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Summer Associate Research Guide: Research Administrative Law

This guide is intended for students who will be working at law firms over the summer. It is similar and related to the Experiential Learning Resources Guide which focuses more on externships and clerkships.

About Administrative Law

Administrative law is the body of primary law created by adminstrative agencies of government, which are part of the Executive Branch.  Administrative law consists of rules and regulations that govern activities (similar to statutes), orders and decisions from administrative courts which are created to resolve disputes that arise under rules and regulations (similar to case opinions), and Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders.  Many areas of law (e.g. tax, securities, environmental) are heavily regulated; consequently, an attorney who practices in these areas must understand how to research administrative law.

This page gives tips on how to locate both federal and Illinois administrative law documents.

Federal Administrative Law

Congress gives agencies the power to create administrative law through enabling statutes, which create agencies and specify their powers.  When researching administrative law, it is often helpful to begin by reviewing the enabling statute to better understand the agency's purpose and scope of activities.  Agencies are limited to the powers delegated to them through their enabling statutes; however, in reviewing agency actions, courts will usually give agencies wide latitude in carrying out their mission and will defer to the agency unless it acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner.

Administrative agencies create regulations (which are also called rules), which function like legislation.  Like statutes, they are published both chronologically and by subject.  The chronological arrangement of regulations is found in the Federal Register, which is available for free on the GPO's GovInfo Web site, in print at KF 70 .A2, and in HeinOnline, Bloomberg Law (from the "Legislative & Regulatory" tab), Lexis (in Lexis Advance, click on "Browse Sources" above the red Search box, then, on the next screen, click on "F", then click on "Federal Register"), and Westlaw (from the "Browse/All Content" menu, click on "Regulations", then click on the "Federal Register" link on the right side of the screen, under "Tools and Resources").  Under the terms of the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 500 et seq), agencies must first give notice of proposed rulemaking by publication in the Federal Register, along with a time period during which interested parties may submit comments to the agency and recommend changes to the text of the proposed rule.  After the comment period expires, the final rule is then published in the Federal Register, along with its effective date.  In each proposed and final rule published in the Federal Register you will find a "Supplementary Information" section which explains the purpose of the rule, and (in the case of a final rule), summaries of comments received during the comment period that indicate any changes which were made.  In addition to proposed and final rules, the Federal Register also contains agency notices, presidential documents, notices of licenses issued, Sunshine Act meetings (pursuant to the Government in the Sunshine Act, 5 U. S. C. 552b, "every portion of every meeting of an agency" must be open to "public observation", with obvious exceptions such as matters of national security - the CIA doesn't make their meetings open to the public), and the Unified Agenda, which is issued twice a year and summarizes the rules and proposed rules that each agency expects to issue during the year.

As with statutes, researching regulations in a chronologically arranged publication, without subject access, is close to impossible. Therefore, when doing research by subject you will need to use the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"). In additional to being available in print (at KF 70 .A2, see box, left), CFR is available for free on GPO's GovInfo Web site, and in the following subscription services:

  • Bloomberg Law (from the "Legislative & Regulatory" tab)
  • HeinOnline's Code of Federal Regulations Library
  • Lexis (from the "Browse Sources" link, use the "Search Sources" box on the left side of the screen; start typing "CFR", and when "CFR - Code of Federal Regulations" fills in, click on that link, then the link for the CFR database will display in the center of the screen. Click on “Add this source to the search”, and you should see the name of this database appear under the main Search box, which indicates that you will only be searching in this database)
  • Westlaw (direct link on the "Regulations" menu). 

Just like statutory codes, the CFR is divided into "Titles" that group material on the same subject in the same place, so that, for example, all of the labor regulations are together. The CFR is divided into 50 titles; unfortunately, the titles don't always match their U.S. Code counterparts (e.g. - tax law is found in Title 26 of both the U.S. Code and the CFR, but copyright law is found in Title 17 of the U.S. Code and Title 37 of the CFR).  CFR Titles are broken down into "Parts" (major subdivisions), and then Parts are subdivided into "Sections". 

As with statutes, using an index is the best way to access the CFR. Regulatory language is often highly technical and scientific, and without knowing the precise terms used by the agency, finding rules through keyword searching can be very challenging. Westlaw provides an online index with its CFR materials (linked on the right side of the CFR screen, under "Tools & Resources"). If you need to use a print index to the CFR, the "Index and Finding Aids to Code of Federal Regulations" volume at the end of the USCS Statutes set is more helpful than the Index that comes with the official CFR set.

Illinois Administrative Law

Illinois administrative law consists of rules, regulations, and administrative decisions issued by Illinois executive branch agencies, plus documents produced by the Governor’s office and other statewide Constituional offices (e.g. the Attorney General and Secretary of State). Just as we saw with federal administrative law, there is a chronological compilation of agency publications, the Illinois Register, which is updated weekly and available in print at KFI 1235 .I42 and online from the Secretary of State’s Web site. There is also a codified, topically-arranged version of Illinois administrative regulations called the Illinois Administrative Code. There is no official print version of the Administrative Code; the only official version is available online from the Web site of the Illinois General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR). A complete list of Illinois administrative agency Web sites is available online.

Bloomberg Law, Lexis, and Westlaw all have up-to-date versions of the IAC, but the free JCAR version is generally a good place to start. The IAC is updated weekly by the Illinois Register, which is available in print (KFI 1235 .I42) and online from the Illinois Secretary of State's Web site. The online versions are updated automatically to include new regulations and amendments from the Illinois Register, which is another good reason to go to them rather than the print version.

The most straightforward way to update an Illinois regulation is through the website of the Illinois Secretary of State, which publishes the Illinois Register. In the menu bar, click on “Departments,” underneath the picture of the Secretary of State, and select “Index,” from the menu of choices that appears. That will take you to another menu/index page, where you will select “Administrative Code Services,” the third item on the list. When you reach the next page, scroll down a little until you see “Administrative Code Indexes,” and click on that link.

The final link on that page is the “Sections Affected Index,” and clicking on it will take you to an index of Illinois Administrative Rules acted upon. Rules which have been affected by subsequent action are listed in the accumulative Index by Title number, Part number, Sections, Action type, Action code, and Page number.  To find the relevant action, you will need to actually go to the relevant page number of the Illinois Register to find the agency action. The page number is listed in parentheses to the right of the citation to the affected section. Sections are listed first by Title, then by part.  Make a note of the page(s) affecting the Title and Part you are seeking and then either open a new browser page, or go back to the preceding page, where there is a link to “Archived Illinois Register.”  When you click on it, it will link to a list of editions of the Illinois Register, with the page numbers listed beside each issue. Choose the issue containing your page number, and use the search function of the PDF reader (the binoculars icon) to find the relevant page.  That will take you to the most up to date version of your regulation.  It is a somewhat onerous process, but still easier than the print version!

It is wise to check with the agency in charge of a particular rule, if there is any reason to think something is about to happen.  If rulemaking is in progress, develop an agency contact!

Illinois Administrative Law – Online Free Resources:

Subject Guide