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Researching Statutes: Introduction

This guide serves as an introduction to statutory research. To access the linked databases on Westlaw and Lexis, you should sign on to Westlaw and Lexis before clicking on the links in this guide.



Statutes are laws which are enacted by a legislature, be it Congress or state legislatures. When a law is initially enacted, it is published as a slip law.  Usually slip laws are published on a "slip" of paper or in a pamphlet. At the federal level, these slip laws are assigned a public law number.  While at the state level, the slip laws are given a chapter number.  At the end of a legislative session, slip laws are collected and published in order of enactment.  These publications are called session laws.  Session laws are useful for finding the language of a statute as it was passed in a certain year. The session laws of Congress are referred to as the Statutes at Large. The session laws for New York are officially published as the Laws of New York.

Eventually, session laws are incorporated into a code, which is arranged by subject matter.  The United States Code (U.S.C.) is the official code of the Federal Government. New York State does not have an official code, but rather relies on private publishers, such as West, to codify the session laws. Whether official of unofficial, all codes are kept up to date with pocket parts or supplements. Codes, along with their pocket parts or supplements, state the current language of the law.


  • Annotations: informational or descriptive notes about a legal issue.  Often, unofficial codes, like the United States Code Annotated or McKinneys Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated, provide descriptive notes and cases which help to interpret the meaning of a statute.
  • Chapter Law: a slip law published at the state level of government.  The number assigned to a chapter law often reflects the legislative session when the law was passed and its numerical place in the session laws. For example, 2008 N.Y. Laws 629 represents the 629th law passed in the 2008 legislative session.
  • Code: a compilation of the current laws in force in a given jurisdiction.  Codes are topically arranged.
  • Constitution: a document which creates the structure of government, defines a government's powers, and delineates the rights of the governed.
  • Popular Names Table: a table of statutes arranged by their popular name, i.e."No Child Left Behind" or "Clean Air Act".  The table lists the name of a statute along with its public law number, Statutes at Large citation, and its citation(s) in the United States Code.
  • Public Law: a law affecting society in general.  Each public law is assigned a number. The number reflects the Session of Congress in which the law was enacted and the number of the law. For example, PL 108-001 represents the first law passed in the 108th Congress.
  • Session Law: slip laws for a given legislative session are collected and published in order of enactment.
  • Statute: a law enacted by a legislative body
  • Statutes at Large: the title of the compiled session laws for each session of Congress. 
  • Title:  broad topical classifications by which the United States Code is arranged.  There are 51 titles in the United States Code.
  • United States Code: the official codification by subject matter of the laws of the United States.  

Author's Profile

Kathleen Darvil
Brooklyn Law School Library

250 Joralemon Street, Rm 207

Brooklyn, NY 11201