your inner Luddite. Claim your title as an “artisanal lawyer” as the authors of the following articles have done.
How to Practice Artisanal Law (Big Legal Brain)
I Am an Artisanal Attorney (McSweeney’s)
In Which the Artisanal Lawyer Dismisses Google (BitterLawyer)
For further laughs, try the following, two analyses of laughter at the United States Supreme Court.
Taking Laughter Seriously at the Supreme Court (Tonja Jacobi, Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law & Matthew Sag, Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law) (2019)
Laugh Track (Jay D. Wexler, Boston University School of Law) (2005)
Happy National Let’s Laugh Day 2019!