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Successful Summer Strategies: Research in the Real World: Statutory Research

Research in the Real World Starts Here. Use this guide to orient yourself to the world and research environment.

Citing to Statutes

The basic format for citing federal statutes is as follows:

  1. the title number of the code
  2. the abbreviated name of the code (found in Table T. 1 of The Bluebook);
  3. the section  of the statute;
  4. the year of the code (according to Rule 12.3.2).

Sample citation: 22 U.S.C. § 2567 (1983)

Rule 12.3 of The Bluebook specifies that statutes should be cited to the official code (U.S.C.) when possible. If a statute section does not appear in the official U. S. Code,  cite to the United States Code Annotated (U.S.C.A.) or the United States Code Service (U.S.C.S.).

Rule 12.5 covering citing to statutes available in commercial electronic databases (e.g., Westlaw and Lexis Advance) is the same as print except for the date, which is the database currency rather than the publication date of the print volume. 

Wyoming statutes are cited by abbreviated name of the publication, followed by title, chapter, and section:

WYO. STAT. ANN. § 14-9-103

General Tips

How does a researcher know whether to search for a controlling statute when assigned an issue to research?

  • Your assigning attorney may identify a significant statute (often by a popular name); if not, ask during your initial discussion whether there are controlling statutes.
  • Your examination of secondary sources or of a known case may reveal a citation to a relevant statute.  Watch out. Older cases may be citing a statute that has been amended or repealed.
  • Even if neither of the above occurs, you may need to conduct some basic statute research to satisfy yourself that your assignment does not involve statutory law.

What general points should I keep in mind?

  • Statute sections are rarely meant to be understood in isolation from one another. It is always necessary to examine the surrounding sections to fully understand a statute section's application.
  • Never assume that a term used in a statute section has its obvious or colloquial meaning. The term may be defined within the section in which it appears, or in a separate "definitions" section. Always check for definitions to determine whether a term has a special meaning for the purpose of the statute.

Advantages in using print sources:

  • You will not incur online charges.
  • It may be easier in a print code to read surrounding sections and/or to locate definitions sections, to get a feel for the overall statutory scheme, or to review the annotations, especially if numerous.
  • It may be easier to locate a statute by using a print index, where new index terms might be suggested to you, rather than by electronic searching, which sometimes yields many irrelevant documents.

Advantages in using Lexis and Westlaw:

  • Lexis and Westlaw contain full versions of the federal and all states' codes, including annotations. The services also contain databases covering materials from the most recent legislative session which may not yet be integrated into the code databases. The Lexis and Westlaw versions of statutes are more current than those in the print volumes, which are updated by annual pocket parts and/or by pamphlet supplements.
  • You can eliminate many of the irrelevant documents by using the Advance search features.  Type your keywords into the Text field to winnow out results from the history and library references.
  • The Table of Contents is linkable. If you have difficulty turning up a statute with a keyword search, consider scrolling through the table of contents.
  • You can use the "Book Browse" in Lexis or the green arrows in Westlaw to see neighboring statute sections.
  • You can access documents from the annotations with a click.
  • You can use citators (Shepard's on Lexis or Key Cite on Westlaw), both to check the validity of a statute section and to locate cases that have applied or interpreted it.

Can I use the Internet?

Versions of the federal and many state codes appear on various internet sites. Use caution regarding currency and authoritative nature of the materials.

What if I need an earlier version of a statute?

There may be times, such as when you are litigating a case that arose before recent amendments, that you will need an older version of a statute. In general, the law that applies is the law that existed at the time of the occurrence at issue. It is generally best to consult a librarian when this occurs to determine the availability of superseded code volumes for the applicable jurisdiction. Lexis and Westlaw also contain some historical statute coverage.

And finally..

Statutory language may be broad and/or ambiguous. A researcher must search for cases that have applied and interpreted statutory language by viewing the case annotations.


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