Our Legal Tech Institute is celebrating its 5th anniversary today, and we hope you’ll spend a few minutes with us to relive the journey, as well as take a look at what new areas we are exploring.

How It Started

Picture it—Houston, 2016. A handful of law librarians gather in a dusty room, surrounded by unused card catalogs. The glow of a computer monitor in the background highlights the table in front of them, landing on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.1, Comment 8: “[A] lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology . . . .” Inspiration strikes.

Okay, so that’s not quite how it happened. In reality, our law librarians recognized that the practice of law was evolving and that those attorneys who embraced emerging technologies and understood their application in the practice of law would be well-positioned to succeed. Hence, the Legal Tech Institute (LTI) at the Harris County Robert W. Hainsworth Law Library was born.

“The Legal Tech Institute was launched to expand the educational opportunities available to our patrons. LTI combines content focused on the technology small firm attorneys and self-represented litigants need to get their legal work done with flexible learning options,” said Joseph D. Lawson, Deputy Director, Harris County Hainsworth Law Library.

The first LTI program, “Social Media for Lawyers,” was presented five years ago today, on October 27, 2016. Read on to see what we’ve accomplished since then.

How It’s Going

The philosophy behind LTI is the same as the Harris County Hainsworth Law Library’s motto: promoting open and equal justice for all. To that end, LTI classes are always free and open to anyone interested. According to Lawson, “We are attempting to reduce technology barriers faced by individuals interacting with the legal system.” This includes both providing training directly to self-represented litigants who need help with software and apps to draft and file documents with the court, as well as assisting the solo and small firm practitioners in developing the tech skills they need in their practice.

Between 2016 and 2019, the Harris County Hainsworth Law Library offered approximately 130 live programs as part of the Legal Tech Institute, some of which are currently available on-demand. These programs included: ones taught by our law librarians; ones taught by guest speakers with expertise in certain tech topics; and our “Vendor Visits,” which are conducted by trainers from LexisNexis and Westlaw.

In 2020 and 2021, we hosted virtual Vendor Visits through LTI because of our restrictions on hosting in-person events due to public health concerns. All Vendor Visits are accredited by the State Bar of Texas for 1.0 hour of MCLE, and some also have an ethics CLE component. Registration is now open for our next Vendor Visit, which will be presented by LexisNexis on November 12, 2021: “Diving Deeper into Legal Research Potential: Advanced Online Legal Research Concepts.”

September 30, 2021, launched a new era for the Legal Tech Institute—our first librarian-led LTI webinar. This course, “Free Legal Tech for Everyone,” is available on-demand, and it is eligible for 1.0 hour of CLE in Texas through March 31, 2022. The second LTI webinar offered was “Microsoft Word for Legal Work,” and the recording will be available soon on that same webpage; CLE credit for this webinar will be available through April 30, 2022. The last librarian-led webinar of the year will be held tomorrow, October 28, from 1-2 p.m. Central. The topic is “Microsoft Excel for Legal Work,” and you can find more information and a registration link here.

To keep up with LTI course offerings, visit our Course Calendar; follow our blog, Ex Libris Juris; or subscribe to our newsletter.

The Law Library Beyond LTI

Flashback to 2016: In a concept paper for the program that would become the Legal Tech Institute, Assistant Law Librarian Heather Holmes stated that “Our goal is to reposition the library as an information hub where new ideas and innovative thinking are embraced.” The Legal Tech Institute was an important first step, but we are also continuing to move forward with other programs and services to reach this goal.

For example, when we had a limited (and temporary) reopening of our physical location last June, we introduced STAN (Synchronous Touchless Assistive Node), a virtual presence device that was stationed in the Law Library lobby. STAN was used to “interact with patrons just outside our doors to check them in for appointments, set up appointments for walk-ins, and assist with quick questions and forms to help many patrons without increasing traffic in the library” during social distancing.

And, while our LTI programs are open for everyone, we are launching “a series of free legal self-help webinars presented by practicing attorneys in Texas,” which are targeted primarily for self-represented litigants. Our first self-help webinar will be “Family Law Basics” on Thursday, November 11, 2021, at 3:00 p.m. Click here for more information and a link to register.

Thank you for joining us on our five-year journey, and we hope you will stick around to see what we do next!