"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.
N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

HeinOnline Law Reviews & Journals Access for Texas Bar Members

This summer, members of the Texas bar were introduced to Fastcase, a legal research database that allows users to search case law, statutes, administrative materials, and other aspects of law at no additional cost. Fastcase is now available in addition to Casemaker, making Texas the first and only state to offer free access to both popular systems.  

In 2013, Fastcase partnered with HeinOnline to share their many resources. Under the agreement, Hein will provide federal and state case law to HeinOnline subscribers via inline hyperlinks powered by Fastcase. In addition, Fastcase now completely integrates HeinOnline’s extensive law review collection in search results. For many years, one of the biggest disadvantages to using these low-cost legal research systems has been the lack of reliable secondary sources. With this partnership, when a case law search is performed in Fastcase, suggested results from HeinOnline journals appear in a sidebar. The journals may also be searched individually, or as a group.

Though Fastcase is completely free for members of the Texas bar, accessing HeinOnline journal articles does come at an additional cost. Users will see article titles and brief snippets in suggested results, but will need a HeinOnline subscription in order to access the full PDF of the article. If you are a HeinOnline subscriber through your law school or firm, there’s no additional cost to access the articles through Fastcase. But, users who are not subscribers will need to subscribe (or search for the suggested articles elsewhere) in order to view the full-text. Subscriptions have no ongoing commitment and are priced at $59 per month for an individual user, and $595 per year. Subscriptions are also available for small and midsize firms. Fastcase intends to offer more of HeinOnline’s vast resources in future updates and it will be interesting to see how this innovative partnership develops.

If you're a Texas bar membe interested in using Fastcase and Casemaker, visit texasbar.com or texasbarcle.com. Both systems are worth a look and are easy to navigate for users familiar with other commercial legal research systems.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Legal eBooks from the Texas State Law Library


Earlier this year, I blogged about a new program at the Texas State Law Library that allows Texas residents to access some of the library’s legal databases remotely.  Now the Texas State Law Library is providing Texas residents with access to a number of Matthew Bender ebooks.  The ebooks cover a variety of legal topics such as family law, criminal law, civil procedure, contracts, estate planning, and oil and gas, many of which are specific to Texas law.  For a list of all titles, see the collection’s website.

There are two important limitations to keep in mind.  The ebooks can only be checked out for three days and, due to licensing restrictions, the library cannot provide remote access to four of its ebooks: the Texas Litigation Guide, the Texas Transaction Guide, Collier on Bankruptcy, and Moore's Federal Practice.

As with the library’s electronic databases, to gain access to these resources, you must have a library account.  You can set up an account in person in Austin or you can set up an account online.  However, accounts set up online need to be renewed every three months.  For more information about library accounts, see the Texas State Law Library website.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Under Pressure, NTIS Provides Free Access to Technical Reports


Recently, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) announced that it will now provide a free online database of federal science and technology reports.  Previously, this agency charged a fee for electronic copies of these reports, a practice that has caused some controversy in recent years given that these are government reports, many of which are available for free through other agency websites. 

In 2012, the Government Accountability Office released a report recommending that Congress “reassess the appropriateness and viability of the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates.”  And earlier this year, the “Let Me Google That For You” bill was introduced to abolish the NTIS.  However, NTIS supporters point out that this agency still provides a valuable service.  For instance, some reports are available via Google precisely because NTIS collects and distributes them; the NTIS provides permanent access to reports, which is not guaranteed on other, ever-changing government websites; and some reports held by NTIS are from agencies that no longer exist.  

Now, NTIS has announced that they will provide access to a free searchable database of over 3 million reports through the Public Access National Technical Reports Library.  Currently, the library contains over 800,000 full-text reports that can be downloaded in PDF format.  Reports not available for download (usually published before 1995) can be requested for a fee.  If a report is requested and digitized for one user, the report will be added to the free database.  

To access reports, users must create a free account, which will allow for basic searching and 10 downloads per session.  There is also a subscription version with advanced features.  For more information, visit the National Technical Reports Library website.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Regulations Governing Practice Before the I.R.S.

In addition to being admitted to a state bar, attorneys must be approved to represent clients before the I.R.S. (See Publication 947 for more information). Circular 230, Regulations Governing Practice Before the I.R.S. (which is codified in Title 31 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subtitle A, Part 10) consists of rules regulating the practice of attorneys, C.P.A.'s, enrolled agents, enrolled retirement agents, and registered tax preparers. Circular 230 consists of five "subparts:" including
  • Subpart A- Authority to Practice before the I.R.S.
  • Subpart B- Duties and Restrictions Related to Practice
  • Subpart C-Sanctions for Violating Regulations
  • Subpart D-Disciplinary Proceedings
  • Subpart E-Official Records
 For more information regarding Circular 230, see the following materials:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Discharges Tax Debts Despite "Lavish" Spending

Forbes is reporting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled in favor of a taxpayer seeking to discharge his tax liability through the bankruptcy process. In this case, Hawkins v. Franchise Tax Board, the court reversed the district court's decision that a "chapter 11 debtor's tax debts were excepted from discharge on the basis of his willful attempt to evade or defeat taxes under 11 U.S.C. Section 523 (a)(1)(C)." The debts included $19 million owed to the I.R.S. and $10.4 million to the California Franchise Tax Board based on proof of claims filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The article by Forbes discusses the potentially broad impact of this decision, which focuses on whether lavish spending itself constitutes "willful" under I.R.C. Section 523(a)(1)(C).

More information can be found regarding the discharge of tax debts through bankruptcy in Bloomberg BNA's Tax Management Portfolio Part VII (Portfolio No. 638-4th) (KF6289.A.1T35 no. 683-4th) by Steven R. Mather and Paul H. Weisman. This is also available using the library's subscription to Bloomberg BNA Tax and Accounting Center (available from the law library's website using the drop-down menu under "Legal Databases") and BloombergLaw.com.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Texas Bar Exam Results Are In


The Texas Board of Law Examiners has released the names of the examinees who passed the July 2014 Texas Bar Examination.  University of Houston Law Center alumni did very well this year, with 86.29% of first-time UHLC exam takers passing while the overall average for all first-time takers was 77.12%.  Additional statistics regarding the results of the most recent Examination may be found here.
Congratulations to all of the new attorneys who are or will soon be admitted to the Texas Bar, and best wishes to everyone planning to take the next examination in February.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Law Resources


Today is Election Day.  Texas elections have been the focus of national attention following the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to enjoin Texas’ voter identification law while it waits to hear the case on its merits.  Here are some resources that may be of interest to anyone interested in the legal history behind this case, or interested in election law generally as it will affect Houston today:
The law in question, Tex. S.B. 14, 82nd Leg., R.S. (2011), which amends the Texas Election Code to establish voter identification requirements, was challenged by the Department of Justice in Texas v. Holder.  The Supreme Court declined to block the new law before hearing the case, leaving the new identification requirement in effect for today’s voting.  This case follows last year’s Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, where the Court held Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, and is only the latest development in the nearly 50-year history of the Voting Rights Act.
Following these developments, the Department of Justice has announced that it will be monitoring polling places around the country today; Harris County, Texas is one of the locations that will be monitored.  Information about federal observers and election monitoring is available here.
Harris County residents wishing to exercise their right to vote today may find information on ballots, polling places and additional voting resources on an informational website provided by the Harris County Clerk.