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PARL: Paralegal Studies: Homework Help & More

This guide will help you locate and use legal resources owned by the Paul & Harriett Mack Library at Northampton Community College.

Legal Research Toolbox

To be as thorough as possible, legal research often requires the use of multiple resources, because the information you're seeking isn't all in one place. Here are some tools you may find helpful as supplements to the Westlaw database.

 

1) How do laws get passed in Pennsylvania? In Pennsylvania's legislative process, what's the difference between a bill and an act? For the answer to this question, and a basic overview of how the General Assembly works, read this pamphlet from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives: Making Law: Pennsylvania.

 

2) How can I find the calendar date when a law was passed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly? It is not always possible to find the calendar date when a state statute is current when searching in Westlaw. Once you have located the document, click the link directly below the citation that says "Currentness." This will send you to the bottom of the page, where you will often see only the number of the act most recently passed by the General Assembly, but not the actual date when it passed (in Westlaw, it looks like this: Current through Regular Session Act 2013-72). To find out when a particular act was passed, go to the "Legislation Enacted" page of the General Assembly's web site, then use the search feature to find the act number for the appropriate year. This will show you the actual date the act was passed.

 

3) How can I find the calendar date when a law was passed in the U.S. Congress?  The process for finding the date when a federal statute is current is similar to using state documents. First, search for the citation or title of the document in Westlaw. Directly below the citation at the top of the document, click the link that says "Currentness." This will send you to the bottom of the page, where you will see the most recent Public Law that was passed when the statute was current (in Westlaw, it looks like this: Current through P.L. 114-219). Then go to www.Congress.gov and browse through the list of public laws passed during the relevant session of Congress. For example, the 115th Congress convened in the years 2017-2018, so the public laws beginning with "P.L. 115" would have been passed during that session. The list on the Congress.gov website will show you the exact calendar date that the bill became law. 

 

4) What do all of these abbreviations mean? You will encounter hundreds of abbreviations for the titles of legal materials, especially while using Westlaw. For help in decoding abbreviations commonly used in Pennsylvania, try the Pennsylvania Legislator's Municipal Deskbook. You can also use NCC Library's list of titles you'll see often in Westlaw (see PDF document, below).

FAQ: Legal Resources

If you're looking for the publication West's Pennsylvania Digest 2d, please be advised that it is not able to be searched directly in the Westlaw database. It is part of the West Key Number System, where it is combined with digests from other states, and cannot be searched on its own.

To answer homework questions using West's Pennsylvania Digest 2d, you must go to the Northampton or Lehigh County law libraries and use the print books.

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can be located in print at the end of the Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes set (use the General Index to find specific topics). The Constitution is also available on the Westlaw database, in the "State Materials" section, under "Statutes & Court Rules." You may also read it at the Pennsylvania General Assembly website.

Please be advised that as of January 2002, Titles 19 and 76 of the Pennsylvania Statutes are not in current use. This includes the unofficial version, Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes Annotated. This is why there are no volumes for Title 19 or 76 on the shelf!

A new Title has been added to the United States Code (and, of course, the U.S. Code Annotated). Title 34 covers Crime Control & Law Enforcement, and contains information that has been moved from a number of other locations in the Code, such as Titles 18, 28, and 42. For more details about this reorganization, visit the U.S. Office of the Law Revision Counsel website. You can also browse the contents of the new Title 34 by using the Westlaw database. 

When you browse through the print volumes of the U.S. Code Annotated (USCA), you may notice there is no book for Title 53. The books skip from Title 52 to Title 54! You'll see the same thing when you browse through the USCA table of contents in the Westlaw database. Why?

According to the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, which is part of the U.S. House of Representatives, Title 53 is reserved at the moment. This means that the title number "53" may be assigned to a new category of information added to the U.S. Code in the future. Stay tuned!