Osler McCarthy 2016-05-03 03:37:33
The State Law Library’s new Web portal makes legal research accessible to all Texans. Texas built it. And only people in Austin could come. Now all that is changing for the Texas State Law Library, founded as the Texas Supreme Court’s exclusive library, because of a determined staff’s work to make it a statewide resource reflecting its name. The result is the library’s recently redeveloped website, designed as a portal for all matters of Texas legal research. It brings to one place the library’s growing online catalogue of caselaw and electronic books that include, at no cost to users, many titles in West’s Nutshell series, legal treatises once available only by subscription or purchase, and a multitude of how-to-practice series. For government employees, the site even hosts Dorsaneo’s Texas Litigation Guide. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht called the 16-month-long Web development the result of a library staff “anxious—driven, really—to be of greater service to Texas lawyers and the public,” as well as a vital tool for lawyers willing to offer legal services pro bono or at reduced rates. That’s a key objective in Hecht’s recently formed commission to broaden legal services to people— and not just the indigent—who often cannot afford to hire lawyers. “Their efforts to expand the library’s resources and extend its outreach are cutting edge,” Hecht said. Because the library exists not just for lawyers, Library Director Dale Propp led the site’s design—including negotiations with publishers for online access to their materials—while keeping in mind those who have been prominent library patrons for years: lay people who turn to the stacks to research the law themselves. That meant a website organized by legal topic and available at any time to people from El Paso to Texarkana, in a state with only about a quarter of its 254 counties having any semblance of a local law library. “When a person who is not a lawyer wants information about a legal problem before consulting an attorney, they often turn to the Internet,” Propp said. “The Internet has lots of information, but it can be overwhelming, misleading, and often less than trustworthy.” Few Texas law libraries have what the library’s Assistant Director Leslie Prather-Forbis calls “robust” collections and librarians to assist in finding information. Most of the well-stocked and staffed libraries exist in urban areas. “This leaves many Texans without any ready and meaningful access to legal materials,” she said. “This is the gap the State Law Library is now able to fill.” Since the library launched its new portal website—an effort that combined technical expertise from research librarians Arturo Longoria and Ruth Harrison and marketing help from Research Librarian Robbi Horvath— the staff has tracked inquiries to all 26 area codes in the state. In that time, year-to-year increases in online library registrations jumped by 76 percent as the staff watched remote users spread county by county across Texas. In the first year of the redeveloped website, from 2014 to 2015, traffic grew by 68 percent to 312,000. All of that increased use has resulted without much advertising. So Prather-Forbis and Horvath have been spreading the word to city and small-town libraries that often get requests for legal-research content but don’t have materials to share. They’ve sent brochures to other libraries and court clerks for distributing and even have hit the road to proselytize. On one such trip, Horvath and Prather-Forbis drove more than 400 miles roundtrip to Eldorado, south of San Angelo, to explain the website’s benefits to librarians from towns dotting the broken cedar country across the Edwards Plateau. Their reward? The prospect of more users ... and homemade beef enchiladas and red velvet cake for lunch. “We are planning other outreach and training opportunities with public library and county law library staffs on how to integrate this service into their own library services,” Propp said. In addition to the portal, available to registered Texas users at no cost, the site offers what the Internet by itself cannot: trained reference librarians who can answer resource questions and more. The site’s “Questions? Ask Us!” button allows lawyers and non-lawyers from anywhere in Texas to get assistance. “Library staff do not provide legal advice,” Propp said, “but they can help people navigate the law so they can make informed decisions about their options.” And with years of experience in directing people who may try to represent themselves to caselaw and secondary sources, as well as to legal-assistance programs, legal clinics, and hotlines, the library staff has included common questions and answers it once kept on a monstrous double-sided Rolodex, transforming all that to an FAQ online format. “In today’s world,” Hecht said, “an entire library can be as close as your personal computer. I believe the State Law Library can be of great service to lawyers and the people of Texas.” Texas State Law Library Director Dale Propp (left), Reference Librarian Robbi Horvath (center), and Assistant Director Leslie Prather-Forbis. RESEARCH FROM HOME WITH THE STATE LAW LIBRARY New attorneys or those new to an area of law • National Institute for Trial Advocacy practice management e-books. • In a Nutshell e-books (nearly 150) give nice overviews on a wide range of topics, such as Construction Law in a Nutshell, Criminal Law in a Nutshell, and Employment Law in a Nutshell. Pro bono work and legal assistance organizations • Almost 100 Nolo Plain-English titles through the Legal Information Reference Center are great for non-lawyers, including 101 Law Forms for Personal Use, Solve Your Money Troubles, and Renters Rights. • More than 30 research guides by topic: divorce, custody, consumer law, HOAs, common-law marriage. These include links to statutes, useful e-books, and databases, as well as aid organization contact info. Government employees • Dorsaneo’s Texas Litigation Guide is available to any local, state, or federal government employee. We’ve had judges from rural counties give us great feedback! Consumer law • The National Consumer Law Center gives access to many materials on fair debt collection, truth-in-lending, foreclosures, and class actions. This is also great for attorneys helping pro bono clients with consumer issues. Tax and labor law • Wolters Kluwer database includes Standard Federal Tax Reporter, Employment Law Forms, Checklists Library, and more. Immigration law • AILALink is the premiere immigration publisher with full-text access to titles such as Kurzban’s. Matthew Bender legal treatises • The collection includes Texas Family Law Practice and Procedure; Texas Probate, Estate and Trust Administration; Texas Civil Trial and Appellate Procedure; Texas Criminal Practice Guide; and many more available as e-books. James Publishing • More than 40 practical titles, many of which are Texas-specific, such as Texas Probate Forms & Procedures, Texas DWI Manual, Texas Criminal Forms, and Texas Estate Planning. HeinOnline law journal library • Provides access to more than 1,600 law and law-related periodicals. These are full-text images of the original journals and can be downloaded as PDFs. This database in particular is typically available only through law schools and big law firms. Historical Texas statutes • Statutes from 1879 to the 1960 supplement. We are working to digitize the more recent statutes as well. This is the only place where these statutes are available online. OSLER MCCARTHY, the Texas Supreme Court’s staff attorney in charge of public information, is a recovering journalist who wishes that when he practiced law in Spokane, he had had the resources that the State Law Library offers.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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