Navigating the law, especially for the non-lawyer, can be daunting, confusing, and frustrating. We at the Harris County Law Library provide resources and information that, we hope, make the law less intimidating and more accessible to the general public. One of the best, most indispensable tools for those who need to get acquainted with a new area of the law is a collection of books from Nolo Press, a publisher of legal materials, written in plain English, on a wide variety of legal topics. Designed to assist self-represented parties in learning about the law, Nolo Press is a company that seeks to “make the law accessible to everyone."
In addition to the Nolo Press publications, the Harris County Law Library's self-help collection contains a number of accessible, user-friendly resources including the Nutshell series from West publishing and the Texas Young Lawyers Association Research Guides for the general public. Nutshells are concise, one-volume treatises that address a particular area of the law, and the TYLA guides provide very practical information for handling specific legal matters in Texas, including probate, CPS cases, guardianship, and divorce.
The Nolo collection is a bit more expansive, as it covers all of the following topics and more: bankruptcy, criminal law, immigration, family law, labor and employment, landlord-tenant, estate planning, and social security. Other titles address how to start a small business, file a suit in small claims court, repair your credit, dispute a traffic ticket, survive foreclosure, and win a personal injury claim.
If you are unable to visit the Law Library in person, there are several options for accessing self-help legal resources online. The Nolo books, in particular, are available through several channels, including the Harris County Public Library, the Houston Public Library, and the Texas State Law Library online. As members of the TexShare Libraries Consortium, these institutions offer access to the Ebsco Legal Information Reference Center, which provides full-text digital versions of all titles published by Nolo Press, including some titles not included in the Harris County Law Library print collection. (The Texas State Law Library also provides access to the West Nutshell series.) To gain access to this online database, you must have a valid library card for one of the institutions named above. All residents of Texas are eligible to receive a library card, simply by filling out an application in person or by requesting a library card from the Texas State Law Library via the library's web portal.
The Legal Tech Institute at the Harris County Law Library has released a new video CLE. Fulfilling Ethical Obligations with Legal Research is the latest additional to our Learn On-Demand CLE library that lets you earn CLE credit in Texas while staying up to date on legal tech. Visit the Law Library's Legal Tech Institute page for more legal tech learning opportunities.
You’ve probably heard the term “blockchain” before. You also probably know that it is one of the newer and constantly evolving technologies that can change the way business is conducted. But, do you really know what it is and what it can do for you and your law practice? Co-editors James A. Cox and Mark W. Rasmussen have teamed up with a host of experts to explain and (hopefully) demystify this innovative technology in their new book, Blockchain for Business Lawyers.
To do this, the authors begin with an introduction to blockchain technology, discussing its origin, its implications, and its advantages and disadvantages for business. Succeeding chapters define cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings, describe some other financial blockchain applications, and discuss smart contracts, their ramifications and their enforceability. From a legal perspective, the authors examine securities and commodities laws and regulations, antitrust regulation and key antitrust issues, federal and state regulation of money transmitters, state laws addressing blockchain technology, and the means of resolving disputes arising from use of blockchain. No discussion of technology would ever be complete without an explanation of data security and privacy.
So, if you want to know what all the buzz is about blockchain, be sure to have a look at Blockchain for Business Lawyers. Find it in our Legal Tech Collection.
Throughout the month of December, the Law Library will feature a number of self-help resources for pro se litigants. Handbooks, research guides, and concise legal treatises, including those in the Nutshell series from West Academic Publishing, will be on display in the library. We will also feature a number of do-it-yourself websites, including TexasLawHelp.org, on our blog.
As always, the Law Library staff is happy to help you identify resources from our collection that will meet your legal needs. Please stop by the reference desk for assistance. You may also consult our Community Legal Resources guide where we've provided contact information for a variety of legal assistance organizations in the greater Houston area.
On December 13, 2018, the Harris County Law Library’s Legal Tech Institute will host the next installment in our LTI lecture series, Practical Cybersecurity for Lawyers, presented by guest speaker, Dustin Sachs, Senior Forensic Consultant at D4. Dustin’s presentation will focus on common attacks facing law firms and tips to prevent exposure of client data. Please join us!
In preparation for our December 13th CLE, today’s blog post will feature resources that define computer crimes, such as phishing, denial of service attacks, unauthorized access, and computer trespass, as well as the legal consequences of engaging in these types of activities.
Phishing: Deceptively obtaining sensitive information, including credentials, for personal online accounts
Denial of service attacks: Intentional cyberattack on a machine, website, or resource network that restricts users’ access
Unauthorized access: Illegitimate access to a website, program, server, or other system — or some part thereof — using another individual’s credentials
Computer trespass: Unauthorized access to a computer, computer service, or resource network to obtain privileged information or commit a criminal act
Additional examples of computer crimes can be found here and here (Texas). The National Conference of State Legislatures provides information about computer crime statutes in all 50 states. Finally, the DOJ Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) links to several resources including policies, manuals, guides, reports, speeches, and white papers on the criminal activity involving computers and other technology.
The Harris County Law Library wishes you and yours a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving!
In Steven Spielberg’s 2001 movie, AI Artificial Intelligence, scientists program a robotic boy to understand and express a full range of human emotions, including love. The boy is adopted into a family as a test case where he learns to connect with the couple who become his parents. After a series of unexpected events, the family’s living arrangement becomes unsustainable. The mother begins to fear the boy and abandons him in the woods, consigning him to an uncertain fate. The boys sets out to navigate a complex world where he’s neither fully human nor fully machine.
Fast forward thousands of years to a time when alien life forms have arrived on planet Earth. Here, they discover the body of the robotic boy at the bottom of a frozen river and seek to reverse engineer his design. This quasi-human creation is their only connection to the Earthling inhabitants who preceded them, and they wish to understand his emotions. He was programmed by humans, they reason, so traces of their humanness still exist within his code.
In addition to film’s impressive special effects, its evocative music, and the spectrum of feelings it inspires, this movie also teaches a lesson: software bears the marks of the people who write the code. All of the assumptions, biases, and predetermined social perspectives that we possess get baked in to the algorithms, creating smart machines that lack the objectivity we expect them to exhibit. They inherit our prejudices and act accordingly. Nowhere is this being discussed more widely, it seems, than in the application of AI to the law. The articles listed here, found in popular magazines and journals, describe various ways that AI is being used — and misused — to predict crime, sentence offenders, and determine the likelihood of criminal recidivism. They also explore the limits of AI, the ethics of using AI to mete out justice, and the regulations that some are proposing to counteract the harmful effects of machine bias.
We Need an FDA for Algorithms (Nautilus)
Trust but Verify: A Guide to Algorithms and the Law (Harvard Journal of Law & Technology)
[VIDEO] The Truth About Algorithms (Aeon)
According to this infographic from Concordia University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a podcast explosion is upon us. Podcasts are a cultural phenomenon that started gaining serious momentum in 2014 with the first season of Serial, a multi-part work of investigative journalism that achieved cult status among audiophiles and true crime fans alike.
The number and variety of podcasts now available is staggering, and the listening options for podcast fans is only continuing to grow. Legal podcasts are among some of the most popular, in part because they often touch on political topics, as well a criminal and social justice issues, which, in all areas of infotainment, including television docuseries and published investigative journalism, are very well-liked by not only the legal community, but the public in general.
A few of the currently most popular law-related podcasts are listed here:
RBG: Beyond Notorious - SCOTUS, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law - Constitutional Law, POTUS
We the People - Constitutional Law, Federal Government
More Perfect - Constitutional Law, SCOTUS
Amicus with Dahlia Lithwick (Slate) - Constitutional Law, SCOTUS, Federal Government
The Life of the Law - Investigative Reporting
Legal Wars - Famous Courtroom Battles
Criminal Injustice - Criminal Justice
Constitutional (Washington Post)
Sworn - Criminal Justice
Caught - Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice
The Harris County Attorney’s Office and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office will present a CLE program on Thursday November 8, 2018 at the HCAO Conference Center, 1019 Congress. Seating is at capacity, so registration to attend this event in person has closed. However, a video recording of the program will be available at a later date. For details about the speakers and their presentations, please visit the webpage for this program, Fighting Hate Crimes and Bias in Texas - Legal Perspectives on Ten Dollars to Hate by Patricia Bernstein.