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Law Research Assistant Guide to the Law Library

This guide is designed to assist UC Law Research Assistants.

About Codes

A code is a subject arrangement of the laws of a jurisdiction. There are official and unofficial codes. A code may be annotated (containing editorial enhancements to help with research or interpretation) or unannotated. The advantages of using a code for research include:

  1. the fact that codes collate original laws with later amendments,
  2. they bring all laws on the same subject together, and
  3. they eliminate repealed, superseded, or expired laws.

In addition to the statutes, many codes contain constitutions and court rules.

Finding a Code by Citation

Retrieving  a statute by legal citation is the easiest and fastest way to get the specific case to which the citation refers.

Example of a United States Code citation:

42 (title) U.S.C. (Code abbreviation) Section 1983 (2006)

Suppose our citation was for 42 U.S.C.§ 1983 and I wanted to find this statute in print.

  1. I would first find the United States Code, United States Code Annotated, or United States Code Service in the UC Law Library print collection.
  2. Then I would find the volume or volumes containing title 42. 
  3. Next I would look for the section 1983 within the appropriate volume.

To find this statute online:

  • Westlaw:  type the 42 U.S.C.A. 1983 in the search box at the top of the screen.
  • Lexis Advance:  type the 42 U.S.C.S. 1983 in the search box at the top of the screen.

A word about retrieving state statutes by citation online:

  • Lexis Advance and Westlaw can be picky about the format for state statute citations and that format does not necessarily follow Bluebook form. Your best bet is to begin typing the statute citation. For example, typing in Ohio Rev. Code § 3503.06 will not directly pull up the statute in WestlawNext (but it will in Lexis Advance). Searching for ORC § 3503.06 will retrieve the statute in both as will typing Ohio Revised Code § 3503.06.  
  • In Westlaw, putting the state postal abbreviation in front of your section will usually work:  OH St 3503.06.

Code Organization

The structure and organization of statutory codes will vary by jurisdiction. 

Federal

The United States Code, the subject arrangement of federal statutes, is arranged  by subject  into 51 subject titles, with chapter and section subdivisions.  Of the 51 titles, the following titles have been enacted into positive (statutory) law: 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 17, 18, 23, 28, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 44, 46, 49, 51, and 54. When a title of the Code is enacted into positive law, the text of the title becomes legal evidence of the law. Titles that have not been enacted into positive law are only prima facie evidence of the law. In that case, the Statutes at Large still govern.

When looking at a code section, you will see the text of the section, then historical notes, the Statutes at Large citation, and references to related code sections.

State

In Ohio, the statutes are broadly organized by titles (there are 33) and then further broken down by articles, chapters, and sections.  For more information on Ohio codes, see the Ohio Legal Research Guide

State Codes with Subjects:

Some states, such as California, Maryland, New York, and Texas, use subject words for their broader organization. If you look in Table 1 of the Bluebook or Appendix 1 of ALWD under one of those jurisdictions, they will give you the subject break downs. You actually include those subjects in your citation.

Where Codes Are Published

Federal

Official (unannotated)

United States Code (U.S.C.)

  • The USC is published every six years with cumulative bound supplements issued in between editions. Publication typically runs several years behind.

Unofficial (annotated)

State

Publication of state codes will vary. The Law Library's state codes are located on the 4th floor with the other state materials at call numbers KFA through KFZ. Note that most of the print codes are no longer being updated.

Ohio

Ohio does not publish an official version of the Ohio Revised Code, instead unofficial versions of the code are published. 

About Session Laws

A session law is the chronological publication of the laws passed by a jurisdiction. You may hear session laws referred to as acts as well. Session laws may include both public (laws of a general nature) and private (laws that apply to a specific person or group or that are temporary in nature) laws. Each session law is assigned a number. 

Federal Session Laws

In the Federal system, the first part of the number is the congress that passed the law. 

Pub. L. No. 107-56

Here in the Federal example, the 107 refers to the 107th Congress. The second part of the number is the number of the law passed.  So, here in the example, the 56 refers to it being the 56th law passed by the 107th Congress.

State Session Laws

State session laws will vary in their numbering system. Some use chapters. Kentucky uses the year and chapter number. Indiana numbers its post-1982 public laws by first assigning the law a number and then the year of the law. So in the Indiana example, the numbering scheme refers to it being the 33rd law passed in the year 2008. Ohio uses the bill number.

KY:  1998 Ky. Acts ch. 21, § 1

IN:  Pub. L. 33-2008

OH:  Am. H.B. No. 268, 126  Ohio Laws 730.

Where to Find Session Laws

Session laws usually have official and unofficial publications. 

Federal

Official

Unofficial

State

With most states, you will also find their session laws published in the legislative service pamphlets published by West or the Advance Service published by Lexis. Many states will also publish their session laws on the state website. 

50-State Surveys and Other Useful Tools

If you need to research a particular issue as treated by multiple state statutes there are several useful tools that can save you a lot of work.  Just be aware that these may only address selected narrow topics and that they may not be current.  Be sure to locate the date of the survey or latest revisions.

50 State Surveys Video Tutorial

How to Find 50-State Surveys

Westlaw's 50-State Surveys

Lexis Multi-Jurisdictional Surveys

  • Once signed into Lexis Advance, Browse Sources > Search Sources > Within the Search Sources box, type "50-state." Then select LexisNexis® 50 State Surveys, Statutes & Regulations. You can add this source to the search or view the Table of Contents.

National Conference of State Legislatures

http://www.ncsl.org (last visited July 29, 2014). 

  • Hover over Research > Click on Bill Tracking
  • NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on state issues.

 Subject Compilation of State Laws

 Cheryl Rae Nyberg's Subject Compilation of State Laws provides citations to law review articles, books, and other sources in which state statutes are compared. It is not cumulative so you may need to check multiple "volumes."

Other Resources for Statutory Compilations

  • National Survey of State Laws (Richard A. Leiter ed., 6th ed. 2008).  Some of the Westlaw 50-State Surveys are based on this.
  •  Jon S. Schultz, Statutes  Compared:  A U.S., Canadian, Multinational Research Guide to Statutes by Subject (2d ed. last updated 2004).   
    • Law Reference KF 1 .S36 
  • Check association websites that advocate or deal with specific statutory issues.  Just be aware of potential association bias.

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