Section 1.1.5: The Interplay between Sources

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

Legal research involves navigating through different sources of law to understand how they apply to a certain situation. It’s a bit like solving a puzzle, where you need to find the right pieces and see how they fit together. This process can be daunting for beginners, but with time and practice, it becomes second nature. In this section, we’ll explore how to unravel the complex interplay of various legal sources and their interpretation.

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Primary Sources of Law

When you are trying to understand a legal issue, it’s important to know that more than one primary source of law might be relevant. Primary sources of law include landmark cases, constitutions, statutes (laws passed by a legislative body), and administrative regulations (rules made by government agencies).

For instance, if you’re examining a matter related to environmental protection, you may need to refer to the Constitution for fundamental rights, a statute that deals with environmental protection, and regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But, understanding the law isn’t just about reading these primary sources. We also need to see how they’ve been interpreted and applied. That’s where court cases come in.

Role of Court Cases: Interpreting the Law

Court cases, especially those decided by appellate (higher) courts, play a crucial role in explaining and clarifying statutes. It might seem that the meaning of a law is found in its text, but in practice, laws mean exactly what judges interpret them to mean.

This might sound strange but think of it this way: a law is a set of instructions. But like any instructions, people might understand them differently. When disputes arise, courts settle these disagreements by providing an authoritative interpretation. So, when you’re researching a law, you also need to look for court cases that have interpreted that law.

Age and Severity: Factors Influencing Legal Interpretation

You may wonder: are all laws equally interpreted? The answer is no. The age of the statute and the severity of the punishment for breaking it can influence how many court cases interpret it.

Newer laws and those with less severe penalties often have fewer cases interpreting them. This is because there hasn’t been much time for disputes to arise and reach appellate courts. On the other hand, older laws and those with harsher penalties, like those related to serious crimes such as rape and murder, have been interpreted in many court cases.

Navigating the Complex Landscape of Legal Research

Legal research might seem complicated, but it’s an essential skill for understanding and working with the law. By learning to connect the dots between different sources of law and their interpretations, you can gain a deeper understanding of any legal issue. Remember, legal research is not just about finding the right laws but also about understanding how they have been interpreted and applied. Keep practicing, and you’ll get the hang of it!


Legal research entails a complex interaction between various primary sources of law – constitutions, statutes, and administrative regulations – and their interpretations in court cases. This process of understanding a legal issue is like solving a puzzle, piecing together relevant laws and interpretations. A critical point to note is that statutes, or laws, mean exactly what appellate (higher) court judges interpret them to mean. Thus, when researching a law, it’s crucial to examine court cases that have interpreted it.

The volume of interpretations often varies depending on the age of the law and the severity of the penalty for breaking it. Older laws and those associated with severe penalties, such as rape and murder, usually have a multitude of interpretative cases. On the other hand, newer laws and those with less severe penalties may have fewer interpretative cases due to the shorter time for disputes to arise and reach higher courts. Therefore, effective legal research isn’t just about identifying applicable laws but about understanding how they’ve been interpreted and applied.

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File Created:  08/04/2018

Last Modified:  06/29/2023

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