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Administrative Law Research

Administrative and Regulatory Law Research Guide


Getting Started

This guide is meant to help describe the organization of administrative law materials - and how to find them. 

For a more in-depth discussion on administrative law, check out a treatise:

Here's a great tutorial on admin law research from the Georgetown Law Library, and a research guide on administrative law.

Administrative law research has three distinct but related content areas:

  1. Substantive administrative law and the underlying powers and procedures of administrative agencies

  2. Regulatory activities and actions of administrative agencies, including agency regulations, decisions and reports

  3. Issuances of the President, namely Executive Orders

The Office of the Federal Register published a Guide to the Rulemaking Process, which can help you to identify useful information about the types of documents generated as part of the rulemaking process.

Common places to access administrative materials include:

  1. Code of Federal Regulations or the e-CFR 

  2. Federal Register


  4. Administrative agency website

  5. Lexis, Westlaw or Bloomberg Law

  6. Specialized services, such as CCH

For laws affecting agency procedure, such as the Administrative Procedure Act, see Federal Register Laws Index.

Making Regulations

Administrative Agencies

Administrative agencies draw authority from both Congress and the Executive. Agencies are typically created by Congress through the enactment of "enabling" statutes. Each agency is as unique in structure as its enabling statute. An agency may:

  • Promulgate regulations designed to implement law or policy
  • Issue orders to describe the final disposition of agency action
  • Issue licenses, permits, or other permissions
  • Issue advisory opinions with binding, non-precedential advice
  • Issue decisions arising from a quasi-adjudicative process

An agency may be called:

  • Board, i.e., National Labor Relations Board
  • Commission, i.e., Securities Exchange Commission
  • Corporation, i.e., Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
  • Authority, i.e., Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Department, i.e., Department of Transportation
  • Administration, i.e., Social Security Administration
  • Agency, i.e., Environmental Protection Agency

The Administrative Procedure Act requires that agencies follow certain steps when promulgaing rules: Publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register Take comments from “interested persons” on the proposed rule Publish a final rule in the Federal Register after considering those comments Make the rule effective not less than 30 days after it is published

Agency Websites

Agency websites are a good place to begin your administrative law research. They often provide:

  • Enabling statutes
  • Related regulations
  • Administrative decisions
  • Reports
  • Press releases

When navigating an agency website, look for headings like:

  • Rules & Regulations
  • Legal / Laws Library
  • Enforcement
  • Interpretations

To find an agency, Google the agency's name or search USA/Directory.  To find defunct agency website materials, including helpful reports, use the Cyber Cemetery.

Executive Orders & Other Docs

Executive materials are found in Title 3 of the CFR.  Presidential Documents are found in the back of each day’s Federal Register.  In addition, the White House website offers a great amount of information and access to Executive documents.

One source of regulatory information is the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is located within the Office of Management and Budget (of the White House).

OIRA carries out several important Executive functions, including reviewing federal regulations, reducing paperwork burdens, and overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs.

To find federal regulatory information, like the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions and Regulatory Plan, as well as current and past OIRA regulatory reviews, visit

Executive Orders

  1. Exec. Orders and Presidential Memoranda (White House) (free)
  2. Exec. Orders compiled in the CFR (Title 3 of the CFR) (free)
  3. Exec. Orders (Westlaw)

Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents

  1. Compilation of Presidential Docs (GPO / FDSys) (free)
  2. Weekly Compilation of Presidential Docs (HeinOnline)
  3. Weekly Compilation of Presidential Docs (Harvard Libraries)

Public Papers of the Presidents

  1. Public Papers of the Presidents (free)
  2. U.S. Presidential Library (Heinonline)
  3. Presidential Documents (Westlaw)

Publishing Regulations

Federal Register

Agencies act in a legislative-like capacity when promulgating rules and regulations. The entire process of agency rulemaking is documented in the Federal Register.

The Federal Register is the official daily publication for the Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of federal agencies and organizations, as well as Executive Orders, Proclamations and other Presidential Documents.

Each issue of the modern Federal Register contains these sections:

  1. Contents and Preliminary Pages
  2. CFR Parts Affected
  3. Final Rules & Regulations
  4. Proposed Rules
  5. Notices
  6. Presidential Documents
  7. Corrections

For more information, visit About Federal Register.

The Federal Register contains most of the important summary, explanatory and documentary information on a rule.  It is printed every day, with about 75,000 pages per year.  For a regulation to be legally effective, it must be published in the Federal Register.

The Federal Register provides information on why a regulation was adopted.  Thus looking at final rules in the Federal Register may offer more clues to the intent of a regulator than looking in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Sample Citation [Bluebook Rule 14]

Investment Adviser Performance Compensation, 77 Fed. Reg. 10,358 (Feb. 22, 2012) (to be codified at 17 C.F.R. pt. 275)

Get the Federal Register

Find Federal Register Citations

  • Agency websites
  • Source notes from the CFR
  • Citator from Statute
  • Citation from Treatise
  • Full-text keyword searching
  • Indexes to the Fed. Reg.
  • Contact agency staff by email or phone

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the codification of the general and permanent rules and regulations published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government.

The CFR is organized into 50 titles which represent broad topics. The CFR and the U.S. Code are both codified using a 50-title schema (now 51 for the U.S.C). Many topics like alcohol, copyright, labor and taxation are covered by titles in both codes, and a few even share the same number. Many topics covered by the CFR have no corresponding U.S. Code title.

Each CFR title is divided into chapters which usually bear the name of the issuing agency. Each chapter is further subdivided into parts covering specific regulatory areas. Large parts may be subdivided into subparts. All parts are organized in sections.

The CFR contains only the text of final rules and regulations themselves and does not include any of the very important summary, explanatory and documentary information published in the Federal Register.

A Source Note at the beginning of each CFR part provides the Federal Register citation and date where the part was published. If a particular section was added or amended later, a separate source note will follow that section.

Citations to the CFR are most typically provided at either the part or section level. The CFR is updated by amendments and new rules and regulations in the Federal Register. See Code of Federal Regulations: About for more information.

Sample Citation [Bluebook Rule 14]

17 C.F.R. § 275.250 (2011)

Get the CFR

  1. GPO / FDsys (1996 - ) (free) 
  2. Heinonline (1938 - )
  3. Westlaw (1938 - )
  4. LexisNexis (1938- )
  5. Bloomberg Law

Find the CFR by

  1. Citation
  2. Agency website
  3. Notes from the Fed. Reg.
  4. Citation from Annotated Statute
  5. Citation from Treatise
  6. Full-text keyword searching
  7. CFR Indexes

Finding Regulations

Research by Citation

Regulations are most easily located by citation - whether looking in the CFR or Federal Register - whether on the government or commercial sites like Lexis, Westlaw or Bloomberg Law.

Sample Citations [Bluebook Rule 14]

17 C.F.R. § 275.250 (2011)

Investment Adviser Performance Compensation, 77 Fed. Reg. 10,358 (Feb. 22, 2012) (to be codified at 17 C.F.R. pt. 275)

Research without a Citation

If you do not have a citation, ask yourself the following:

  1. Jurisdiction (federal or state)
  2. Keywords (search terms that you will use to describe the legal question)
  3. Time period (current regulation or at some time in the past)

From the Statutes

Agencies get their authority from Congress in the form of enabling statutes.  Thus, if known, you can use the statute to find related regulations.  One way is to look at the annotated statute for reference to regulations.

Likewise, if you are looking at a statute in a commercial database like Lexis, Westlaw or Bloomberg Law, then you can use a citator (like Shepard's or Key Cite) to locate current materials that cite your statute, such as regulations and secondary sources.

Secondary Sources

Use secondary sources (treatises, practice guides, law review articles, etc.) to learn more about the law governed by a particular regulation - and to learn more about the regulation itself. Here's a guide for finding treatises.

Index and Keyword Searching

Brainstorm about words that may be used to describe the regulations you seek.  Then, look in an index to the Federal Register or to the CFR.  The CFR index is available in print in the library's reading room, or in many of the commercial databases.  Here is a link to the CFR index in Hein.

When keyword searching, try to anticipate the language used by the agency in writing the regulation.  It may be useful to start with a Wikipedia entry that discusses a particular legal topic to get key search terms.

Updating Regulations

Publication Dates

The CFR is printed once a year:

Titles 1-16:  January 1

Titles 17-27: April 1

Titles 28-41: July 1

Titles 42-50: October 1

The first edition of the CFR was published in 1939 containing regulations in force on June 1, 1938.

Updating Regulations

The CFR is published once a year; thus, any language in the latest published CFR must be checked for inter-publication currency.  Fortunately, most online sources are updated within 48 hours.

Lexis, Westlaw (commercial) & the e-CFR

Often the fastest and easiest way to update regulations is to use a commercial provider like Lexis, Westlaw or Bloomberg Law.  In addition, the e-CFR is updated regularly with information from the Federal Register

Loose-leaf Services

Most loose-leaf services are updated daily or weekly and will usually indicate whether there are any proposed changes or final changes that have not yet taken effect. Common loose-leaf services are BNA & CCH.

CFR List of Sections Affected (LSA)

Most researchers will consult an online service, like the e-CFR to make sure the CFR section is current.  In the alternative, you can use print resources to update the CFR:

  1. Find the text of the regulation in the CFR; note the revision date on the cover of the volume.
  2. Check the most recent LSA.  Compare the date on your CFR volume to the inclusive dates listed on the title page of the LSA. If there is a time gap between the date on your CFR volume and the coverage of the latest LSA, check the annual cumulation(s) of the LSA for your title.
  3. Check the list of "CFR Parts Affected during [month]" in the Federal Register issue for the last day of each full month not covered by step 2.
  4. Check the cumulative list of "CFR Parts Affected" in the last issue of the Federal Register for the current month.
  5. Using the citations found in steps 2-4, if any, check the Federal Register issues cited to see the text of the changes.

Validating Regulations

To establish the current validity of an existing regulation, find and read case law (in your jurisdiction) that cites your regulation.  Look out for court constitutionality rulings and other holdings affecting the rule's "good law" status.

If you are looking at a regulation in a commercial database like Lexis, Westlaw or Bloomberg Law, then you can use a citator (like Shepard's or Key Cite) to locate current materials that cite the regulation, whether cases or secondary sources.

Agency Decisions

Agency Decisions

Administrative agencies act in a judicial-like capacity when issuing decisions that interpret and enforce regulations.  These decisions are rarely gathered in one place, and some agencies do not publish decisions in any format.

Here are some strategies for finding decisions.

Agency Website

Often, agencies will put administrative decisions on their website. 

To find an agency website, you can search this directory or Google the agency's name.  For an archive of defunct agency website materials, including helpful reports, use the Cyber Cemetery.

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), you may request documents from administrative agencies.  Here's a guide to FOIA.

Loose-leaf Services

Most loose-leaf services publish administrative decisions in their subject areas. For older administrative decisions, loose-leafs are often the only source. The Bluebook lists the major loose-leaf services in T15.

Common loose-leaf services are BNA & CCH.

Lexis & Westlaw

Lexis & Westlaw provide access to some administrative decisions.

Agency Reporter

Some agencies publish official reports of their decisions, which resemble a standard court reporter series. The Bluebook lists the official administrative publications in T1.2.  Once you have the name of the reporter, you can search in the Harvard catalog, Hollis.

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