Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Research Tip: Researching Old Statutes


In research classes, we emphasize updating your legal research because it is always important to have the most current information possible.

But sometimes you need to know what the law was on a specific date in the past. Maybe you want to rely on a court decision that was based on a statute that has since been amended or repealed. Maybe you represent a client who was injured when a different version of the relevant statute was in effect.

Unfortunately, there are probably no free web resources that will have what you need. Depending on what resources you have available to you, choose one of the following approaches.

If you are near a large law library, such as a state, court, or university law library, they may have the statutory code for the year you need, either in paper or micro format.

If you have access to Westlaw or LexisNexis, they have historical or archived statutes back to the late 1980's or early 1990's. On LexisNexis, go to States Legal - U.S. > [your state] > Statutes & Regulations > Legislative Archive. On Westlaw, go to U.S. State Materials > Other U.S. States > [your state]> Statutes & Legislative Materials > Historical Statutes Annotated.

If you have a citation to a statute that has been renumbered and you have the current statutory code, go to the tables in the Index volume(s). There should be a table that will give you the current citation for the old statute. Then go to the current version of the statute and check the credit and history at the end of the statute to see when the statute was changed.

If you cannot find a copy of the statutory code for the year you need, you will have to use the credit and history at the end of the current statute to reconstruct the previous versions from session laws.

Don't worry if this sounds complex. It will make more sense after you have taken Lawyering Skills. And if you need help, just ask a law librarian. We're here to help.

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