Administrative Law Research Guide


By Cindy Landau, Assistant Library Director

Updated:  June 2010


Introduction | Finding Federal Regulations | Federal Register | Code of Federal Regulations | Updating Your Regulation | Publication of Judicial Decisions and Administrative Decisions | Accessing Administrative Decisions


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Regulations, or administrative rules, are primary authority and exist on both the federal and state levels. They are delegated legislation since Congress or the state legislature delegate rulemaking and/or adjudication authority in a statute to executive agencies to implement the statute. Regulations have the force of law when an administrative agency properly promulgates them.

During the rulemaking process and before final approval, federal administrative agencies frequently solicit comments from the public regarding the anticipated effect of the proposed rules, and may include the agency’s response to information received during this process in the publication of the final rules. Regulations frequently provide detailed instructions on how to comply with a law. By promulgating rules within their scope of power and adjudicating them, agencies use their special expertise to help implement and enforce the statute.

How do I locate a federal regulation?

Regulations are published both chronologically and topically. Chronological publications are called administrative registers. Topical arrangements of regulations are called administrative codes.

United States federal agency regulations are published daily (excluding weekends and holidays) and are arranged chronologically for each agency in the Federal Register as either Proposed Rules or Rules and Regulations (final rules), and are cumulated annually and arranged by topic in the Code of Federal Regulations.  There are several ways to locate a federal regulation:



If you think the final regulation has been promulgated recently, you are looking for any proposed regulation, agency guidelines or standards, or you are trying to ascertain the "administrative intent" or information on comments received during the rulemaking process, you should look for it in the Federal Register (stack 3 and fiche cabinets 1-2 and 1-3) and various online sources listed below.

You may locate it by:

(A) Using the government’s print index (stack 3), which is published every month; however its usefulness is limited because it does not provide in-depth coverage. Hein Online, linked through Quick Clicks, also includes this index from1939-2008, providing retrospective coverage. 

(B) For retrospective access, 1984-1998, to federal regulations, use the CIS Federal Register Index (stack 3). Look in the index under a subject, the name of the enabling statute, or the name of the agency to locate the Federal Register cite. NOTE: Although this was a great commercial index and it is still on the shelves, it is no longer being published but is still useful for historical research.

 (C) Using a key word search in either WESTLAW (FR) or LEXIS (FEDREG) databases. Both cover from 1980 to the present; you need to add a date restriction to narrow your search to locate only recent regulations.

EXAMPLE: on WESTLAW type "da(aft 7-1-2008) and [subject]"

(D) The full text of the Federal Register, 1994 to date, is available on the Internet on a free web site through FDSys,, which is linked through QuickClicks. Once you are in FDSys, click on the Federal Register, and do a word search for your regulation. This site is updated daily.

(E)  The full text of the Federal Register, 1936 to date, is also available from Hein Online, linked through QuickClicks.  You can select a year or span of years and do a word search.


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If you think the regulation was promulgated long enough ago so that it has been included in the most recent annual cumulation of agency regulations, look for it in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) (stack 3). The C.F.R. only includes final regulations, and does not include proposed regulations or the interpretive information mentioned above. The C.F.R. is arranged by 50 broad topics or titles, and is updated annually, on a quarterly, rotating basis. You may locate regulations in it by:

(A) Using the print Index volume at the end of the Code of Federal Regulations in stack 3. Frequently, the access from this subject index is not specific enough to be helpful, although it may get you to the correct general area of the regulations.  A more helpful approach using this index volume is to consult the table near the end of this index volume, which give the enabling statute cite (U.S.C.) and the corresponding regulations (C.F.R.) which have been promulgated under the authority of the statute. This index is updated once a year. (The commercially published print index to the C.F.R., the CIS Code of Federal Regulations Index (stack 3), 1977-2001, has ceased publication, and is therefore only useful for historical research.)

(B)  Using West’s Code of Federal Regulations General Index (stack 3). This new, annual index, 2006 to date, provides the best print access to the current edition of the C.F.R.

(C) Using a key word search in either WESTLAW (CFR) or LEXIS (CFR) databases. Both cover regulations in effect as of the current year. LEXIS also has a combined library ALLREG which allows you to search both C.F.R. and the FEDREG file simultaneously. Both cover earlier C.F.R. editions, Lexis from 1981 to date and WESTLAW from 1984 to date.

(D) Click on FDSys and go to the Code of Federal Regulations section, . Once there, do a word search. This free web site covers C.F.R. editions from 1996 to date.
(E)  The full text of each edition of the Code of Federal Regulations, 1938 to date, is also available from Hein Online, linked through QuickClicks. You can select a year or span of years and do a word search.
(F) The cross references after the text of the federal statutes in the print or online version of the U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S. may contain some limited references to the Code of Federal Regulations, although these references rarely give complete or specific enough information. Additionally, WESTLAW also links to the C.F.R. from the Results Plus window on the left side of the U.S.C.A. page. This gives excellent access to the regulations directly from the enabling statute. 

(G) Issues from the past few months of the Federal Register and the current year’s Code of Federal Regulations are located on stack 3. All earlier issues and editions of each are available in microform (cabinets 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, and 1-6) in the first floor microforms area. As noted above, some of this historical information is also available on WESTLAW, LEXIS, Hein Online, and FDSys.


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How do I update a federal regulation?

Once you locate a federal regulation you MUST update it to see if there have been any subsequent changes.



To update in print, you locate and read any newer federal regulations (as contained in the Federal Register) relevant to your topic issued since the date of the most recent C.F.R. annual compilation.  Currently  there is no way to do this in print effectively and completely, given the slow way the government is publishing the Federal Register and the list of Sections Affected (L.S.A.).  (The L.S.A. is a table published monthly listing C.F.R. sections and any corresponding Federal Register sections updating those C.F.R. sections.)   Updating on e-CFR (described below), or on WESTLAW or LEXIS is therefore more dependable, since the recent Federal Register sections are already integrated within the C.F.R. text, with the exception of any issued within the last few days.

However, the L.S.A.’s are still valuable in tracing historical changes of regulations over time.  Retrospective electronic coverage of L.S.A.’s is on FDSys, 1986-2010 and Hein Online, 1949-2000. Both of these sites are linked through QuickClicks.  We also have this in print, 1949-2000, in stack 3.


(1)  The U.S government has a new beta test site called e-CFR which provides the most current text of the C.F.R., usually being current within two days of the current date.  It integrates the text of any relevant Federal Register section into the C.F.R., thereby updating the C.F.R.  You can find this site by going to FDSys, linked through QuickClicks. This is the best place to check for the most current version of the C.F.R., and is more current even than C.F.R. on WESTLAW. Currently, LEXIS is as up to date as e-CFR.  (eCFR is not yet on FDSys but is linked from it.)

(2) WESTLAW and LEXIS are now both fairly quickly integrating new regulations from the Federal Register into the C.F.R. text.  Generally, WESTLAW shows about a one week lag and LEXIS shows about a two day lag. You can look at the C.F.R. text and know that you only have to check the Federal Register for updates for a very brief time period.

(3) To update from the WESTLAW or LEXIS C.F.R. text, go to the Federal Register database or file and type in your C.F.R. cite and a date restriction to cover the time since the publication of the C.F.R. volume in which you found the regulation.

EXAMPLE: CFR(20 and 404.15) and date aft 4/1/2010

(4) On the Internet: The L.S.A.’s are available on FDSys, the government Internet site. The LSA date on the Internet site parallels that for the print L.S.A.’s. The way to update on the Internet is, as described in (2) above; check the most recent L.S.A. on FDSys and then do a search with the CFR cite with a date restriction to cover the later time period in the Federal Register portion of FDSys.   Although this site is still available, e-CFR described under (1) above is much more current and easier to use and will hopefully one day replace this site.


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Cases decided by Article III courts (regular federal judicial courts) interpreting statutes and regulations are published in the National Reporter System and may be accessed through annotated statutes in print and on WESTLAW and LEXIS, the West digest, linked  directly from the regulations in the Westlaw Results Plus window on the left side of the page, and through validating the regulation which they interpret.

Decisions from Article I courts (administrative courts) are not published in the National Reporter System and are not accessible through most annotated statutes or the West digest system.

Administrative decisions are published:


(A) Officially in print or online by the government,


(B) Unofficially in print or online in loose leaf services,


(C) In WESTLAW and LEXIS in topical databases or file,


(D) On the Internet for some agencies.


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The official publication of C.F.R. in print by the Government Printing Office is not annotated, however, WESTLAW does now provide an annotated C.F.R. (through KeyCite), providing links to both judicial cases and administrative decisions.  You can also access these decisions by:

(A) Using a loose leaf service,
(B) Checking case annotations in U.S.C.S. under the enabling statute – U.S.C.S. includes some coverage of administrative decisions as well as judicial cases,
(C) Doing a word or citation search in a topical database in WESTLAW or topical file in LEXIS,
(D) Validating the C.F.R. citation in either online Shepards or KeyCite.  WESTLAW’s ResultsPlus feature also will link you to both federal and state administrative decisions interpreting a federal regulation, or
(E) Doing a word search in Hein Online's U.S. Federal Agency Documents, Decisions, and Appeals site,, or 
(F) Looking for them at specific agency Internet sites. The QuickClicks section of the Law Library home page provides a link to all federal agency home pages,


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