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First Year Legal Research Guide: Administrative Law

This Guide tracks the Fall Basic Legal Research Course at Loyola University Chicago's School of Law

Accessing the CFR in Print

The print Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is shelved at KF 70 .A2, on the 4th floor of the Library.  See the map below for the location of the CFR on the 4th floor in relation to the stairwell and elevator.

Floor Map Codes


2014 CFR, is a U.S. government website where members of the public can read and post comments pertaining to proposed regulations and related documents. The site also includes final regulations and agency notices.  The eRulemaking Program Management Office, with the assistance of partner federal agencies, manages

Finding Administrative Decisions

Finding decisions issued by administrative agencies that interpret their rules is often an important step in administrative law research.  Remember that in many instances you'll have to complete the judicial procedures (filings, appeals, etc.) established by the agency before you can file your case in a federal court--a process known as "exhausting your administrative remedies."  Fortunately, there are several sources that include these decisions:

  1. Recent decisions are often available on agency websites; check out's A-Z Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies for links.  A listing of official publications of agency decisions (and how to cite them) is available in the 20th edition of The Bluebook in table T1.2, starting on page 236.
  2. Commercial looseleaf publishers (Bloomberg BNA and CCH) often include administrative decisions in their subject-specific publications.
  3. Bloomberg Law, Westlaw, and Lexis include some administrative decisions; HeinOnline's U.S. Federal Agency Documents, Decisions, and Appeals database also includes administrative decisions.
  4. Remember that the U.S.C.S. (Lexis' print version of the annotated U.S.C.) includes administrative decisions, so you might find references to these in the annotations to the enabling statute for your regulation.

About Administrative Law

Administrative law is the body of primary law created by adminstrative agencies of the U.S. 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 that 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.

Congress gives agencies the power to create administrative law through enabling statutes, which create agencies and specify their powers.  When researching administrative law, it's often helpful to begin by reviewing the enabling statute in order 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. 

The United States Government Manual (also available in print at JK421 .A31) lists every U.S. administrative agency and its functions, as well as citations to the enabling statute for each agency.  The Manual also contains a subject index to help locate agencies that regulate a particular area of law.  Once you have the citation to the enabling statute, you can look it up in an annotated code volume (see "Statutes") to find the legislation itself, as well as references to relevant primary and secondary source materials.

Finding Regulations

Administrative agencies create regulations (also called rules) that function like legislation.  Like statutes, regulations are published both chronologically and by subject.  The chronological arrangement of regulations is found in the Federal Register, which is available for free on GovInfo, in print at KF70 .A2, and in HeinOnline, Bloomberg Law (from the "Regulatory Resources" page), LexisNexis (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 "Proposed & Adopted Regulations - Current" 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 there is a "Supplementary Information" section that 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 that 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 conducting research by subject you will need to use the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In additional to being available in print (at KF70 .A2 in the Library), the CFR is available for free on GovInfo, and in the following subscription services:

  • Bloomberg Law (from the "Legislative & Regulatory" tab).
  • HeinOnline's Code of Federal Regulations Library
  • LexisNexis (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 that 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.C. counterparts (e.g., tax law is found in Title 26 of both the U.S.C. and the CFR, but copyright law is found in Title 17 of the U.S.C. 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 U.S.C.S. (United States Code Service) set is more helpful than the index that comes with the official CFR set.

Code of Federal Regulations and Federal Register Contents Compared

Comparison Chart for CFR and Federal Register


Federal Register

Publishes final rules

Publishes notices, proposed rulemakings, comments, and final rules

Official version is updated once per year

Updated daily, except weekends and holidays

Organized by subject titles

Organized chronologically

Citation includes title and section numbers

Citation includes volume and page numbers

Updating Regulations

After finding the text of the relevant regulations in the CFR, you must be sure to update your research.  Regulations are amended frequently, plus you have to be aware of any court decisions that interpret or overrule regulatory language.  Making things even more complicated, there is an unusual quirk to the CFR publication schedule.  Rather than updating the entire set at once, the updates occur on a quarterly basis as follows:

  • Titles 1 through 16 are updated every January 1
  • Titles 17 through 27 are updated every April 1
  • Titles 28 through 41 are updated every July 1
  • Titles 42 through 50 are updated every October 1

In addition, the color of the CFR volumes changes each year, so that when you see the print CFR volumes on the shelf, you will see that not all of the volumes are the same color (and due to the rolling publication schedule, when you see the print set, it's current even though not all of the volumes are the same color).

You can update the text of a CFR section by looking at the List of CFR Sections Affected (LSA), a monthly cumulative publication that is available on GovInfo.  According to GovInfo, the LSA "lists proposed, new, and amended Federal regulations that have been published in the Federal Register since the most recent revision date of a CFR title.  Each LSA issue is cumulative and contains the CFR part and section numbers, a description of its status (e.g., amended, confirmed, revised), and the Federal Register page number where the change(s) may be found."

To use the LSA online:

  1. Check the date of the CFR volume that contains your regulation to determine the date from which you need to update.
  2. On the LSA page online, click on the most recent year, then the most recent month.
  3. Find the CFR Title you are researching in, then open the PDF file.  If there are changes to your section, you will see a reference to the Federal Register where the change occurred.
  4. Go back to the Federal Register page online and open today's Federal Register.  At the back, you'll see a "List of CFR Parts Affected" that is cumulative for the current month.  Check to see if your CFR section/part has been updated during the month.  Depending on the date, you may have to go check the same list from the last Federal Register of the prior month for any changes.

Alternatively, you can use Lexis or Westlaw, which both incorporate updates to the text of regulations much more quickly - Lexis "within two weeks of publication"; Westlaw within one week (approximately); or, the e-CFR, a regularly updated, unofficial, non-legal edition of the CFR.  The benefit of the e-CFR is that, like Bloomberg Law, Westlaw, and Lexis, it incorporates changes to the text much more quickly than the official version of the CFR, plus it's free to use.  The downside is that (like Bloomberg Law, Lexis, and Westlaw) it's not official, so you'll want to double-check to make sure you didn't miss any changes.  If you see any citations to Federal Register pages at the end of a CFR section in the e-CFR, Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, or Lexis, you can use those to double-check the changes and make sure the text is correct.  Be sure to check the "Data is current as of" date on the e-CFR's main page; if it's not today's date, use step 4 (above) to complete your updating.

The final step in updating is to make sure that you have found any judicial decisions that have applied, interpreted, or negatively treated the CFR section in question.  Unlike statutes, there is no annotated version of the CFR, but both Lexis and Westlaw allow you to look for any such cases. 

Subject Guide

Patricia Scott's picture
Patricia Scott
Director, Law Library & Clinical Professor of Law

Philip H. Corboy Law Center

25 E. Pearson St.

Chicago, IL 60611

(312) 915-8515

CALI LibTour - CFR

As part of their LibTour podcast series, CALI created this brief introduction to the Code of Federal Regulations. Follow the link below to the podcast.

How to Cite the CFR and the Federal Register

Rule B14 (Bluepages) of The Bluebook (20th edition) covers how to cite administrative and executive materials in non-academic legal documents. This rule includes the following examples:

Federal Acquisition Regulations for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 55 Fed.Reg. 52,782 (Dec. 1, 1990) (to be codified at 48 C.F.R. pt.1).

46 C.F.R. § 166.01 (2009).

In this C.F.R. citation, 46 is the Title, 166 is the Part, and 166.01 is the Section Number.

Federal Register citations should provide:  the commonly used name of the rule or regulation; the volume and page on which the rule or regulation begins in the Federal Register; and the date of the rule or regulation.

Federal rules and regulations in the CFR should be cited by title, section or part, and year.

For further guidance on citing administrative rules and regulations, see rule 14 (Whitepages).