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Legal Research Process

Different Approaches

  • Work from the enabling statute:
    • Both USCS and USCA provide citations to the CFR related to a particular USC section. You can look at both the annotations following the statutory text, as well as Shepard's and KeyCite for even more results. 
    • With CFR's Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules, you can look up any given section of the USC to see if there are any regulations that arise from it. This table is available in print and online.
    • You can also do a segment or field search on Lexis and Westlaw. Specifically, in Lexis, enter the USC § that is of interest in the "Authority" segment for a search; in Westlaw, enter the USC § that is of interest in the "Credit" (CR) field for a search.
  • Use an index: 
    • The CFR includes an annually revised Index and Finding Aids volume, providing access by agency name and subject. (This volume also lists about ten or so agency-prepared indexes that appear inside the relevant CFR volume.)
    • Lexis offers an index, but Westlaw provides the most detailed index online (down to the specific CFR section rather than merely parts), accessible as a link from its CFR database. (Print version is four-volume West's Code of Federal Regulations General Index.) 
  • Browse the CFR's table of contents and other finding aids: If by this point in your research, you know which agency deals with your topics, browse that agency's portion of the CFR. In the back of every CFR volume there are various finding aids, including an alphabetical list of federal agencies indicating the CFR titles and chapter/chapters of eacy agency’s regulations.

As usual, both Lexis and Westlaw have the additional options of natural language and terms and connectors searching. These searching techniques can be helpful, but since many subjects are touched upon in numerous places, use caution that you do not wind up in a completely wrong title.

Once you have found relevant regulations, look for whatever annotations Lexis and Westlaw provide, which list notes of decisions and possibly references to agency decisions, statutes, and secondary sources. You can also use Shepard's on Lexis or KeyCite on Westlaw for more complete results of where a regulation has been cited.

Make Sure the Regulations You Have Found Are Current

The most up to date version of the CFR is the government's e-CFR, which is usually only a day or two behind new regulations announced in the Fed. Reg.

Bloomberg, Lexis, and Westlaw are usually updated within a week. Westlaw, unlike Bloomberg and Lexis, provides selected new developments by including red flags and linking to Fed. Reg. documents the same day they are published. In Westlaw, if you click the link for Regulations, you will see "Regulation Tracking" and "Reg & Leg Center."

To be even more current than the CFR and Fed. Reg., there are a couple of resources for getting a sneak peek (i.e., Public Inspection) at what will appear in the Fed. Reg.: