This guide was created by the University of Miami Law Library Reference Librarians to assist our students with their research. We hope that you will find it to be a useful tool.
For additional information regarding many legal research topics, please consult the Law Library's website. You will find numerous links to legal and non-legal research sources as well as many of our research guides on this site. If you would like additional legal research assistance, please do not hesitate to call the reference desk at 305-284-3585, e-mail us, or visit the library. Visit the library's home page for Ask a Librarian (chat and email reference.) We will be happy to assist you. Our hours, both for the spring and summer, can be found here.
Have a great year!
The University of Miami Law Library Reference Department:
Before you Research
Figure out what resources are available to you before you actually need to do research. Most firms will give new employees a basic orientation that will touch upon this information. You may need to supplement this information. Make sure that you find out the policies on usage of Westlaw and/or Lexis (and how clients are billed for usage) before doing any research; what research material is available in the office; as well as what libraries and other resources might be nearby.
There are several specific items that you need to know before researching any problem. If you are receiving the assignment from another person, begin by "interviewing" the source of the research project. You might also find this information from the file. Before you start researching, make sure that you know:
Jurisdiction: You must know if the issue is based in state or federal law. (Of course, if state, you need to know which state.) In the best situation, you would also know the specific court any action might be taken before (e.g. 11th Circuit). (If the matter is in the midst of litigation, knowing the specific judge would be a bonus, but now we are getting carried away.) Not only will this direct which resources you use for research, but it will also tell you what authority is binding as opposed to just persuasive.
Exact Issue(s): Make sure you know exactly what to research. If you are getting the assignment from someone else, try to restate the issue back to the assignor. Also, it is important to take notes, so you can check that you have not wandered off topic with your research.
Relevant Facts (if any): Listen to the assignment carefully so you know whether facts are relevant to the issue you are researching. If you are unsure, ask. If facts are important, use the facts that you are told or you read in the file; do not assume any facts.
Extent of Research: Be clear on the scope of the research project. The project may entail just updating information or just finding a statute or regulation or, on the other end of the spectrum, locating all law related to the issue.
Time and Cost Constraints: Obviously, your research path will be dependent upon the amount of time and money you have to spend on it. Make sure to leave enough time so your final project (e.g. brief, memo, or letter) is well written. Do not spend so much time researching that you end up with a badly written document.
This is the basic information that you must have before researching. Make sure to pull together all of the tips and hints and facts you can before you begin.
Good note-taking is also crucial in efficient research. Keeping track of what was checked, what terms were used, what was useful and what was not useful will prevent duplication of efforts, particularly if the project is interrupted before completion. Some electronic products maintain this information (e.g. History in Lexis or Research Trail in Westlaw), but be careful of charges accrued for repeating searches in these resources.
It is a bad idea to just jump online to start hunting for cases, particularly if you are not familiar with the area of law. While the relevant information might be found, the search will be inefficient, expensive and frustrating. In the end, mapping out a research plan will make searching more effective. The plan can be as simple as a list of all types of material that will contain relevant information.
It is also important to consider in what order the sources will be consulted. Remember that secondary sources are often the best place to begin since they will include an analysis of the law as well as citing to primary sources, even though normally just the primary sources will be cited in the final project. (See Secondary Source Research.) The actual starting point, however, depends on what resources are available as well as your individual knowledge, skills and preferences.
The next step is to locate the specific titles that correspond to the relevant jurisdiction and/or subject matter under these categories. For example:
Is there an encyclopedia for this state? If not, would a multi-jurisdictional one (Am Jur. or C.J.S.) help you?
Is there a widely-used, well-respected treatise on this subject (preferably one specific to the jurisdiction being researched)? (See Subject Guide to Selected Treatises & Looseleaf Services).
Do federal or state statutes apply? Both?
Is the issue regulated by a federal or a state agency?
Is the topic one that may have been discussed in a law review or bar journal article? Sometimes emerging legal issues are most effectively researched using law reviews and bar journals.
These questions remain the same regardless of the format (print or electronic) being used. When using electronic resources, a research plan will help direct research in an organized path. When using electronic resources, you may wish to plan the actual search terms to be used. (See Cost-Effective Electronic Legal Research.)
Research guides can also be a useful place to start. A research guide (sometimes called a "pathfinder") is a document that maps out sources for locating information on particular topics. They can be especially useful for inexperienced researchers, or for researchers approaching a particular subject for the first time (a corporate lawyer faced with his first bankruptcy, for example). The University of Miami Law Library web site contains several research guides on various topics.
Additional guides are available in print by the reference desk.
Legal research sources are all interconnected, so deciding when to stop is often a challenge. There are some issues that could be researched for months and still not find everything. At some point, you must stop and look at all that has been found. Below are some ways to tell the research is over:
The same citations, arguments and resources come up over and over again. This is an excellent way to tell that the research cycle is complete. Everybody is using the same material, nothing has been missed.
The deadline for the project approaches (APPROACHES). The finished project should not be poorly conceived just because the research took too much time. If the project is going to an assigning attorney, any deficiencies in the research should be explained to him/her.
The research has become more expensive than the issue is worth. It is not always economically feasible to run up a large bill on a relatively minor issue.
Everything in the research plan has been checked, and some useful information was located or nothing was helpful. At this point, an expert in the subject or a reference librarian may be able to either confirm that the research is complete or offer suggestions on other ways to attack the issue.
In research, it is easy to get sidetracked from the original issue. You must make sure that the research is directly related to the specific issue. You can do this by periodically checking the original request and certainly by checking it before handing in any final project.
Old legal information is very dangerous for any legal argument. Any citations being used in the final project must be assessed to see if it is still "good law." Many firms have access to programs that will automatically check documents for valid citations. A little time spent updating research can prevent disaster.
If you are working with others on one project, weaknesses or other potential issues that come up in research should be communicated to the entire group. Never assume that someone else knows about related issues that arise in your research. Please remember to consult the library staff at anytime if you would like assistance in any area of research.
For more information on legal research strategies, consult:
University of Miami Law Library Integrated Research Strategy Guide outlines general issues in strategy and gives specific hints in how to deal with certain types of issues. Other University of Miami Law Library Research Guides are also shelved on the carousel by the reference desk.
As a law student, you may have become accustomed to spending as much time as you want using Lexis and Westlaw to conduct your research. As a summer associate or a practicing attorney, the costs of these services will dictate that you only conduct necessary research using these tools and that you do it as efficiently and as effectively as possible.
Both Lexis and Westlaw provide various pricing arrangements. Even if you are aware of what the basics of that arrangement are, often the complexity of pricing and how clients are billed for use of these resources will leave you uncertain of the exact cost of a research session. You should, therefore, apply some general rules to your electronic research.
1. Plan your research strategy before signing on.
Although in the age of Google it may be tempting to just sign on and search, a little planning can save a lot of money and a lot of time. Consider consulting a print treatise. This may help you choose all the proper terms with which to formulate an effective search on your first try. Alternatively, try calling the Westlaw (1-800-733-2889) or Lexis (1-800-543-6862) reference attorney help lines before signing on. They can help you chose the best database for your search, as well as help you select search terms which also saves time and money.
2. Do not think that because your firm has a flat-fee pricing plan that the costs of your searches are not monitored and do not matter.
One of the biggest myths among law firm associates is that a flat-fee arrangement means that one can search on Westlaw or Lexis without regard for price. While many firms have such flat-fee arrangements, they are structured in a complex way that still factors in the cost of each individual search. Even under flat-fee arrangements, it is still in a firm's interest to keep the cost of searches low.
3. Use a combination of print and non-billable electronic resources.
Print resources are particularly helpful when you are not familiar with a subject, and so have a difficult time crafting searches. Many firms will not have large print libraries, but the print sources they have will be geared toward the most practical resources. There are also many other databases whose use is not billed back to the client, including those from publishers such as BNA, Fastcase, or RIA. These are still reputable publishers, so you do not need to be too concerned about the reliability of the information (as you would with free internet resources).
4. Use the narrowest and most specific database that will yield the results you need.
The large databases that combine materials across jurisdictions and topics are significantly more expensive than smaller databases. The larger databases also produce less accurate results. In general, you should always use the smallest databases available. For example, if you are searching for Florida opinions, use the Florida databases, do not use All Cases. Only use the large databases when absolutely necessary to execute a specific search.
5. Make your first search a bit broad, so it will result in over inclusive results; then use the FOCUS and LOCATE functions to conduct unlimited and free searches of your results to narrow your results.
Once a search is run, both Westlaw (through the LOCATE function) and Lexis (through FOCUS) allow you to conduct unlimited and free searches of your search results (unless you are using hourly billing). Therefore, rather than conduct multiple searches, a good cost-saving strategy is to conduct a good, broad search on your topic and then use the free functions to conduct as many specific searches as you like.
6. Use the HISTORY and RESEARCH TRAIL functions to return to previous search results for free (previous searches conducted that day).
Using the HISTORY or TRAIL function, you can return to searches that you have conducted earlier that day and access those results for free (unless you are using hourly billing). You can also access search results back several weeks, but accessing results from another day is not free. Therefore if you need to run the same search twice in the same day or retrieve the same document twice in the same day, you don't have to be charged twice.
7. Beware of Natural Language Searching. Instead, use Terms and Connectors Searching.
While in may seem easier to just use the natural language searches instead of constructing a terms and connectors search, it is most often much more expensive. The natural language searches bring far less precise results than terms and connectors searches and will often be incomplete or over inclusive and thus, more expensive. In other words, you get a bunch of junk. A good terms and connectors search will yield better and more cost effective results. Use natural language only in cases where you find constructing a terms and connectors especially difficult.
8. Free Resources.
There are many reliable free resources on the web. If you are looking for state statutes, try that state's government website. Sometimes, it is beneficial to check a state's judicial website, as it may have past and current opinions. Also, a lot of federal information can be found at GPO Access.
9. Training, Training, Training.
To help you become a more cost-effective researcher, the Library, Lexis, and Westlaw offer trainings every month during the school year. To see a list of these trainings go to the training page. Firms will also arrange for training for associates and other attorneys. Make sure you take advantage of all training opportunities.
Most associates, when given a research assignment, start with secondary sources of law to educate themselves about the area of law they are researching. Secondary sources are materials such as legal encyclopedias, treatises, law review articles, annotations and continuing legal education publications. In addition to providing some background, context and explanation of the legal issues involved on a particular topic, secondary sources cite relevant primary sources (i.e. cases, statutes, rules or regulations) so that you can find them, which is the ultimate goal of your research.
Your library's catalog is the most important source for locating secondary sources available to you in print. On most online catalogs, a keyword search, followed by a subject search, is best. Baron, the University of Miami Law Library Catalog, can be accessed via the internet.
Legal Encyclopedias - These tend to be the most general source for legal doctrine with generous annotations to cases in Federal and State jurisdictions. Start with one specific to your jurisdiction, if available.
Treatises - The most commonly used secondary source are treatises (or books) written by experts in the subject. They are useful for explanation and synthesis of difficult legal concepts and annotations to cases and statutes. See the listing by subject below to find some of the leading treatises for selected topics. To locate treatises in the University of Miami Law Library, you can search Baron. As with encyclopedias, using a treatise specific to the jurisdiction or topic you are researching is more efficient than using a book with a general approach.
Continuing Legal Education Publications(CLE) - Practical and current "how-to-guides" for practicing attorneys. There are dozens of highly useful books and CLE guides published by the Florida Bar Association to guide attorneys practicing under Florida law. Check the library catalog for specific titles.
Looseleaf Services - These are multi-volume sets that bring together current statutes, cases, regulations, administrative decisions, policy statements, manuals, explanatory materials, and outlines or summaries. The major looseleaf sets are published by BNA, CCH and Matthew Bender. Use one of these if you are researching an area of law that is heavily regulated, i.e. tax, labor or employment, environmental, health, food and drugs, energy, banking, antitrust or securities. Many looseleaf services are also available online through Lexis, Westlaw, or the library's subscription databases. See below for listings by subject to find what some of the major looseleafs are for selected topics.
When using a looseleaf reporter for the first time there are five things you must know:
Law Reviews, Bar Journals and Annotated Law Reports publish commentaries on current legal issues and are one of the best sources for overviews, discussion and analysis of law. American Law Reports (ALR) is the best source for analysis of the most specific legal issues, with annotations to cases and statutes for all fifty states included. These publications' footnotes give references to other relevant sources.
(Hint: You can find law reviews on Lexis by clicking the Law Reviews & Journals link under the Secondary Legal heading or by Shepardizing a known case, statute or law review. You can find law reviews on Westlaw by searching the JLR (Journals and Law Reviews) database, or by using KeyCite on a known case, statute or law review.)
Restatements of the Law are highly regarded texts written by the members of the American Law Institute. Their goal in drafting the Restatements of the Law is to clarify and harmonize the common law of the fifty states regarding a specific legal topic. Judges often cite sections of the Restatements. The Restatements are also often used by lawyers as persuasive authority. Indexes for each Restatement are not always in the same location within each set. Indexes can be in the first volume, the last, or in each volume. The appendix volumes to each individual subject contain annotations to cases. The appendices are arranged in the same numerical order as the main volumes. This allows the user to see cases that are on point to the specific Restatement section. The Restatements are arranged by subject in different classifications in the Miami Law Library treatise section (not together) and can be found using Baron. Restatements are also online through Westlaw and Lexis.
(Lexis and Westlaw sources are indicated as they were in April of 2010. Lexis and Westlaw frequently add and delete sources, therefore, these designations are not definitive. To determine if Lexis provides access to a certain source, use Lexis' Find a Source function, which is one of the large grey tabs above menus. To determine if Westlaw provides access to a source, access the Directory through a link in the top blue header. Once in Find a Source or Directory, type the name or keyword of the document in the Search Box. Several of the Florida treatises are available in Westlaw in the combined databases FL-CLE. BNA services are available through the Law Library's subscription database page.)
Admiralty and Maritime
Antitrust and Trade
Corporations & Partnerships
Crime and Criminal Procedure
Employment and Labor Law
Estates, Trusts, Probate, Wills and Elder Law
Uniform Commercial Code
See COMMERCIAL LAW
When beginning legal research, one of the first questions the researcher should consider is whether there are any statutes relevant to the issue at hand. Both federal and state statutes are considered primary law. Remember, statutes state the law, and cases interpret the statutes. Once you have located relevant statutes, it is extremely important for you to ensure that the statutes are "good law." For example, make certain that the statute you are using has not been repealed or amended.
Once an act is passed and signed (or not in some cases) by the Governor or President, the House Law Revision Counsel (or similar state committee) takes the legislation and CODIFIES it. Codification is merely the process of taking the acts apart and adding the various sections of the acts to their appropriate sections in the code. The benefit of a codified set is that it is easier to see the current language of the law, and since the codes are in subject order, the researcher can see all of the current laws on one subject near each other.
Official codes are published or authorized to be published by the government that created the legislation. Some jurisdictions adopt an annotated, privately published compilation to be their official code. If a citation in the official set exists, it must be cited.
Whether official or unofficial, the annotated sets, such as the United States Code Annotated (USCA) or the Florida Statutes Annotated, are generally used for legal research. There are several reasons for this. The first is that the annotated codes are more current. The second major reason that the annotated codes are preferred for research is the presence of the annotations themselves. The annotated codes include extensive historical notes, case annotations, and references to secondary sources. Annotated codes are also preferred by researchers because the indexes are far more detailed and because these codes include court rules and constitutions with annotations.
Searching statutes is generally uncomplicated, which is another reason to use statutes near the beginning of your research plan. Each print set has an index. Moreover the annotated sets often have indexes for individual titles. Most sets also have a Popular Name Table for locating a statute that has a name, e.g. the Clean Water Act. When searching annotated statutes online, it is important to remember that full-text searches include the text of the annotations. There are ways on Lexis and Westlaw to limit the search to specific parts of annotated statues, like the heading or the text of the statute. Examples of different kinds of state and federal statutes are below:
United States Code (USC)
United States Code (House)
In print, updating specific code sections can involve several steps. All of the pocket parts and supplements are dated. Begin with the pocket part or annual supplement, which is usually shelved next to the main volume. For further updating, there may be advanced sheets, either in the same numbering as the statutes or in session law format (chronological order) with a table of code sections affected. To be completely up to date, the researcher will also need to search the session laws or other recently enacted legislation. When researching statutes online, the researcher should carefully check the date of the last laws included. This is particularly true when researching statutes on free websites.
Before statutes are codified, they are passed as acts or session laws by the Congress or Legislature. The acts that have been passed by Congress and signed by the President or otherwise made into law are called Public Laws. The acts that are passed by the Florida Legislature are referred to as Chapters. A session law may cover many different subjects. Sections of the session law will not necessarily be together in the subject-based arrangement of the statutes.
Acts (a.k.a. Laws)
Codes (a.k.a. Statutes)
State and federal acts are published in chronological order in several places. Many of these publications include cumulative indexes, popular name indexes, and tables of code (statute) sections affected:
Bills (pending bills and recently enacted legislation)
Session Laws (uncodified legislation)
Where Cases Are Reported
Judicial opinions are reported more or less chronologically as determined by the time the judges submit them. The charts below detail which reporter publishes which court's opinions. Many opinions from state and federal administrative law tribunals are also published. Usually, they can be located in Baron, the Online Catalog, by using the words in the name of the agency in a keyword search.
Federal Court Cases (Until 1981, Florida was in the Fifth Circuit.)
U.S. Supreme Court
Reporter & Abbreviation
United States Reports (official) (U.S.)
Supreme Court Reporter (unofficial) (S.Ct.)
Lawyers' Edition (unofficial) (L.Ed.)
Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal
Federal Reporter (F.)
Federal Reporter 2nd Series (F.2d)
Federal Reporter 3rd Series (F.3d)
Federal District Courts
Federal Supplement (F. Supp)
Federal Supplement 2nd Series (F. Supp.2d)
Florida Federal Cases
Florida Law Weekly Federal (FLW Fed. or Fla. L. Weekly Fed.)
State Cases - Florida
Florida published an official reporter for its Supreme Court cases from 1846-1948 called the Florida Reports, abbreviated "Fla."
U.S. Supreme Court
Reporter & Abbreviation
Southern Reporter (So.)
Southern Reporter 2nd Series (So.2d)
Southern Reporter 3rd Series (So.3d)
Florida Law Weekly (FLW or Fla. L. Weekly)
District Court of Appeals
Southern Reporter (So.)
Southern Reporter, 2nd Series (So.2d)
Southern Reporter 3rd Series (So.3d)
Florida Law Weekly (FLW or Fla. L. Weekly)
Florida Law Weekly Supplement (reports only a small percentage) (FLW Supp. or or Fla. L. Weekly Supp.)
State Cases - Other States
Cases from all the states are reported in the National Reporter System that divides the country into regions and publishes a "regional reporter" for each region. The table below details which state cases appear in which regional reporter. Some states (but not Florida) still publish cases in an official reporter, published by the state government.
CT, DE, ME, MD, NH, NJ, PA, VT
Atlantic Reporter 2nd Series
IL, IN, MA, NY, OH
Northeastern Reporter 2nd Series
IA, MI, MN, NE, ND, SD, WI
Northwestern Reporter 2nd Series
AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, KS, MT, NM, NV, OK, OR, UT, WA, WY
Pacific Reporter 2nd Series
Pacific Reporter 3rd Series
GA, NC, SC, VA, WV
Southeastern Reporter 2nd Series
AL, FL, LA, MS
Southern Reporter 2nd Series
AR, KY, MO, TN, TX
Southwestern Reporter 2nd Series
Southwestern Reporter 3rd Series
New York Supplement
New York Supplement 2nd Series
California Reporter 2nd Series
California Reporter 3rd Series
How to Find Cases
Because the reporters are organized chronologically and not by subject, you must use some sort of tool to find a case on any given topic. There are many tools to help you find cases on your subject.
Digests (the West Digest System)
The digests take the opinions published chronologically in the reporters and index them by topic. The entire spectrum of legal topics is organized into topics and subtopics (called key numbers). Florida state cases and federal cases that were heard in courts that are located in Florida are analyzed by West's Florida Digest. Start with the books that say "Descriptive-Word Index" on the spine, usually located near the end of the set of books, to find the most relevant topic and key number. Following each entry in the Descriptive Word Index, there are topic and key number(s). For example, looking under "obstructing mail", one finds "Postal 28", which is the topic Postal Service and key number 28.
In the main volumes, at topic "Postal Service," key number "28," cases that address obstructing the passage of mail will be listed. Remember to check the pocket part under the same topic and key number for the most recent information. The topics and key numbers are consistent, so you can use them in digests from all jurisdictions. Westlaw provides a way to search topics and key numbers online.
Digests have several other uses as well. To find citations to cases when you know the party/parties to a case, use the Table of Cases volumes that are shelved at the end of the digest. If, for example, you need a case whose title you only know is Smith v. Jones, about Mr. Jones' squandering Mr. Smith's retirement funds on a terrible venture, you can go to the Table of Cases and use the topics to see which of the many Smiths v. Jones is the one you want. The topics listed in the case table will distinguish your case from those with the same title that involve a convenience store robbery.
For the definition of a word or phrase as defined in a case, look in the Words and Phrases volumes of the relevant West Digest. Words and Phrases lists cases where terms have been defined by the court. You can search for court-defined term on Westlaw by using the WP field (e.g. WP(reasonable)).
The Decennial Digest, which has had several title changes, is now published by Thomson-West. It claims to analyze and abstract all state and federal cases from 1659 to the most current time period. West topics and key numbers change over time to accommodate new topic areas. When this happens, there is usually a parallel table that gives the new location of a topic.
Using the relevant Statutes Annotated is an extremely effective way to find cases on a topic, especially if you are looking for cases that address the application of a specific statute. The U.S. Code Annotated (U.S.C.A) and U.S. Code Service (U.S.C.S.) contain the full text of a statute, followed by annotations that provide supplementary information about that statute, including a brief legislative history of the statute and citations to periodical articles that address the statute. The annotated state sets (e.g. West's Florida Statutes Annotated) provide the same type of information.
The most important annotation for finding cases that address a statute is the section called "Notes of Decisions" or "Interpretive Notes and Decisions," which lists citations to cases that are relevant to the statute. For statutes with many relevant cases, the listing of cases will be divided into subtopics. An alphabetical list of subtopics illustrated by the cases is at the beginning of the section. Cases that are relevant to these terms are arranged in the numerical order that corresponds to the alphabetical list. Again, check the pocket parts for the most recent decisions. The annotated statutes on Westlaw and Lexis also contain related cases citations.
Treatises, ALRs, Legal Encyclopedias, Compilations, & Periodical Articles
Treatises, ALRs, legal encyclopedias, and periodical articles are secondary resources that give citations to cases on whatever topic is being addressed. The footnotes are especially ripe with citations. Once you find a treatise, ALR article, legal encyclopedia section, or periodical article that addresses your topic (see the chapter on Secondary Resources in this Guide for information on how to do that), you can easily find citations that will be relevant to your topic. The case tables of definitive treatises, casebooks, and hornbooks will give you a good list of the major cases in a field. Use these citations as a starting point for your own research. There is no point in starting from scratch!
Citators: Shepard's and KeyCite
Citators are useful for more than just checking to see if your case is good law. They list every published case that cites your case, as well as providing the parallel citations to the same case. Since cases on similar subjects will cite to each other, you can multiply one case into many by finding it in Shepard's (Lexis) or in KeyCite (Westlaw). Statutes can also be Shepardized or Keycited for case law, to locate cases that cite the statute of interest.
Lexis and Westlaw
Lexis and Westlaw both contain huge amounts of case law, including many administrative law court cases and unpublished cases. Both services allow full-text searching and have a feature that allows the user to locate information by broad subject categories. Make sure that you understand advanced search features, like fields or segments, to make your searches as precise as possible. If you are having difficulty pinpointing your topic, try a secondary source, such as an encyclopedia (also available online), or ask a reference librarian for assistance. Remember, if these two services duplicated each other, there would be no need to have them both. These services are fee-based and can be quite expensive. Please refer to the Cost Effective Electronic Legal Research section of this Guide.
*NOTE: Your Lexis and Westlaw law school passwords may only be used for law school-related educational purposes. Any other use is a violation of the Law School's Honor Code.
Loislaw is a web-based system that many law firms use. It is generally less expensive to use than Lexis and Westlaw, and it contains case law as well as many other primary sources of law. Your Loislaw password may be used for non-law school projects as long as you are a current student and for six months after graduation. Click on the Law Library Subscription Database list, for instructions on how to register for Loislaw access.
FastcaseFastcase is an alternative to Lexis/Westlaw which is also available free to members of the Florida Bar! It is for case law and unannotated statutes only. Click on the Law Library Database list, at http://library.law.miami.edu/databases.php, for instructions on how to access for Fastcase.
Court Home Pages
Many courts post opinions and other information on their websites:
Additional state and federal courts' home pages can be found through links on:
Federal Administrative Sources
The Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) are the two official governmental publications that govern the federal regulatory process. Regulations are published chronologically in the Federal Register, as they are adopted, and codified later in the CFR. You need to understand how both publications work and how they relate to each other.
The Federal Register is a daily print and electronic publication that reports all agency rulemaking activities. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, all federal agencies must publish proposed regulations as well as any amendments to existing rules in the Federal Register in order to commence the formal stages of notice and comment rulemaking. After agency review, the final regulations are published in the Federal Register. The Federal Register also contains presidential documents, some statements of agency policy, guidance memoranda, petition filings, meeting notices under the Sunshine Act and readers' aids that help you track regulatory provisions.
In looking at a proposed or final regulation in the Federal Register, you will find not only the text of the proposed or final rule, but also important descriptive information. When a regulation is proposed or finalized, the agency publishes a "supplementary information" section or preamble before the text of the actual rule. Here the agency describes the rationale for the proposed or final regulation. Examination of this material can be as important as studying the precise language of the rule. Finally, the Federal Register notice will often contain a name and a phone number where you can get more information.
The Federal Register is consecutively paginated beginning with page 1 in the first issue in January. It is published by the Government Printing Office [GPO] and available online at the GPO web site, http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/. In the Law Library, current issues of the Federal Register are located in the Reference Collection.
Hein Online, a subscription database on the Law School network, has a full-text searchable collection of the Federal Register that runs from the first issue in 1936 to last year; the Hein materials are in PDF format. Westlaw has coverage that runs from 1936 to the present in 2 different databases; the first, FR, runs from 1981 to the present whereas the second, FR-OLD, is comprised of PDF files running from 1936 through 1980.
The Lexis Federal Register database dates back to July 1, 1980. The GPO site covers the Federal Register back to 1994 and provides materials as PDF files. In addition, the Law Library has a complete set of the Register on microfiche.
The Code of Federal Regulations is the official codification of federal regulations. The set is updated annually with different volumes being replaced in a different quarter of the year. Each title contains the regulations in force at the time of publication. In addition, a one volume subject index also contains a table that shows what regulations were promulgated under specific federal statutory sections.
The GPO publishes the set in print and two electronic formats. The first online version is a mirror of the print set and can be found at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cfr/index.html. The second version, the e-CFR, updates the CFR daily incorporating recent changes; this version may be found online at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/ecfr/. The CFR is also available online in Lexis [GenFed; CFR] and in Westlaw [CFR].
Just as with statutes it is very important to know which regulatory provision was in force during the period you are researching. Older editions of the CFR are available in Lexis back to 1981 and in Westlaw back to 1984. Hein Online now contains all the back volumes from 1938 to 2008. The Law Library keeps the current CFR in the Reference and Core A Collections. Older editions are kept in hard copy in the Government Documents Collection, and in the Microfiche Collection on the 2d floor.
There are several ways to locate regulations on a particular topic. You can: (1) search online; (2) use a looseleaf service; (3) consult an annotated statutory code or (4) consult the indexes to the CFR and the Federal Register. The CFR print index is not that detailed, so that it is better to consult the four-volume General Index to the CFR published by West.
Alternatively, Westlaw now displays a link entitled Administrative Code for regulations promulgated pursuant to a particular statutory provision in the left hand frame. Lexis lists relevant CFR provisions with statute sections but does not provide a hotlink. Westlaw has also incorporated its General Index into its online CFR as RegulationsPlus. You can find this as a link in the upper-right hand corner of the search screen in the CFR database.
The official Federal Register Index is published monthly and cumulated annually. The entries are taken from each issue's table of contents and arranged by agency rather than subject. Notices, rules and proposed rules are listed alphabetically under each agency.
Many federal agencies have installed electronic docket rooms that contain background materials and comments submitted on proposed rules. The Federal Register notice will fequently indicate that electronic comments should be submitted to Regulations.gov, a common portal that most federal agencies are now using.
Once you locate a particular regulation, you must determine whether the regulation has been revised recently. Regulations frequently change and determining whether the agency has or proposes to change the particular provision in question is critical. Online is the fast and easy way to do this.
Your first online option is the e-CFR site, which is more current than Lexis, Westlaw or the print volumes. As amendments are adopted, changes are directly incorporated into the e-CFR text. The site normally incorporates changes within two or three days. On Lexis and Westlaw, the regulatory text of a CFR section will indicate how current the content is. Both services now incorporate recent changes to the text of a code provision, but they normally run several days behind the e-CFR.
You should take one final step to ensure that no further changes have been made since the date noted in the e-CFR, or the Lexis and Westlaw CFR databases. The CFR and the Federal Register provide an official mechanism to update regulations known as the List of Sections Affected (LSA). The GPO has a Web site on Current List of CFR Parts Affected at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/lsa/curlist.html. If you use the tools on this page, you can determine whether or not the rule has been changed in the last several days.
Updating regulations in print is a complicated process. You should consult a librarian if you cannot perform this task online.
Finding Administrative Case Law
Federal Courts: To determine whether a federal court has ruled on a particular regulation you can consult Shepard's Code of Federal Regulation Citations. This citator not only cites to court opinions but also to ALR annotations and some law review articles. Shepard's is available in print or in Lexis. Similarly, you can locate a regulation in the CFR database on Westlaw where a link in the left-hand frame will take you to case law and agency adjudications that construe the particular provision.
Agency Reporters: Agency adjudications can be difficult to find because the decisions are not systematically collected in one place. There are four potential sources:
There is no authoritative government compilation that lists online agency adjudication resources or Web sites, but the following resources should be useful. How to Find the Law, a legal research hornbook (Reserve KF 240.C538 1989), contains a table in Appendix D entitled "Sources of Federal Regulatory Rules, Regulations Adjudications" which lists sources for obtaining agency decisions and other documents. A partial record may be found at http://www.gpoaccess.gov and a more complete listing at Federal Administrative Decisions & Other Actions at the University of Virginia School of Law web site. Many agency adjudications can be updated using Shepard's United States Administrative Citations in print or Shepard's on Lexis or KeyCite on Westlaw.
Looseleaf Services and Treatises: Large looseleaf services and treatises on specific areas of law, like securities, environment, tax, and labor, are also good sources for agency opinions, policy statements, guidance documents, important internal memoranda, opinion letters, reports and studies. The Bluebook contains a listing of the major services at pp. 373-378.
The main benefits to looseleaf sets are convenience and currency. A researcher, however, must learn how to exploit tables, finding lists and indexes to locate what they need quickly. Currency in all areas of legal research is important, but regulation and policy tracking is often a day-by-day affair. Most of these large looseleaf services include weekly and sometimes daily newsletters as part of their subscriptions. Often newsletters like Daily Labor Report, Daily Tax Report, and Daily Environment Report are the first thing an attorney will read in the morning to learn in a brief few sentences what actions are pending, final or rejected.
The large looseleaf sets also describe pending cases and will often publish the opinions of those cases when decided. Many decisions are not published anywhere else. Additionally, these sets include many related substantive sources like the pertinent statutes and regulations.
While the use of these sets can be difficult and frustrating to learn, your effort will be rewarded. Mastering a set online can be difficult, and it pays to examine how the set works in print first. This is because some features do not translate well to term searching. If you are trying to locate forms that go with a particular securities regulation, online searching will often not be expeditious or fruitful. In addition, most of the more useful tables and finding lists ARE NOT available online -- even if the rest of the set is. Learn the manual as well as the electronic idiosyncrasies of these sets -- you will be glad you did!
Helpful Hints for Agency Research
Know what type of documents the agency produces. Are there decision reporters? Agency guidance documents? Studies? Memos? Opinion letters? To find the answer to these questions, try checking the agency's web site. You can also consult a large looseleaf service on the subject the agency is related to (e.g. environmental law). If these sources fail, call the agency.
The Internet is a good place to obtain information on agencies. Almost every federal and state agency has a web site. To locate a site, consult the government's comprehensive list of Federal sites. This site also maintains links to state governmental web pages for the fifty states that contains similar information. Other valuable links can be found on the Law Library's website. If the document you seek is NOT on the web, do not end your search.
Do not hesitate to call the agency involved. Use the telephone numbers in the "For Further Information Contact" section of the Federal Register that usually precede the text of proposed and finalized rules in the Federal Register, or locate a number in a reference book that lists government employees and entities. Use a directory to locate relevant agency personnel, such as Federal Staff Directory (Reference JK 723.E9), Federal Yellow Book (Reference JK 6. F45), United States Government Manual (also Reference JK 421 .A3)
Keep records of the whos, whats and wheres of your research. You would be surprised how often you will be asked the same types of questions or how often you will have to follow up with the same staff members. Keeping good notes of agency officials and agency web sites that have helped you in the past can make your research very efficient. A well-organized subject file of often-used documents and sources can also be a life saver -- there is nothing more frustrating than re-inventing the wheel for someone who lost a document you finally were able to wrangle from an agency the week before. (Before contacting government officials for information, it is helpful to do some homework. Government employees can be very busy and they will be more forthcoming if your questions are focused.)
Keep current. You must keep track of what is happening. Laws and regulations change quickly in some fields, and sometimes those changes are so politically motivated that it is helpful to read more than the newsletters and current awareness publications (like BNA and CCH newsletters). National newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post are excellent sources for timely information about major litigation and policy developments in a regulated area.
Florida Administrative Law
Two print publications form the backbone of the state's rulemaking structure, the Florida Administrative Weekly (FAW) and the Florida Administrative Code (FAC). These are the state analogs to the Federal Register and the CFR. The Secretary of State also maintains a most useful website for locating regulations at https://www.flrules.org/Default.asp.
Florida Administrative Weekly serves as a weekly accounting of agency activities for the state of Florida and is published every Friday. All notices/proposals for new regulations and amendments to existing regulations must be published in the FAW as part of the promulgation process. In addition, each Florida Administrative Weekly may contain: (1) notices of development of proposed rules and negotiated rulemakings; (2) notices of changes, corrections and withdrawals; (3) emergency rules; (4) petitions and dispositions regarding variances or waivers; (5) notices of meetings, workshops, and public hearings; (6) notices of petitions and dispositions regarding declaratory statements; (7) notices of petitions and dispositions regarding rule validity; (8) notices of petitions and dispositions regarding policy changes; (9) announcements and reports of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee; (10) notices regarding bids, proposals and purchasing; (11) other miscellaneous matters and (12) the index to rules filed during the preceding week. In addition, the first issue of each month supplies a cumulative LIST OF SECTIONS AFFECTED table that tracks the changes pending to regulations for the previous eight weeks. These tables refer the researcher to the volume and page of the FAW where the changes were published.
The FAW is the only Florida source for the history or intent behind regulations. Since the FAC is a looseleaf publication, historical versions of regulations are difficult to find because the older version is replaced once a newer rule is promulgated. Therefore the FAW is the mechanism for examining the language of a regulation as it stood in a particular year.
The text of the proposed rule in the FAW is often the only source for the final language of the rule because of a quirk in Florida administrative law. The full text of a regulation is published in the FAW at the time that the rule is proposed, but if no changes to the proposed language are made when the rule is promulgated then the text is not reprinted. However, if an agency amends the language prior to promulgation, then the text is republished with the changes incorporated.
The FAW is available online in two places. All FAW issues from January 1, 2006 are searchable simultaneously at the general state site. Individual items in weekly issues may be retrieved online from January 1, 1999 at https://www.flrules.org/bigdoc/Default.asp. These are PDF files and can be searched using the PDF search feature to locate material in a particular issue. The FAW is also available in Lexis for full-text searching from January of 1996 to the present.
Florida Administrative Code is the official codification of state regulations. This is a looseleaf publication that is updated monthly by adding or replacing pages. Like its federal counterpart, the FAC is organized by title with each number representing a department, commission, or other agency. FAC Rule IS-1.001 lists the assigned numbers and explains how the system works. Beside the language of each section, the FAC text includes a history note labeled "Specific Authority." This will indicate the statutory provision authorizing the rule and history on whether the rule has been modified, renumbered, or repealed. Selected case annotations may also be included. Pages have notations in the top right hand corner on either the front or the back indicating when the page was last revised.
There is a topical index and a statutory cross-reference volume. Using the topical index can often be frustrating because listed regulations may not be located where the index states. At this juncture you should consult the List of Repealed Rules and the List of Transferred Provisions to find out what has happened to a particular provision. In addition, you should check to see if the FAC title you are interested in has it own index.
The Florida Department of State makes the FAC available on the Internet. The FAC may also be found in both Lexis and Westlaw. The print version is the only official one.
If you do not know the citation of a particular rule, it is sometimes quicker to consult Florida Statutes Annotated or Florida Jurisprudence 2d to find a reference to the provision in the Florida Administrative Code. If you retrieve a particular statutory provision in Westlaw, it will provide links to regulations promulgated pursuant to this provision appear in the left hand frame.
The full-text searching feature, is also useful. When you enter a query it brings up both the proposed rulemaking notices and the promulgated rule. This is a very efficient way to do a search for rules on a particular topic because it searches both the FAW and the FAC simultaneously. This Web site also allows you to search for regulations by entering a statutory provision that would authorize rules on a particular subject. And do remember that this is a free resource.
Updating Rules in Print and Online
The process for updating a regulation in print begins with checking the first page in the first volume of the FAC to determine when it was last updated. Next you have to consult the List of Rules Affected that appears monthly in the first FAW after the FAC update; this list will contain a notation reflecting the time period covered. Next you must continue to check this list for each month thereafter until you are current. The remaining issues for the last month have tables that contain changes filed the previous week. You must then check each week's tables to assure yourself that you have found all the latest updates and changes.
The FAC may also be updated online. The online Administrative Code is updated much more speedily than the print version. The system works much like the e-CFR. The FAW is published weekly on Friday; the electronic version of the Administrative Code at the Department of State site incorporates changes in the text of a rule by the close of business the following Monday. This makes it truly easy to update a regulation.
The Secretary of State's site also has two other features of note. There is a listserv that provides an automatic notification of developments when a particular rule interests you. Secondly, the site allows for the submission of electronic comments on proposed rules. In conclusion, this is a very useful site that Florida practitioners and law students should rely on to locate regulatory information.
Finding Florida Administrative Cases
Florida Administrative Law Reporter (FALR) contains administrative decisions from multiple agencies. Several agencies produce their own individual reporters, but the FALR reports the decisions of several agencies as well as the Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). In addition, specialized editions of the FALR deal with specific substantive areas like the environment or tax. This set is currently not available in either Lexis or Westlaw. The indexes are quarterly and periodically cumulate into "supercumulative" indexes. The indexing is awkward and inconsistent, so be prepared to try multiple terms and to check more than one area of the index. However, Lexis and Westlaw contain DOAH databases dating back to 1975. In addition, the DOAH decisions and orders are available online.
Other online databases exist for Florida administrative decisions. Lexis and Westlaw both have databases covering attorney general opinions, taxation decisions and securities determinations. Lexis also has individual files covering the Public Utilities Commission and Workers' Compensation Decisions. Westlaw has an individual database on Environmental Law Administrative Decisions. To obtain information about a specific agency and its decisions, you can access the agency's website. Most Florida State agencies have informative web sites and many include decisions and documents. The Florida Government Locator is very useful in locating Florida agency websites.
Administrative Research for Other States
Administrative procedure in each state is different. To obtain information about other states, access the National Association of Secretaries of State web site. You should also consult the Guide to State Legislative and Administrative Materials by William H. Manz (Reference KF1.M28 2002). In addition, the Lexis and Westlaw state law databases will contain state regulations and some administrative decisions. Finally, law school library sites for individual states may also post online guides that help you research the administrative law regime for that particular state.
You may be asked to find regulations on a particular topic in multiple jurisdictions. Both Lexis and Westlaw now offer online tools that compile regulations on a particular topic on a state-by-state basis. The Lexis' database is called "50 State Comparative Legislation / Regulations" which compiles state rules on a particular topic. Westlaw provides a similar service in a database called REG-SURVEYS. There is some subject overlap in the two collections. Finally, HeinOnline now has the extremely comprehensive Subject Compilations of State Laws, edited by Cheryl Rae Nyberg; this provides more specific topical coverage of state regulations.
Foreign law refers to the internal laws of specific countries. The first step in researching foreign laws is to understand the legal system of the country in question. Does the country have a civil law, common law, or other type of legal system? (Remember that most countries do not employ the common law system followed in the United States.) Which laws apply? Which courts have jurisdiction?
The next step is to locate the country's statutes or codes and, if necessary, cases and additional materials. One of the best starting points for identifying foreign law sources is: Reynolds & Flores, Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (also Reference and International K38 .R49).
Language frequently presents a unique challenge for foreign law researchers. Official English translations are uncommon. Publications such as Commercial Laws of the World (International K1004.15 1976), provide translations of selected statutes. Another approach is to refer to digests such as the Martindale Hubbell International Law Digest, which is part of the Martindale Hubbell Directory (Reserve and Lexis).
Treatises, law review articles, and research guides are all excellent resources for learning about a country's legal system. Additionally, they offer guidance in locating appropriate primary sources.
Treatises, research guides and primary sources located in the Law Library can be identified on the online catalog. Citations to periodical articles can be located in the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals, the Index to Legal Periodicals and Legal Resource Index (LegalTrac), which are accessible in print or electronically through the Law School network. Index to Legal Periodicals and Legal Resource Index are also available on Lexis and Westlaw. (Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals is available on Westlaw but not with an academic subscription.)
Embassy websites frequently offer both primary and secondary legal material.
The Law Library's list of Internet Resources contains many valuable foreign law sites.
These are some excellent online guides to foreign and international resources on the web:
International law is the law that regulates the relationships between countries and their citizens. Public international law refers to the law dealing with relationships between governments. Private international law deals with disputes between private parties of different countries.
The main source of public international law is treaties. Treaties that the United States has signed are identified in Treaties in Force (Reference JX 235.9 .A33). The full text of the treaties can then be found in the United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (TIAS) (International JX 231.A43), the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) (International JX 170.U35), and other official sources. Online, use Hein's Treaties and Agreements Library. If the full text of a treaty cannot be found in official sources, try unofficial ones such as International Legal Materials (International K9. N85, Lexis or Westlaw). The web pages of international organizations frequently post texts of the treaties that concern their members. The U.N. Treaty Database, contains the text of treaties deposited with the United Nations since 1946. The Law Library web site has links to many of the better known treaties, the web pages of many international organizations, and other sources. As a last resort, call the United States Department of State Treaty Affairs Office (202-647-1345). The full text of many United Nations documents are available through the U.N. Official Document Service. EISIL (The Electronic Information System for International Law) is an excellent guide to finding primary sources, web sites and research guides on the Internet.
Private international law, or conflict of laws, deals with private disputes across borders. Research on private international law may require research in U.S. law, foreign law, and international treaties. One of the most commonly sought international agreements related to private international law is the Hague Convention on the Service of Process Abroad. This treaty covers the procedures for serving documents in other countries and can be found in many sources including the International Conventions volume of Martindale Hubbell as well as on the internet (for example, The Avalon Project at Yale Law School or the Multilaterals Project at Tufts, Fletcher School.
Lexis and Westlaw provide information on international law, but their coverage varies. Citations to periodical articles that concern international law can be accessed through Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals, Index to Legal Periodicals and Legal Resource Index.
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Check back in the fall. Have a great summer!