Legal Research Tip 8: Updating the Law
These are the back issues of the e-newsletter Legal Research Tips from 2004. Since these tips are a little longer, each back issue will be published separately. Starting in 2005, all issues will be published here and no longer distributed via email.
Legal Research Tip 8: Updating The Law
How can you tell that the law you're reading is the most current version? Here's a way to check:
Updating the Statutes
When each biennial legislative session ends, the Revisor of Statutes Bureau codifies (takes all the Acts and figures out where each one fits in the statutes) and publishes a new edition of the official statutes, currently a 5-volume set. These printed volumes are the official edition. The changes to the statutes that occur before the next edition is published will be reflected in the unofficial version, available online. During a legislative session, changes can be tracked using the "List of Statute Sections Affected by Acts" which lists all the statute sections that have been changed in some way (created, repealed, renumbered, amended) by session laws. Just match the statute section you're researching with the section from the list to see if later legislation has amended your statute. Online, you can do this by clicking on the Sections Affected year that you need to check...here: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/rsb/stats.html
Updating Administrative Codes
As administrative codes and rules get amended, individual pages are replaced in the official version. This means that the current official version should always be available. Online, you can check them here: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/rsb/code/ Should you need to see a previous edition...that's when it gets tricky. You'll need to search for replaced pages. Some are online, otherwise they're available in print at the WI State Law Library or the Revisor's of Statutes Bureau.
Sometimes cases get overturned as laws change or as other courts rule differently for various reasons. In order to make sure you are still reading up-to-date "good" law, certain publishers have resources exactly for that purpose. LexisNexis has a product called "Shepards Citations" both in print and on the web. Similar to updating statutes, you are able to look up a case citation and see other cases (citations only) that have mentioned the case you're updating and whether it was reversed or overruled, followed or affirmed. In addition to cases, Shepards can also provide updates to certain court rules or jury instructions and other legal resources. Usually, Shepards in print are divided by state or publication (a separate Wisconsin Case Citations for example). Online, you can access Shepards products for a fee at either lexis.com or lexisone.com.
Similarly, Westlaw.com has a product called KeyCite. For a fee, you can type in a citation and view (and link to) the history and treatment of the case you're researching in other courts. You can also keycite other legal resources, such as statutes and rules and codes.
Updating Other Legal Resources
Check in the back of the legal resource. There might be a "pocket part" stuck into the back cover that provides newer information that the volume itself. Also check around the area of the book on the shelf.