by David Batista, Public Services Coordinator, Rutgers-Camden School of Law Library
To find a law you must first determine if it is really a law you are looking for since the term is often misused outside of the legal/legislative community. The usual meaning of the phrase "finding a law"6 is that of finding a statute, that is, something passed by a legislative body (eg. Congress, a state legislature, etc.). Laws can come in several forms. The two most common types are session laws or codes.
Session laws (statutes) are the actual documents voted on and passed by the legislative bodies. Session laws are usually found compiled in chronological order by date of passage within each legislative session (eg. each Congress lasts two years). A single session law can cover a wide variety of subjects and is not necessarily assembled in any logical order. Session laws are mostly useful for historical research.
A code generally means a subject compilation of all general laws in force at the time of publication. Every time a legislative body passes a session law, the code is edited to reflect the changes.
Often people come in with only a name and these names are usually the popular (unofficial) names. Shepards publishes a long list of popular names in Acts & Cases by Popular Names. A copy of this title is kept at the Circulation/Reserve Desk. Many state statutory publications also have popular name indexes.
The Law Library has the codes and session laws for all fifty states and the federal government.
Finding a session law without a correct or complete citation is not difficult if you know the subject matter of the law. The subject index for each code will lead you to the appropriate code section and then you can then find the citation to the session law at the end of the code section text.
Session law citations (as with most legal citations) have the three basic parts, a number, an abbreviation, and another number (e.g. 80 Stat. 931). The first number is the chapter, title, or volume number. The abbreviation is the name of the session law series (eg. Stat. = United States Statutes at Large). The second number is the page, section, or paragraph number. Many citations will contain more information than the above mentioned three basic parts.
Federal session laws are found on the East end of the new building. New Jersey session laws are located on the third floor. All of the other state session law sets are found on the third floor, in alphabetical order by state.
If you only have a subject area and not a complete citation, you must use the indexes that are a part of each code. Codes, like most sets of law books, are usually extensively indexed, however there is no standardization of indexing terms, and each index is somewhat different. The best method to use when hunting for a law through the subject index is to make a list of all of the terms that describe the law you seek. After you have searched each term check it off the list. You will probably come across "see" and "see also" guides. Add these to your search list if they are not already on it.
The citation format you find will most often in code indexes is a number, an abbreviation, and another number (e.g. 5 U.S.C. 555). The first number is the title or chapter number. These numbers are the largest size of numbers that appear on the spines of the code volumes. The abbreviation is the name of the subject area of the code where the law is located. Often this subject is also written on the spine of the code volumes. The second number is the section or paragraph number(s). [Often the symbol is used to mean section number, and the symbol is used to mean paragraph number.] The range of section numbers contained within a single code volume is usually written in small numbers at the base of the volume's spine.
Federal codes are found on the East end of the new building. The New Jersey code is located on the third floor. All of the other state codes are found on the third floor, in alphabetical order.
Once you have checked the bound volume of a code remember to always check the pocketpart in the back. Pocketparts show any changes made to the code since the bound volume was printed.
Ordinances are the laws passed by the legislative bodies of government below the state level (usually called local government). Only the largest local government bodies codify their ordinances. City, county, and township clerks offices are the best source for local government ordinances.
Legislative bodies usually give up some of their law making power to administrative agencies or departments. When administrative agencies make laws they are called rules, guidelines, or (most commonly) regulations. These administrative regulations have the effect of law but are not laws by strict legal definition. Administrative regulations are often codified on the state level. Occasionally administrative regulations are codified at the local level (usually only in large cities).
The Law Library owns the New Jersey (N.J.A.C., New Jersey Administrative Code) and federal (C.F.R., Code of Federal Regulations) administrative codes . If we do not own the appropriate administrative code try interlibrary loan or WESTLAW and LEXIS (Rutgers law school faculty and students only).