Legal Research Class Notes 8/22/03




The more exotic the source for your books, the higher the fines are!


Statutes & Legislative History


Statutes are laws that originate in the legislative branch.  Statutes are distinct from court decisions and administrative regulations.


Why are statutes important?  Contemporary American law is based almost entirely on statutes.  In fact, almost everything we read in cases will be based on statutes.


Regulations exist based on statutes as well.


Statutes are not bills, or resolutions.  These amount to absolutely nothing before they are signed into law by the executive branch.


Structure of Published Statutes


Session Laws


·        Chronological arrangement – you can read the laws in the order passed.

·        Can read text as passed (no amendments)

·        Difficult to use for most research – they’re not ordered by subject


Once these are passed into law, they are organized into…




·        Subject arrangement

·        Can read text as amended

·        Sort of easier to use for research

·        Usually arranged by titles or chapters

·        But…you can’t read the text as passed



There’s a difference between a code citation and a session law citation.


E.g. P.L. 106-25: Public Law of the 106th Congress, the 25th one passed.


You can make §§§§§§§§ marks!  Looky looky!  §§§§§§§§


Annotated Codes


These are the most useful form of statutes, and this is what we’ll be using almost exclusively.


·        They have the current text of statutes

·        They are generally well-indexed

·        They are annotated with:

o       Case law

o       Attorney general opinions

o       Law review articles


Reading case annotations is no substitute for reading an actual case.


Lexis and Westlaw have their own annotation systems.  For many people, it’s easier to read the printed version of codes.


Importance of Annotations


So why use these annotations?


Case law


·        Courts interpret the statutes

·        Decisions reveal how courts will apply a particular fact situation

·        You need to read both statutes and cases to get a broad enough view of the law


The U.S. Code is unannotated.  You’ll never want to look at that, with one exception.  You want to make sure that the annotated codes are correct against the U.S. Code.


How to Read a Statute


·        Look for sections that other important to your case other than the main section

·        Check definitions of words in the statute

·        Check the effective date if it’s relevant


There are no official statutes for the state of Ohio.  Both sets of ORC books are commercial.


At the beginning of any series of statutes, you’ll find the definitions.  If you’re looking for a specific statute, you want to go to the statute, then check the definitions of all the words in the statutes.


Then you get your annotations!  You get library references, Law Review and Journal Commentaries, and Notes of Decisions and Opinions.  You get a headnote, then a case citation.  You’re not told much, though, it just tells you whether or not you want to look up the case.


You’ll also want to look back at the table of contents of the chapter and look for everything in there.


The U.S. Code looks very much like the Ohio Revised Code.


You need to update.


Updating Statutes


You always need to check if a law is still in force.  But sometimes you’ll need to know what statute applied at some time in the past.


E.g. A statute might be changed every other year, but you need to know what the law was in a certain year.


The good people at Lexis and Westlaw put every statute for every state and every year on their service so you can see what the statute looked like in such-and-such a year.


How do you update in print?


After you read your statute, go to the pocket part.  The pocket part is in the back of the book.  It reads just like the code itself.  It’s in the same order, though it’s considerably smaller.  It contains all the amendments.  One more thing to check: you need to look at the legislative supplements.  Those are after the ORC at the end of the section.  That’s where you can find what laws have gone into effect since the pocket parts.


So it’s a three-part process:


1.     Look at the Code itself

2.     Look at the pocket parts

3.     Look at the legislative supplement


Even when you look online, it’s not going to be completely updated, so you’ll still have to look at Session Laws online.




·        Print

·        Lexis/Westlaw

·        CD-ROM

·        Web

·        Microform


Most state codes are on the web, but they’re not annotated.


How current is the ORC?  It varies from about two months old to about six months old.


Official vs. unofficial


·        Official means authoritative

·        The official version trumps the unofficial version

·        So cite to the official version whenever possible


Citation Form for a U.S. Statute


Different for the session law version than the code version.


You put your Blue Book and McKinney in your laptop case!


We can work together, but everybody has to do their own work.  Everything must be cited correctly.  Don’t write in the book.  It must be typed.


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