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Law: Frequently Asked Questions

This guide provides students with a starting place to conducting research in the area of law.


What is a Statute?

"When people talk about "what the law says" or "what the law is," they are generally referring to statutes (sometimes called codes). Statutes, which are created by the U.S. Congress and by our state legislators, attempt to lay out the ground rules of "the law."

(Nolo Legal Glossary, The Role of Statutes in Our Legal System).


What is Case Law?

"When most people talk about "the law," they tend to think only of statutes. But when disputes arise over the meaning of statutes, judges must interpret the statutes. Judges' interpretations of those statutes -- called "opinions," "decisions," or "cases" -- are as important to understanding what the law is as the words of the statutes itself. So once you find a statute that seems to address your situation, you might need to take the next step and see what the courts have had to say about it."

(Nolo Legal Glossary, The Role of Court Cases in Understanding Statutes).


What is Federal Law?

Federal Laws apply throughout the United States. Examples of Federal Law include Immigration and Bankruptcy Law. The US Government puts together a popular list of federal laws.


What is the difference between federal and state courts?

Explore the differences, similarities, and interactions between the federal and state court systems.


How does the legislative process work?

The dynamic legislative process provides an explanation of the legislative process, tracking the various stages a bill goes through to become law.


How do I find cases?

There are a few different places to look. First, ask yourself if you are looking for a state court or federal court decision. If you are unsure check out the crash course video tutorial. Next, look under the pages in this guide for U.S. Federal Law or Washington State laws. There will be various case law resources on both of these pages.


How do I cite my sources?

Legal sources can be cited in any format (MLA, APA, Chicago), but the format courts, attorneys, and legal professionals use is called Bluebook.