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. 

Free Legal Assistance via the Houston Bar Association LegalLine

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On the first and third Wednesdays of every month, the Houston Bar Association provides an invaluable community service -- free legal assistance for residents of Harris County via the HBA LegalLine. Most callers ask questions about family law matters, such as divorce, child custody, child support, and adoption, but other legal topics -- consumer law, neighborhood disputes, immigration, and legal issues arising from special events like Hurricane Harvey -- are addressed as well. 

Volunteer attorneys licensed in the state of Texas will answer your legal questions from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm tonight, December 6, and again on December 20. Spanish speakers can call from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm on the first Thursday of every month, including this Thursday, December 7, to ask questions in Spanish.

Volunteer attorneys will offer legal information and assistance and, depending on the situation, they may refer callers to additional resources in the community, including legal aid organizations, helpful websites, or lawyer referral services. The volunteers will not represent the callers in any way, and, to protect confidentiality, all callers remain anonymous. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with a legal issue or just needs some helpful legal infomration about a pending case or what to expect at an upcoming court date, the Houston Bar Association LegaLine is here to help!

Legal Resources and Services for Veterans

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Veterans Law Resource Month at the Harris County Law Library is coming to an end. All month long, we've featured legal research materials throughout the Law Library, including the following:

We've also spotlighted a few of our online resources including the Veterans Legal Aid Portal from TexasLawHelp.org and military law titles available through HeinOnline.

All of these research tools will continue to be available in our collection and online. In addition, veterans can find a variety of services from organizations such as Lone Star Legal Aid, the Texas Veterans Commission, the Texas Legal Services Center, the State Bar of Texas, the Houston Bar Association, and the Texas Veterans Legal Assistance Project.

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.

Mediation at the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center

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Alternative Dispute Resolution can be a helpful way to handle conflict between two parties in a disagreement. It's often a good and less expensive alternative to hiring an attorney and taking your case to court.  The Harris County Dispute Resolution Center (DRC), which is sponsored by the Houston Bar Association and funded through the Harris County Courts System, offers mediation for general disputes, divorce, and active civil cases, free of charge to Harris County residents. (For examples of the kinds of disputes handled in each category, please refer to the list at left.)

Mediation for general disputes typically involves money, automobiles, landlord/tenant issues, or property damage. The DRC mediation program for general disputes is for resolving disagreements before a lawsuit is filed.

Divorce mediation is for all issues related to divorce either before or after a suit is filed. Child custody, child support, and visitation can be addressed through mediation, along with related family law matters such as property division, common law separations, and LGBT divorce issues. 

For mediation in active civil cases, the DRC can only mediate for parties with a court pleading or disputed dollar amount of $100,000 or less. Also, the Dispute Resolution Center does not mediate suits involving more than three named parties.

Other types of disputes that can be resolved through mediation typically involve Children’s Protective Services, juveniles, special education, or truancy. To speak with a Case Manager and request mediation for any of the issues mentioned above, please contact the Dispute Resolution Center at 713-755-8274 (8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday) or email email@drchouston.org and briefly explain the nature of your dispute.

Harris County Law Library's 102nd Anniversary

October 1 is a special day each year at the Harris County Law Library. On October 1, 1915, attorneys gathered in downtown Houston for our institution's official grand opening and each year that passes gives us a chance to reflect on the progress we've made in serving our patrons and fulfilling our mission. 

Two years ago, the Law Library marked the occasion by inviting the local legal community to join us for a Centennial Celebration featuring a keynote address from Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht. During his address, the chief justice noted that, throughout the centuries, great thinkers have reiterated the sentiment that "knowledge is power," including influential writers, from the drafters of the Texas Constitution to novelists George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four) and Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451), who make the point that access to knowledge is essential in a free society. The chief justice connected these historical themes with the Centennial Celebration by noting that "[i]t is in opposition to a suppression of knowledge, and in support of its general diffusion, that we gather in celebration of this great public law library."

Inspired by Chief Justice Hecht's words and driven by a mission to promote access to justice through access to legal information, the Law Library continues to expand opportunities for our patrons to gain knowledge. We've launched our Legal Tech Institute, which provides free training opportunities to attorneys and members of the public who might otherwise be left behind by technological advancements in our justice system. In a short time, we will further expand available legal tech training opportunities to include experiential learning with our Hands-On Legal Tech Training program, thanks to a generous grant from the Texas Bar Foundation. A legal clinic from Houston Volunteer Lawyers is now available in the Law Library 5 days per week to connect individuals with limited means with legal information for a licensed volunteer attorney.

When disaster struck, the Law Library launched the Harvey Recovery Resources page to help connect Houstonians with information on available local, state, and federal aid. In each instance, the Law Library works to disseminate knowledge and empower our patrons to participate as informed citizens in our Harris County government.

For more on the Law Library's Centennial Celebration and to view Chief Justice Hecht's speech, visit our centennial page.

ABA Legal Checkups for Veterans and Others

According to a 2016 Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop Report from the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Science Foundation, two-thirds of adults face problems that can be resolved through legal intervention. However, many of those in need are unaware that legal remedies exist, and, consequently, they do not access the justice system to seek relief. Identifying that a problem is legal in nature can be the first step to getting legal assistance, and pointing people to the available resources is step two. For those of modest or moderate means, legal aid can sometimes be an option; sliding scale or alternative fee arrangements may be available as well. Depending on individual needs and circumstances, limited scope representation and pro- or low-bono services might also exist. In any case, resources are available, but recognizing the need for legal help and finding the best solutions can be a challenge.

Guiding people to achieve satisfactory legal outcomes using the resources available in their communities is the objective of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. This committee is charged with providing improved access to lawyers and legal services for those of modest or moderate means. Among their many initiatives is a project currently in development to offer online legal checkups that help people recognize when their problems have legal solutions and point them to available resources that address their needs. One such tool, the Legal Checkup for Veterans, is already in place.

Those who access the Veterans Legal Checkup website can identify their legal issues and find clear paths to resolving them quickly, easily, and free of charge. Employment issues, family matters, and housing instability are just a few of the issues that the Veterans Legal Checkup can address. Users are guided through a series of questions regarding jobs, wages, housing, disability, marital status, and child custody arrangements to identify any potential legal needs. Links to resources including social services organizations, veterans affairs offices, and legal aid agencies are provided, along with additional information about what to say, how to prepare, and what to consider when contacting the suggested organizations. By providing this tool for veterans, the ABA is taking action to help a sometimes vulnerable and, unfortunately, under-served population that deserves better. Other "legal checkups" from the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services are expected to follow in the near future.