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How to Find Laws

Using Print Sources to Find Laws.

I. Finding Case Law

A. These are decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.
There are five different publications that contain U.S. Supreme Court decisions:

  1. United States Reports, cited U.S.
  2. United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition, cited L.Ed. and L.Ed.2d  (* This is the one High Library subscribes to.)
  3. Supreme Court Reporter, cited Sup.Ct. or S.Ct.
  4. United States Law Week, cited U.S.L.W. or U.S.L. Week
  5. United States Supreme Court Bulletin, cited S.Ct.Bull

B. How To Find A Specific Case

  1. 1. By topic:
    1. Consult the U.S. Supreme Court Digest, Index volumes 16-16d. (Ref 345.4 Un58u)
    2. Look up your topic and get citations to specific cases.
    3. The citations look like this: 39 L.Ed.2d 225;   414 U.S.143;  94 S.Ct. 977
    4. The High Library has the L.Ed. and L.Ed2d citations.
  2. 2. By case name: (Jones v. Brown)
    1. Consult the U.S. Supreme Court Digest, Table of Cases volumes 15-15d (Ref  345.4 Un58ud)
    2. Look up case name in alphabetical order and get the citation.
  3. By popular name: (If you know the popular or common name, but not the legal name)
    1. Consult Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Name (the case law section)  (Ref 345.21 Sh548t).
    2. Popular names are listed in alphabetical order with citations to specific cases.
    3. This is for both court cases and legislative acts. The acts are listed first, then the cases.
    4. Cases have references to U. S. Supreme Court Reports and other case law  publications.
  4. 4. To learn about a topic and get a list of related cases:
    1. Consult the U.S. Supreme Court Digest volumes 1-14.
    2. Find your topic and read a summary of all related cases.

Once you have the citation, go to the appropriate publication to find the text of the  case.

II. Finding Statutory Law

A. These are laws passed by Congress.

  1. They are assigned a public law number, such as P.L. 105-62. This would be the 62nd law passed by the 105th Congress.
  2. They are published in United States Statutes at Large and United States  Code.

B. How to find a particular law

  1. By public law number:
    1. Consult  the United States  Statutes at Large (Ref 345.1 Un58u) 
    2. All laws are published in chronological order by public law #  for each Congressional session.
    3. Each volume has its own subject and popular name index.
  2. By subject:
    1. Consult the United States  Code (Ref 345.21 Un58u)
    2. The Code organizes the statutes by subject (called titles).
    3. Consult the General Index volumes under your topic.
    4. Find a citation, which looks like this:  38 $101. In this example 38 is the title number, and 101 is the section number.
    5. Go to the volume that includes Title 38.
  3. By popular name :
    1. Consult Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Name (the acts section) (Ref 345.21 Sh548t).
    2. Popular names are listed in alphabetical order with citations to specific laws. Usually the reference is to the Code; however the reference is to the Statutes if the law is uncodified at the time of publication in Shepard's.

III. Finding Administrative Law

A. These are decisions of administrative agencies.    

  1. They are sometimes called regulations and they describe what needs to be done to enforce a law.
  2. They are published in the Federal Register andtheCode of Federal Regulations.

B. How to find a regulation

Federal Register

This is the complete text of all public regulations and legal notices issued by Federal agencies. Published daily, Monday through Friday, it begins with a table of contents alphabetical by agency. Unless you know what day a regulation was published, it would be difficult to find what you are looking for. In the back of each day's issue is an index to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) of titles affected that day. So if you are interested in a particular CFR title, you can consult that index on a daily basis.

The best way to access the Federal Register, however, is by consulting the CFR itself. The Federal Register is available online at    Citations to theFederal Register include the volume number and the page number, like this:  63 FR 1234.

The CFR, available online at   codifies the Federal Register into 50 titles (subjects) for easier access. It is possible to search by keyword within a particular title.

IV. Finding State Laws

State law, just as federal law, is broken down into cases, statutes and regulations. We do not subscribe to Pennsylvania legal materials, but these are the sources you would consult:

  1. Case law:
    Pennsylvania  Supreme Court Reports
    Pennsylvania Superior Court Reports
    Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Reports
    There are also individual county publications which include the decisions of the lower courts, such as Dauphin County Reports, Lycoming Reporter, etc.
  2. Statutory law:
    Pennsylvania  Consolidated Statutes
    Purdon’s Pennsylvania Statutes and Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes  Annotated
  3. Administrative law:
    Pennsylvania  Code.

Although we do not subscribe to the above series, preliminary research on Pennsylvania law can be done in the Pennsylvania Law Encyclopedia (Ref  348.748 P415), which discusses issues in Pennsylvania law and makes reference to court decisions and statutes that affect the issue.

Using Online Sources to Find Laws

I. LexisNexis

        A. Access and overview

            1. Go to LexisNexis from the library’s web page.

            2. You have a choice of the following subsets to search:

a.       Secondary Literature for articles about law.

b.      Case Law takes you to the text of specific court cases.

c.       Codes and Regulations to find laws passed by Congress and administrative regulations for carrying out laws.

d.      International Legal Materials

e.       Patent Research enables you to search by keyword or patent number.

f.        Career Information for information on lawyers, law firms and law schools.


        B. Finding case law in LexisNexis.

            1. Get a Case

a.       To search this database you need to know of a specific case.

b.      You can search by party name (Roe v. Wade), or by case citation (410 U.S. 113)

c.       The computer defaults to party name, so if you want to search by case citation, be sure to choose that option.

  2. Shepard's for U.S. Supreme Court Cases

a.       You need to search by a specific case citation (133 L. Ed. 2d 653)

b.      The results give you a prior history, a list of related cases and subsequent cases.

c.       This search is useful for keeping track of legal precedent.

            3. Federal Case Law

a.       Search by keyword.

b.      Be sure to choose a court or it defaults to Supreme Court.

c.       Be sure to choose a date or it defaults to previous six months.

            4. State Case Law

a.       First choose a specific state.

b.      Search by keyword.

c.       Choose a court or it defaults to all state courts.

d.      Be sure to choose a date or it defaults to previous six months.

            5. Area of Law by Topic

a.       Search by keyword.

b.      Be sure to choose a topic. Topic does not mean subject, but rather it refers to types of law: corporate law, criminal law, environmental law, etc.

c.       Be sure to choose a date or it defaults to previous six months.


II. Other Online Sources




            1. Click on “Cases & Codes”. You can then search state law, federal law, U. S. Code or Supreme Court cases.

            2. Within each category you can do a search on such things as citation number,  party name or key word in full text..


        B. GPO


1.      This searches for statutory and administrative law

2.      Under GPO Access click A-Z Resource List. From this list you can choose many different government publications.

            3. Sample searches

a.       Congressional Record 1994 forward (The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session.)

                        Choose simple search

                        Choose the year you want to search

                        Search “eminent domain”. (Be sure to put “” around phrases.)

                        You will retrieve a list of results. You can read the text or a summary.

b.       Congressional Bills

                        Search by key word (“eminent domain”) or bill number (S. 1895).

                        You can read the text or a summary.

c.       Federal Register

      Choose simple or advanced search

                        You can search by year, section, day and/or keyword.

                        You can read the text or a summary.

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