Features – A Review of MYTexasBar.com

Attorney and author Kathy Biehl practiced law privately in Houston, Texas for 18½ years before relocating to New York City in 1998. She has taught legal research and writing at the University of Houston Law Center and business law at Rice University. A member of the State Bar of Texas, she earned a B.A. with highest honors from Southern Methodist University and a J.D. with honors from the University of Texas School of Law, where she was a member of Texas Law Review and Order of the Coif. She is co-author of The Lawyer’s Guide to Internet Research (Scarecrow Press, Nov. 2000), with Tara Calishain.

The State Bar of Texas has joined forces with FindLaw and the National Law Library to create a customizable portal called MYTexasBar.com. The free offering, which is open to bar members and their staffs, is a hybrid of the three participants’ services, and then some. In a nutshell, it combines legal research resources (state statutes and legislative tracking and recent federal and state caselaw) with legal, general and market news, online calendaring, practice forums, and a slew of features from the bar. The intelligently thought-out collaboration makes this one perk of bar membership that every Internet-connected Texas attorney should consider exploiting.

State Bar Announcements, Gateway to Texas Law Research

Exploring this site is a bit like living through one of those television commercials that explain the wonders of some amazing gadget and then announce, “But wait! There’s more!” The page follows the set-up of MYFindLaw, splitting resources into two wide columns that scroll down as far as the user’s selections require.

State bar announcements and the lead story from Reuters dominate the top of the page. Many of the sections down the page carry over from MYFindLaw as well. These include search engines for FindLaw’s databases of Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Court opinions, hyperlinked announcements of recent court decisions, a legal dictionary query box, and news headlines from Reuters and the Associated Press. MYTexasBar’s default legal news is only the top stories (unlike at MYFindLaw, which automatically covers the Supreme Court, labor law, and four other topics), but you can use the edit option in the heading bar to add headlines in more than 15 categories.

Below the general and legal news briefs, MYTexasBar also highlights stories from The Texas Lawyer. MYTexasBar also automatically generates links to Web sites that match your practice interests; you can edit this My Links section to reflect up to ten URLs of your choice.

The National Law Library’s contribution appears directly under the leading Reuters story, so that it falls at the bottom of the first screen of material. This is a gateway to researching Texas law, which would otherwise cost $34 a month if directly accessed through the National Law Library — a subscription service that’s based in Texas, by the way. (Located in Houston, it’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of a Delaware corporation, Internet Law Library, Inc.)

Two search engines target six collections of materials: cases from 225 S.W.2d to 29 S.W. 3d (1950-2000), “current opinions” from an unspecified time frame, statutes (which include codes and session laws), state rules (such as civil procedure, evidence, and some local rules), local rules of federal courts in the state, and the constitution. The first, “simple” search engine requires you to select the Boolean operator; the “complex Boolean search” engine handles nested queries and wild cards. It does not recognize quotation marks, however; to search for a phrase, use the “phrase” option in the simple search engine.

The National Law Library resources include a third engine, which searches by case citation. Below the search boxes, it’s easy to overlook two additional resources that don’t enjoy the bolding or query boxes that draw attention elsewhere on the pages. Texas Legislative Tracking leads to free online searching through GoverNet Affairs– another subsidiary of Internet Law Library, Inc. Texas-Related Briefs points to a brief bank maintained by yet another subsidiary, called Brief Reporter.

The bar resources are more than announcements at the top of the site. They include a schedule of CLE courses that match your practice interests (as indicated during registration, about which more in a few paragraphs). There’s also a box for locating a Texas lawyer by name or bar card number. The menu bar at the top of the page has pointers to the bar’s CLE site, attorney discipline, and FindLaw.

MYTexasBar also finds room for a lot of extras. A customizable calendar allows you to add entries by clicking on a date in the month; below the calendar, the site displays any scheduled events for the next three days. Click on the calendar to access mailboxes, a contact list, PDA synching, and a secure file manager with 20 megabytes of storage space for any form of digital data.

Below the calendar are your local temperature, a practice tip of the day, and a legal cartoon from The New Yorker. The page offers a query box for six general search engines (such as Google and Yahoo!), as well as seven subdivisions of FindLaw. Besides a snapshot of the market and stock quote search engine, you can access FindLaw message boards that match your interests as indicated during registration (or as edited by you), and you can subscribe to FindLaw newsletters, which cover specific topics or summarize recent opinions.)

Registration, Privacy Policy & Site Navigation

Registration is a three-step and relatively non-aggravating process. Your bar number and the last four digits of your social security number are necessary to begin. A privacy concerns link states that the SSN is used only as a cross-check for the bar numbers, which are widely available.

The privacy policy, for which a link appears at the bottom of all MYTexasBar.com pages, is a mixed bag. To its credit, it is more explicit and thorough than most. One plus is the clear, detailed explanation of the three sources of personal information: what the user supplies, server log information, and cookies. The policy also promises that MY Texas Bar and FindLaw will not willfully disclose any individually identifiable information about users to third parties without first obtaining information — except to protect the rights or property of either site or when either site believes in good faith that the law requires a disclosure. For co-branded services (for example, fax, which you can obtain through FindLaw), the policy defers to privacy and data collection policy of the particular provider.

But back to registration. After it confirms that the profferred TBN matches up with the partial social security number in the bar records, the site requires you to select practice interests from a list of almost 60. You can also indicate if you belong to city bar associations or the Texas Young Lawyers Association.

The final screen asks for optional personal information via pull-down menus, such as date of birth, education (surprisingly, “law degree” is not one of the levels), firm size, and income. Answering one does not bind you to answering all; I filled in some but left one untouched, and the site accepted my information without error message. On this page it’s also possible to sign up for FindLaw’s Lawyer & Law Firm Directory. The site does not delay processing your registration while you consider the questions on this final screen; my registration information arrived before I finished highlighting options in the personal data pull-down menus.

Once you’ve registered, you can set up a group password that your staff may use. This password allows any staff members to whom you give it to have access to a version of the page that they can customize to fit their group needs. The site warns not to give staff members your personal password, because that will allow them to see the page as you have set it.

MYTexasLaw.com is easy to navigate (all it takes is the patience to scroll) and easy to change to match your interests. Each resource appears in a distinct section with a heading, which offers a tiny X in the corner, so you can close the section and effectively remove it from the display. I played with customizing a number of the features. In every instance, making a change involved only selecting or unselecting boxes and pressing a button to update the page.

Though I’m not particularly fond of personalized titles such as MYTexasBar (especially – pardon the momentary stuffiness — in a site for professional), I am glad to have access to this resource. Having one launch point for state statutes and caselaw is going to be handy, and I am looking forward to heading here the next time I have a Texas law question, instead of scrolling through my bookmarks or clicking through FindLaw’s indexes. This is the first bar online bar service that I can see myself using with any regularity — and the first site besides my own I would consider making my browser’s home page.

Posted in: Features, Internet Resources