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A number of cases arising in Texas have shaped not only the state’s laws, but the nation’s as well. Yet, Texas retains some unique laws, including those affecting property division and taxes.
Affirmative action policies across the nation were called into question when a Texas man challenged U.C. Davis Medical School’s system of admissions in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. In Bakke, the U.S. Supreme Court found quota systems to be unconstitutional as discriminatory against non-minority applicants in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits institutions receiving federal funding from discriminating.
Additionally, when a Texas anti-sodomy law was struck down in Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court established the right of adults across the nation to engage in private, consensual homosexual activities, and overruled a long line of cases that permitted states to criminalize such conduct. In Lawrence, the U.S. Supreme Court held that adults have a fundamental right to privacy which allows them to engage in private, consensual homosexual acts.
A Texas law was again struck down in Texas v. Johnson, when the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Lone Star state could not punish a man for burning the American flag in political protest, because his action constituted expressive conduct and was thus protected under the First Amendment right to free speech.
While a number of Texas laws have been overruled, the state continues to abide by some unique legal principles, such as those affecting property and taxes. Texas is one of only nine states in the nation to follow community property principles. In community property jurisdictions, the property of spouses is divided into community and separate property. Basically, all property acquired during the marriage through the time, effort, or skill of either spouse is considered community property; and anything acquired before marriage (or during marriage through gift, inheritance, or bequest) is considered separate property.
Each spouse has control over his or her separate property during life as well at death or divorce, but community property is under both spouses’ control during life, and is divided between the spouses at death or divorce. While some jurisdictions, including California, have laws requiring an equal division of community property, Texas gives judges discretion to order an equitable distribution of assets, which means one spouse may end up with more property than the other.
Texas also has unique tax laws, and its residents enjoy some of the lowest tax rates in the nation. Like just six other states, Texas does not impose personal income taxes on its residents, and has severely limited the passage of such laws in the future by way of the state constitution. Texas also does not collect state property taxes, although localities may do so. As a result of lower taxes, Texas has consistently been rated one of the most business-friendly states in the U.S., and it serves as headquarters for more Fortune 500 companies than any other state in the nation. Lack of tax revenue has raised concerns among some, however, who argue that public institutions such as schools do not have sufficient resources as a result.
There are approximately 79,000 attorneys licensed to practice law in Texas, and 68% are engaged in private practice. Many of these attorneys are solo practitioners (35%) or working in small firms of 2-5 attorneys (23%). One way for solo and small firm lawyers to connect with clients is to join LegalMatch, which specializes in finding attorneys for individuals facing legal issues. For example, LegalMatch clients often seek family law attorneys for help with divorce and child custody issues. There were about 269,341 new family law cases filed last year in Texas, a slight increase from past years.