Sources of Research material PRIMARY AND SECONDERY SOURCES OF LEGAL RESEARCH
Because the law is so varied, there are many different resources available to help locate the law, each with a specific use and specific limitations. The major types of legal research resources are primary sources of law and secondary sources of law. Primary sources of law are the actual law itself — constitutions, statutes, administrative regulations, ordinances, and court opinions. Anything that creates the law is a primary source of law. All legal research should rely on primary sources. By contrast, secondary sources of law provide summaries and interpretations of the law. They are the result of what someone thinks the law is, not the law itself. Secondary sources are used to locate the law and to explain the law. Secondary sources are useful tools for finding the law, but they should never be relied on as stating the law.
There are three main categories of primary sources of the law. They are statutory law, administrative regulations, and case law.
Statutory law is any law enacted by a legislature and includes constitutions. It is also called enacted law. Statutory law is sometime contrasted with written opinions issued by the courts, called judge-made law (or common law). Statutory law can fill a void left by the common law, supplement the common law, or replace the common law. Even though statutes are intended to be available to the public, locating the appropriate statutory law can be surprisingly difficult. There are several sources for locating statutory law; which of these sources you use will depend on the nature of the client's problem. If the client's problem involves the application of a new law or a recent amendment of an old law, your legal research should begin with the most recent version of the statute. In most states, the earliest version of an effective statute is the slip law. The slip law is the version of the law presented to the executive branch of government. In the federal system, each slip law is assigned a unique number known as a public law number. In most states, the slip law number is simply the number the bill was given as it made its way through the legislature. Federal public laws are printed in the United States Code Service. State slip laws are generally available through legislative printing offices. There are bound volumes of slip laws called session laws; compilations of slip laws in the order they were passed by the legislature. Each volume of session laws represents the work of one session of the legislature and will cover a myriad of topics. Many compilations of session laws use underlines and strikethroughs to show the additions and deletions in amended statutes. Session laws are the basis for the publication of official statutory codes. Because session laws are not organized in a topical fashion, using them for research is difficult. To make locating statutes easier, the session laws are organized, or codified, for publication. A codified statute is assigned a number that follows a topical organization. While each state uses a different topical organization, the structure of most state codes follow a variation of the title (topic), chapter (sub-topic), and individual statute hierarchy. The government publishes official statutory codes. Typically, these official codes contain only the text of the statutes and the history of the statute as reflected in the session laws. In the event of a discrepancy between the official code and any other version of the statute, the official code controls. The official statutory code of the federal government is the United States Code.
Administrative regulations are forms of law promulgated by administrative agencies. If the legislature has enabled the agency to make rules addressing a specific topic, the pronouncements of the agency have the force of...