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Legal Research Process

What Are Texas Statutes?

The closest Texas has to an official code of Texas statutes is Vernon's Texas Statutes and Codes Annotated, a black set of volumes commonly referred to as simply "Vernon's." It is published by West, now a part of Thomson Reuters, but is still known by the name of original publisher. (Despite the Texas Constitution of 1876 requiring the legislature to publish the laws of the state, there is no official state code and the legislature has instead relied on Vernon's, making it quasi-official.) Like the federal United States Code, the goal is to provide a subject arrangement of general and permanent laws only. (Thus, Vernon's does not include "special" laws from session laws nor does it include temporary legislation, such as appropriations.)

Most statutes are now found in the main subset, Vernon's Texas Codes Annotated (VTCA), a topical arrangement of statutes into subject matter codes. Currently, there are three other smaller parts of Vernon's: Civil Statutes, Code of Criminal Procedure, and Special District Local Laws Code. The Civil Statutes and Code of Criminal Procedure will eventually be part of VTCA as the Texas Legislative Council (TLC) is still carrying out a complete, nonsubstantive revision of the Texas statutes--a huge housekeeping project first begun in 1963. (More info can be found from the TLC's Drafting Manual, p. 158.) The Special District Local Laws Code is basically a bonus part as it compiles session laws that are not general enough in nature to be in the code ordinarily.

 

Vernon's Texas Rules Annotated is a separate publication promulgated by Texas courts rather than the legislature and is 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, 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 its 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

There are different methods for finding relevant statutes:

  1. If you have the citation, but the database you're using doesn't like the way you are typing it in, try Westlaw's Texas Statutes Find Template. This is handy because of the subject matter code citation are harder for databases to handle than USC basically numerical citations. Currently Lexis seems to do a better job of recognizing citations.
  2. 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.
  3. Index: Available in print and on Westlaw, but not on Lexis or the TX Legislature's website. Index includes "Words" section that is useful for locating precise phrases or combinations of terms; double check this if not having success with rest of index.
  4. Terms and connectors: Lexis and Westlaw only. On Lexis, for a reminder of how to do terms and connectors searching, click "Advance Search" or "Search Tips" to the upper right of the search box. On Westlaw, click "Search Tips" or "Advanced" for a reminder of its search operators.
  5. Field searching: Within a 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.
  6. 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: 1856, 1879-1984
  • Lexis: back only to 1991. (From homepage, look for "Archived Codes" listed under Statutes, and then narrow to Texas. Archived versions will also appear as a link on the right when viewing an individual statute.)
  • Westlaw: Texas statutes dating back to 69th Legislature (1985-86)

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.


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. The need may arise when doing legislative history research or when seeking Notes of Decisions that were not carried over from predecessor statutes.

If you are researching a law old enough to have been recodified and are trying to find an earlier citation from the current citation, turn to the derivation table or "Prior Laws" info following the statutory text of a given section. (N.B. "Prior Laws" annotations only exist for code sections that are old enough to have been recodified. "Prior Laws" info actually includes more information than what is in derivation table--it lists session laws and earlier code citations, with last line noting final location in Vernon's prior to recodification.) If working from an old citation and you want to find the current citation, after recodification, look for a disposition table.

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

Online: Westlaw 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, 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 easier to use in print than it is online. Print however is not as current as Lexis or Westlaw and one must still go online to check a citator, 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.