Sunday, September 22, 2013

Using an index to find a law

When you need to find a statute, one of my favorite tools is the index.  Using  an index is quick way to get right to the section you need.  Sometimes full text searching for common terms is just too cumbersome.  You may get far too many hits to get to the section that is relevant. A search of just the text of the General Laws for the phrase "child support" brings up 158 hits.  Using the index, either in print, or on Westlaw or WestlawNext takes you right to the part of the general laws you are looking for.
Statutes are found on the web, but web searching can be limited and ineffective.  Having the printed index, and a web browser brings more sophisticated searching to bare bones web sites.  And sometimes, the law does not actually use a term that you might assume is in the section.  It is amazing how many ways there are to express an idea.
Searching for a federal law can be twice as daunting. I am not sure how big the database is, but the hard bound volumes take up 17 shelves in my library.  Searching the text of the statutes online for the phrase "civil rights" brings up 199 hits.  That is just too many to navigate.  Using the index brings you to the main heading, with subdivisions to further target your search.
The libraries get updated indices each year, so you should check our discard shelves for last year's edition of the indices to the general laws and the United States code.  It will save time, and you will be using one of librarians' best, little known tools.
The TCLLs have created a table of popular names to the Mass General Laws that may be helpful too.
Also, be sure to check yesterday's blog post on Finding the Law 101.