Unlike state laws that govern each state, federal laws are defined as “the body of law consisting of the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and regulations, U.S. treaties, and federal common law.” Legal professionals, attorneys, and their paralegals may research federal laws to prepare for a legal matter. Traditional law libraries are an excellent source for researching federal laws, however; technology has provided a host of Internet resources to conduct federal law research. Yet to ensure your research is reliable, it is essential to conduct legal research from reputable web sites. Moreover, having an understanding of how federal laws are recorded will enable you to retrieve current and active federal laws.
Beginning your research
Legal research begins with gathering the facts and identifying the legal issue or issues. For example, let’s assume you have gathered your facts for a legal issue related to an automobile and one of its components. To narrow your search, you may use specific key terms or phrases related to the automobile component such as a seatbelt assembly. Most importantly, to retrieved federal laws enacted for the period in question, you should narrow the research to a specific date such as the automobile or seatbelt assembly’s date of manufacture. That is not to say current federal laws are not helpful, but to be actuate or to support a legal argument, it is important to retrieve federal laws associated to the specific issue and date.
There are several free Internet resources available for researching federal laws such as Cornell University Law School, Findlaw, and Google Scholar. To ensure the validity, however, use caution and Shepardize for the current and primary federal law. The decision as to which free Internet site to use would depend on the type of federal law research you need. For instance, GPO.gov is often used to research federal laws related to regulations also known as Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
The Code of Federal Regulations is recorded as a notice, proposed rule, or rule. The regulations with authority are those published as a rule. The Code of Federal Regulations is recorded by the title, part, section and year of publication or revision. For instance, the CFR related to our research example of automobiles and the seatbelt assembly is CFR 571.209 (10-1-09). The number 49 represents the title, for instance title 49 is used to identify the topic Transportation. Within the title, there are parts or sub-parts such as 571 which represents the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Finally, the number 209 represents the standard number or section of the seatbelt assembly which is related to our research exercise. Be mindful, however, the year of publication is subject to revision when a new rule is published; therefore, it is crucial to retrieve federal laws that are related to the date within your facts.
There are several types of fee based website such as LexisNexis and Westlaw that are reliable in researching federal laws related to U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and regulations, U.S. treaties, and federal common law. Unlike the free Internet resources, fee based, or commercial websites such as LexisNexis enable you to electronically shepardize a variety of federal laws, which is helpful in determining whether the federal law is current or valid.
There is much more to knowing how to research federal laws, but to begin researching federal laws originates with the case facts and identifying the legal issues within facts. Depending on your preferences, you can use either the traditional law libraries or Internet resources to research federal laws as previously demonstrated. To insure the validity; however, your research should derive from a reliable source as well as ensuring the federal law is current law.