When relying on legal information, especially if it will be cited to a court, it’s essential that your source is the official version of the law. Official versions of cases, statutes, and regulations are those published by the appropriate government entity or a publisher designated by the governing body. For federal laws, the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) is the official publisher. The GPO provides online access to laws on FDsys. To verify that an online version of a federal, look for the digital signature in the top left hand corner of a PDF document:
|Regulations||Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies|
|Statutes||General Statutes of Connecticut|
|Regulations||Code of Maine Rules|
|Statutes||West’s Main Statutes|
|Cases- Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court||North Eastern Reporter|
|Cases- Lower Courts||Reports of Massachusetts Appellate Division|
|Regulations||Code of Massachusetts Regulations|
|Statutes||General Laws of Massachusetts|
|Regulations||New Hampshire Code of Administrative Rules Annotated|
|Statutes||New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated (West)|
|Regulations||Code of Rhode Island Rules (LexisNexis)|
|Statutes||General Laws of Rhode Island (LexisNexis)|
|Regulations||Code of Vermont Rules (LexisNexis)|
|Statutes||Vermont Statutes Annotated (LexisNexis)|
Because laws are amended, repealed, or deemed unconstitutional by a court, it is important to make sure the law you are looking at is the most recent version that is currently in force. If you’re dealing with print materials, check the spine, copyright page and looseleaf filings for dates.
Since legal materials – especially statutes and regulations – are constantly amended by legislatures and regulatory agencies, you also need to make sure that the version you’re looking at has incorporated any of these changes. If not, you’re not looking at the current, accurate version of the law. Often these print resources are updated either via pocketparts in the back of the volume or as a softbound pamphlet shelved next to the hardbound volume.
Is it “good law”?
Anyone relying on court opinions, statutes or regulations needs to make sure that they are “good law” in the sense that they haven’t been overruled, repealed or amended in a significant way. Specialized resources like Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law, and Fastcase provide tools (called citators) that do this for researchers. In addition to notifying researchers of the status of a given case, these tools point researchers to other cases, journal articles, etc., that refer to the given case. They are invaluable tools for legal research.
Because Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law remain largely unavailable to the general public, access to efficient, reliable citators remains limited as well. However, many public law libraries — and even some public university libraries — provide access to Westlaw or Lexis. Even if a public law library doesn’t provide public access to Westlaw or Lexis, the law librarians might be willing to run citator reports on behalf of patrons who wish to check on the status of a case, statute, or regulation. Further, researchers visiting public university libraries will often have access to LexisNexis Academic — a sort of pared-down version of Lexis — which will include a rudimentary citator for evaluating court cases.
Finally, one promising development in the effort to free up legal information is found in Casetext’s WeCite initiative. Although not yet available as a substitute, Casetext intends to make WeCite a free, crowd-sourced alternative citator to the commercial products mentioned above, so stay tuned!