Skip to main content

Legal Research

Fundamentals of Legal Research

Resources for finding statutes

Statutes are available in print, through commercial databases such as Lexis Advance, Bloomberg Law, and Westlaw, on government web sites, on the low-cost site Casemaker and on free sites.

Federal and state annotated statutes are published online by Thompson Reuters West and Lexis. Bloomberg Law publishes annotated federal statutes and may be adding states.

Statutory finding tools

The ability to find relevant statutes (aka code sections, statutory sections) by topic is one of the most important research skills.

Remember, once you find a relevant annotated statute, you have found both cases that interpret your statute and secondary sources that explain it!

Four Ways to Find Statutes (without a citation):

  1. Index
  2. Table of contents
  3. Keyword searching (Googly or Terms and Connectors)
  4. Popular name table

1. Index

An index is at or near the end of the print statutory set and may include several volumes. Indexes are also found on Westlaw.

Advantages

  • You never know what terms will be used in a statute (homicide, murder, unlawful killing?) or where a section will be located in a table of contents so looking in a subject index saves LOTS of time
  • Failure to use index to find statutes is the #1 reason that many students are less than stellar researchers

  • You find all sections on a topic in one place

  • Usually the best place to start statutory research! 

Disadvantage

  •  None, except it doesn't always work... 

2. Table of Contents

A table of contents is at the beginning of a print code title or statutory set. A table of contents is also found online.

 Advantage

  •  If you do know where to begin looking it saves lots of time
  • You quickly find all the related statutory sections

Disadvantage

  • Sometimes you don't know where to begin looking 

3. Keyword Searching

A keyword search recognizes terms and connectors (boolean) searches and sometimes natural language and features a prominent search box. Keyword searches are only available online.

Advantage

  • Very powerful search method since you can directly search the full text of statutes

Disadvantage

  • Sometimes it is hard to guess what terms will used in a statute (divorce or dissolution? alimony or support?)

4. Popular name table

The popular name table is usually at the end of a print code title or statutory set. All the major commercial databases also include popular name searches.

Advantage

  • You can find a law by its "nickname," e.g., Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, the Defense of Marriage Act, HIPPA

Disadvantage

  • The nickname may not be popular enough to include

Parts of a Statute (Anatomy of a Statute)

Comparison of annotated and unannotated statutes:

 

Unannotated statute

Annotated statute

1. Citation Citation Title U.S.C. §xx
 2. Title Title Number or name
 3. Chapter Chapter Usually includes number or letter AND name
 4. Section title Section title Usually includes number or letter AND name
 5. Text of statute Text of statute "the law"
 6. History History Cites to session law(s) that created and amended the section of the statute
 7.

 

Historical annotations Editor's added details of statute's history
 8.   Cross references Editor compiled citations to related laws (and sometimes regulations)
 9.   Secondary sources Editor compiled citation to sources that cite statute
10.   Case annotations Editor compiled notes from analyzing cases that interpret the statutes
      (also called Notes of Decision, Case Notes, squibs)