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Research Assistant Resources

This research guide is a survival guide for NYU Law research assistants (RAs), providing resources for all stages of their RA work.


This section of the guide is a short introduction to statutory research. A more thorough how-to guide on statutory research is available here.

Should you run into questions or concerns with your research, feel free to reach out to the librarian assigned to your faculty member for specialized advice. Please check this list to determine which librarian you should contact. 

Statutes Overview

A statute is a law enacted by a legislature. Statutes generally command or prohibit an action. The United States Code (U.S.C.) is the official source of laws in the United States. The U.S.C. is organized by topic into 51 titles. Those 51 titles are divided into chapters, which are further divided into sections. To cite the U.S.C., use the number of the title (e.g., 42), the acronym for the statutory compilation (e.g., U.S.C.) and the section (e.g., § 1983). 

An "official" code means that the code was published under the authority of the government. All other publications of statutory codes, including online versions of statutes - even those on government websites - are considered unofficial code compilations. 

While the official statutory compilation for federal laws in the United States is the U.S.C., researchers almost always use the annotated versions of the Code published by either Westlaw (United States Code Annotated, or U.S.C.A.) or Lexis (United States Code Service, or U.S.C.S.). In addition to the text of the statutes, an annotated code usually includes references to related statutes, case law, and regulations, legislative information, and secondary sources and thus tends to be more useful for research purposes. 

State statutes vary. Some states mimic the federal system, having both an official published and unofficial annotated codes. Others have only one statutory compilations.

New York does not have an official code. Instead, New York relies on a commercial publication from Westlaw called McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated (McKinney's), and from Lexis called New York Consolidated Laws Service (CLS). Both are unofficial annotated codes. 

Finding Statutes

There are many ways to conduct statutory research depending on the type of information you have. 

By Citation or Name. If you have a citation to a relevant statute, you're in luck - this is the easiest way to find a statute. Type the citation into the search bar to find the statute. If you know the popular name of the statute but not the citation in the U.S.C. (for example, The No Child Left Behind Act), you have use a Popular Name Table to find where the law was codified. Popular Name Tables are available on Westlaw and Lexis and also for free from the House of Representatives

By Index or Table of Contents Searching. Official and unofficial print codes include indexes. Some online versions of codes will have an index, but others omit them because of full-text searching options. The U.S.C. and the New York annotated statutes include tables of contents that you can browse and select the title that most aligns with your research topic. Westlaw and Lexis also allow for full-text searching within the table of contents of statutory codes to help narrow your searches. 

Through a Secondary Source.  If you have minimal information beginning your research, a secondary source will be the best place to start. You can use the search bars on Westlaw or Lexis to search generally for secondary sources using the keywords you generated, or you can select a specific secondary source (like American Jurisprudence) or category of secondary sources (like encyclopedias or treatises) to find useful secondary sources. Secondary sources are useful for two related reasons: first, they will give you background information on the topic, and second, they will contain citations to primary authority, including statutes, that govern a topic. 

By Full-Text Searching. Online codes on Westlaw and Lexis allow full-text searching. A word of caution: full-text searches can be challenging, especially for statutes, which use specialized language and are sometimes formatted in strange ways. The statute you are looking for might be buried on page three or four of your results. If you can use a different method of finding a statute, try that first!

Analyzing Statutes

Once you have located the relevant statute(s) that govern your issue, you can utilize the annotations available to help understand the law better.

Check the statutory scheme. Related statutes are usually grouped together within a particular section of a code compilation. After you read a particularly relevant section of a statute, use the Table of Contents tools to read the sections before and after the section you have found. It is particularly important to read the "definitions" sections which will define terms, impacting how a statute should be interpreted. 

Use annotations. Annotations on Westlaw and Lexis include cross-references to other relevant statutes, regulations, and case law that will help you interpret the statute. The databases also include a carefully curated list of particularly important case law chosen by editors that will help narrow your research focus. On Westlaw, this is called Notes of Decisions and is a tab on the top bar on the page. On Lexis, this is called Notes to Decisions and can be found by scrolling down on the page with the statute you are reading. You can also use annotations to find some legislative history information and secondary sources for further research. 

Updating Statutes

Updating statutes is a very important step of statutory research. The updating process is two-fold: (1) ensuring the text of the statute is current and (2) ensuring the statute is still good law

Currency. Statutes are amended somewhat often, so you need to confirm that the version of the statute you are reading is the most current version. Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg all include information about when the statute was last updated. On Westlaw, click the "Currentness" button at the top of the screen. On Lexis, this information is at the top of the screen, right underneath the citation to the statute. The text of the statute is typically current within a week. To be extra thorough, you can check the session laws (Statutes at Large) for the period of time between the date the statute is current through and the day you are researching to confirm the statute is up-to-date.

Good Law. Statutes can be amended by legislatures or questioned by the judiciary. Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg all employ a signal system to alert researchers to potential challenges to a statute. In general, a red signal can indicate that a new amendment has not yet been incorporated into the online statute. A red signal can also indicate that one or more cases ruled negatively on the statute. A yellow signal cautions a researcher that case law might cast doubt on some portions of a statute. If you see a red or yellow signal on a statute, figure out (1) why there is a flag; (2) whether the flagged case or statute implicates your legal issue; and (3) if the jurisdiction of the case or statute applies to your legal issue.