Whoever first described the common law as the "unwritten law" had never seen a modern law library. The average American law library collection consists of thousands of books, periodicals, and other reference materials. These materials include decisions by trial courts, intermediate appellate courts, and courts of final appeal in the state and federal court systems; laws enacted by cities, counties, states, and the federal government; regulations promulgated by local, state, and federal agencies; treatises and other writings by legal scholars; legal journals and digests; and laws and judicial decisions from countries around the world. Knowing how to make your way through this maze is an essential skill for law school and for the practice of law. In fact, a lawyer has an ethical obligation to research the law to provide competent representation for a client.
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Often, the terms of a statute are ambiguous in their application to a particular case. To attempt to determine how the legislature intended the statute to apply, you can research the statute's legislative history. The term "legislative history" includes a variety of materials concerning the statute. It includes the statute's procedural history, such as the committees that considered it, and materials concerning the law's substance, such as committee reports and transcripts of legislative debates.
The primary sources for federal legislative history are United States Code Congressional and Administrative News
(U.S.C.C.A.N.), which was first published in 1941, and the Congressional Record. In U.S.C.C.A.N., you will find the texts of the most important congressional committee reports regarding a statute. The easiest way to locate these materials in U.S.C.C.A.N. is to look at the historical notes and references following the text of the statute in U.S.C.A. They include citations to U.S.C.C.A.N.'s legislative history section. The Congressional Record, on the other hand, focuses on House and Senate proceedings. For example, the Congressional Record publishes congressional de-bates and votes.
By researching a statute's legislative history, you may discover the legislature's reason for enacting a law, its intended scope, and the ways in which it has been amended. Unfortunately, the availability of legislative history for any given federal law varies greatly. At the state or municipal level, usually little or no written or recorded legislative history is available.
Congress and state legislatures often empower administrative agencies to promulgate regulations, adjudicate disputes, or otherwise implement laws enacted by the legislature. The federal government publishes virtually all federal regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.). The C.F.R. is organized using the same titles as in the United States Code, and the citation system is similar. For example, 12 C.F.R. § 509.1 refers to § 509.1 of Title 12 of the C.F.R. You can locate a regulation by using C.F.R. indexes, annotations in U.S.C.S. or U.S.CA., or commercial indexes, such as the Code of Federal Regulations Index or the CIS Index to the Code of Federal Regulations.
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Unlike the U.S.C., each C.F.R. title is revised and republished at least annually. The most recently promulgated regulations and amendments, as well as proposed regulations and amendments, are published in the Federal Register. The Federal Register is published on most business days. Therefore, when researching a federal regulation, you first should check the C.F.R. and then the Federal Register.
Researching agency adjudicative decisions is more difficult. Unlike judicial decisions, a comprehensive reporter for federal agency decisions does not exist. Some agencies publish their own reporters, and specialized reporting services for particular areas of law may include the text of an agency's decisions. To find judicial decisions concerning a regulation or the scope of an agency's authority, you can use the same methods that you use for any other type of case.
Most states publish their agencies' regulations in a comprehensive code and have a relatively current reporting service like the Federal Register. These codes and services may not be as well organized and indexed as the C.F.R. and Federal Register. The state statutory code may be helpful if it includes cross-references to relevant state agency regulations. If the state does not have a comprehensive regulatory code, you can request a set of regulations from the relevant state agency. State agency adju-dicative decisions also may not be readily available, although some state agencies publish their deci-sions.
Virtually every, law school and many other law-related organizations, such as bar associations, publish one or more legal periodicals. A periodical may include articles from many areas of law, or it may focus on one subject. The articles range from abstract, scholarly analyses to concrete, practice-oriented discussions. Unlike cases and statutes, the articles in legal periodicals do not have the force of law, but they often have a significant impact on the law's development.
Periodical articles provide a useful starting point for a research project, as well as a means for staying current in the law. The articles provide references to the governing cases, statutes, regulations, and other research sources. They often provide a historical background and comprehensive analysis of a topic and make predictions and recommendations concerning the law's evolution: They generally are written by experts in the area, though law school reviews and journals often also include articles written by students.
To find periodical articles about a particular topic, you can use a periodical index. The two most comprehensive and commonly used indexes are the Index to Legal Periodicals (I.L.P.) and the Current Law Index (C.L.I.). The I.L.P. has been published since 1908, while C.L.I, has been published only since 1980. C.L.I, is somewhat more comprehensive than I.L.P.; C.L.I, includes over 700 periodicals, while I.L.P. includes over 500 periodicals and does not index articles that are less than five pages.
I.L.P. and C.L.I, both index articles by subject, author, case name, and statute. Both also use the standard citation form for articles-the author's name, the article's title, the volume number of the periodical in which the article is published, the name of the periodical; the page in the volume at which the article begins, and the year of publication. Thus, the citation Barry C. Feld, Violent Youth and Public Policy: A Case Study of Juvenile Justice Law Reform, 79 Minn. L. Rev. 965 (1995) tells you that this article, which was written by Barry C. Feld, begins at page 965 of volume 79 of the Minnesota Law Review. A complete list of abbreviations for periodicals is contained in The Bluebook.
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