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How to Find the Correct Statutes in our Legal System Statutes in our Legal System

Statutes in our Legal System


Educational: When you hear people talk about "what the law says" or "what the law is," they are generally referring to statutes (sometimes called codes). Statutes, which are created by the U.S. Congress and by our state legislators, attempt to lay out the ground rules of "the law." Of course, the law of the land is the US Constitution.

In court: If disagreements arise over the meaning of statutes, state and federal court judges issue court opinions that "interpret" the statutes more clearly.

Court opinion is referred to as "case law." In addition, numerous federal and state agencies, such as the the IRS, Environmental Protection Agency, and the various Secretary of State's offices, issue regulations that cover the legal areas that the agencies control (such as environmental law, federal taxes, and corporations law).

How to Search Federal and/or State Statutes

Most legal research involves state statutes rather than federal statutes because states have the sole power to make the law in many areas, such as child custody, divorce, landlord-tenant, small business, personal injury, and wills and trusts. A growing number of legal areas are covered by both state and federal statutes, including consumer protection, employment, and food and drug regulation. (State laws give way to stricter federal laws that address the same issue.)

Lastly, the federal government alone creates the law for a few specific subject areas, such as copyrights, patents, bankruptcy, federal taxes, and Social Security.

Finding a Statute

Simply, there are two main ways to find a particular state or federal statute on a state's website --

#1 by doing a search or #2 by browsing the table of contents

Most do, but Not all states allow you to do a search, but for those that do, simply enter a few terms that relate to the subject you're looking for. You can go the the law library. For example, you are writing your corporation minutes and you're looking for the minimum number of directors that your state requires a corporation to have, you might enter the terms "corporation" and "director."

This is just a start on your way to become a legal researcher.

compiled by TM July 2008 (c)



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