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Legal Research Process

What Are Texas Statutes?

The official version of the Texas statutes are printed in Vernon's, a black book set, which has three main parts:

In 1963, the Texas Legislature commissioned the Texas Legislative Council to make non-substantive revisions to Texas statutes, and this revision process is nearly complete. By the end of it, all Texas statutes will be organized into the VTCA for a total of twenty-seven subject matter codes.

Vernon's Texas Rules of Civil Procedure are shelved separately.

    When to Use Texas Statutes

    By this point in your research, you may already have citations to Texas statutes from secondary sources. If that is the case, you will want to look those statutes up in an annotated code. Whatever the case though, you should check Texas statutes directly to confirm that you have assembled all the relevant Texas statutes or to confirm that your question does not involve Texas statutory law.

    How to Find Texas Statutes

    You can find Texas statutes in print and online. The print version, known as Vernon's, is annotated.

    There are three main online options:

    1. Westlaw, which offers Vernon's;
    2. Lexis Advance, which provides its own unofficial, annotated version; and
    3. the Texas Legislature, which offers its own unofficial, unannotated version.

    Bloomberg Law offers Texas statutes, but has not yet expanded it state statute "Smart Code" citator to include Texas. (The Texas State Law Library has digitized historic sets from 1879 through 1984.)

    How to Use Texas Statutes

    Overview

    If you do not already have the title and section number of the statutes you need, then there are different methods for finding relevant statutes:

    1. Popular Names Table: Available in print (as part of the larger General Index) and on Westlaw, but not on Lexis or the TX Legislature's website
    2. Index: Available in print and on Westlaw, but not on Lexis or the TX Legislature's website
    3. Terms and connectors: Lexis and Westlaw only. On Lexis Advance, for a reminder of how to do terms and connectors searching, click "More" in the upper right of the screen, select "Help" from the drop down menu, and then click "Using Search Connectors." On Westlaw, click advanced search for a reminder of its search operators.
    4. Field searching: Within the Texas statutes database, click "Advanced Search" to see Document Segments/Fields available on Lexis Advance; look for Segment image of sample statute on the lower right. On Westlaw, click advanced search and look for the PDF laying out how Westlaw designates the different fields of a statute if you wish to search individual components, or some combination of them.
    5. Natural language: online only

     


    Print

    In general, using print is a four-step process:

    1. Think of keywords to look up--this may involve some trial and error with the index.
    2. Look these terms up in the General Index, which are soft bound and located at the end of the set;
    3. Look up the statutory citation in the relevant code;
    4. Check the pocket part in the back of the volume for any updates.

    Alternatively, you can use the Popular Name Table, located in the last volume of the General Index; use this table to find the title and section number where a law passed by the legislature was codified (e.g., Deceptive Trade Practices Act). Note that each subject-matter code also contains its own index located in its last volume, which is also updated annually by pocket part.

    For additional case law beyond the annotations in print and to see whether a statute is still good law, one must check Lexis' Shepard's or Westlaw's KeyCite.


    Online

    Lexis and Westlaw both provide annotated versions that include relevant case law and secondary sources. KeyCite (Westlaw) and Shepard’s (Lexis) may lead to cases and other materials not listed in the statute’s annotations and indicate whether the statute is still good law. For historic coverage:

    • Texas Leg Online: 2004 - present 
    • Texas State Law Library: 1879-1966
    • Lexis: back only to 1991. (where do you find historic versions on Lexis Advance?)
    • Westlaw: Texas statutes dating back to 1987


    The Texas Legislature also provides an unofficial, unannotated version online. This version is free and can be used either by browsing individual subject-matter codes or performing a basic keyword search.

    Finding citations online

    Because citations to Texas statutes usually include a word indicating the name of a subject code, it is difficult sometimes to know how to enter a citation in a way the database will recognize it. If you are within the Texas statutes database on WestlawNext, look for the link on the right hand side of the screen for the Texas Statutes Find template.


    Derivation/Disposition Tables

    Because of Texas' revision process, you may need to work backward from a current statutory citation to an earlier one or work forward from an old statutory citation to a current one. If trying to find an earlier citation from the current citation, you can turn to the derivation table or "prior law" annotation following the statutory text of a given section. If working from an old citation and you want to find the current citation, after recodification, look for a disposition table.

    Print: Disposition tables are included within each volume for the relevant sections; there is also a compiled, softbound Master Disposition Table volume at the end of the print set. Only certain subject codes come with derivation tables; if there aren't derivation tables, then look for "prior law" annotations following the statutory langague of an individual section.

    Online: WestlawNext contains disposition tables; there are no derivation tables, but you may still check to see if Prior Laws are noted under History > Editor's and Revisor's Notes. To see whether a table is available on Lexis Advance, go to the statutes' table of contents, click to expand the relevant code subject, and the link to the tables will be listed at the top.

    Strengths & Weaknesses of the Different Versions

    As with statutory research generally, researching Texas statutes in print can be easier than searching online. Browsing the appropriate volume in print can help to familiarize a researcher with the basic structure and organization of that code, and the index is in some ways easier to use in print than it is online. The downside to researching in print is it is not as current as Lexis or Westlaw and one must still go online to check Lexis' Shepard's and/or Westlaw's KeyCite.

    Lexis and Westlaw feature several useful search functions that are unique to those online databases, but it can be hard sometimes to see the forest for the trees. Westlaw generally offers more thorough annotations than Lexis. The other online option from the Texas Legislature is free, but it has some notable weaknesses. For example, its search function has limited terms and connectors searching (e.g., no proximity searching). And, unlike Westlaw, the Legislature does not include a topical index; there can also be a considerable time lag to its currency after a legislative session.