Sources of Law

Lawyers tirelessly spend several hours gazing upon different legal materials in order to achieve a perfect argument. This process is termed – Legal Research. The legal materials that lawyers examine are named – Legal Sources or Sources of Law. There are many legal sources lawyers utilize within the United States. The most commonly observed sources, but not limited to, include: The United States Constitution, the United States Code (USC), the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Executive Orders, and the United States Reports – a printed multi-volume selection of reports containing every single U.S. Supreme Court case and ruling. To get a glimpse of each source, click here.


Criminal & Civil Law

Another category under Common law is criminal and civil law. Criminal law prohibits certain conduct and threatens punishment for the prohibited conduct. In criminal cases people and corporations are prosecuted by government for alleged violations of federal and/or state criminal laws. In criminal law, a violation is called either a felony or misdemeanor. Civil law does not always involve punishment if the law has been violated. Most often, violators are required to compensate those who suffered damages/losses as a result of the prohibited conduct. Civil law pertains to a variety of fields, such as contracts, wills, property, and domestic relations. Nevertheless, specific situations can result in both criminal and civil law proceedings.

Public & Private Law

Public and private law are categories of law under the Common system of law (Common Law). Public law involves the federal government acting as government rather than in other roles, such as property owner. Public law includes such matters as taxation, regulation of business practices, public welfare programs, foreign policy, and criminal justice. Private law does not involve the federal government acting as government. Private law includes such matters as marriage (family law) and personal injuries (tort law).

What is Common Law?

You might be asking yourself, “What exactly is common law?” Common law or “judge-made” law follows the rule of jurisprudence called precedence. For example, a court or judge basis its ruling (decision) from a previous court case, along with its rulings. Common law can be summarized by the legal doctrine: Stare Decisis. This is a latin phrase that, when translated, means, “Let the decision stand.” Furthermore, the courts’ interpretations of the law can be overridden by rewriting the law in question, by amending the state or federal constitution or by enacting a new statute. Rulings about the common law can also be overridden through statutes.

Types of Legal Systems

Before we elaborate on complex legal issues/matters, we must first broach the basic systems of law. Throughout the world, each and every country contains a legal system embodied with a judiciary system and unique set of laws. Currently, there are three different legal systems: Civil, Common, and Religious Law. Each legal system is very broad, thus, each system contains one-to-many subcategories. However, this is a discussion for another time. For now we will focus our attention on Common Law, the legal system implemented within the United States.