What is Statutory Law? – Becoming a Statutory Lawyer

Statutory law is the primary type of law used by the judicial system. Researching and practicing statutory law is something that every branch of the government needs help with, and so statutory lawyers are instrumental in creating laws in the United States.

What is Statutory Law?

Statutory law is created and passed by the legislative branch of the government. It is specifically written law, also known as statutes. These statutes are often codified, meaning that they are numbered, collected, and indexed in one place. After statutory law is created, it is the judicial branch of the government's job to interpret and enforce it by applying it to court cases. However, the judicial branch can't create statutory laws.

A considerable aspect of statutory law is that it is written. These laws are based on the premise that every word included in law has a meaning and is chosen for a specific reason. Statutory laws are written extremely precisely and therefore leave little room for interpretation. You can't “read between the lines” of statutory law. When issues come up in court surrounding statutory law, lawyers must argue on how to interpret them and sometimes challenge them themselves.

Different Kinds of Statutes

While all statues are statutory laws, there is a variety of statutes to serve various purposes. First, there are public and private statues. Public statutes usually concern the general public and are used in cases that judges will hear without pleading. Private statutes often concern individuals, and a judge must hear these cases. Some other kinds of statutes include declaratory, remedial, temporary, perpetual, affirmative, negative, real, and mixed.

  • Declaratory statutes make common law official and stop any question or speculation as to what the common law is or covers.
  • Remedial statutes expand or clarify other statutes that have already passed into law.
  • Temporary statutes have an expiration date and are only valid for a certain amount of time.
  • Perpetual statutes refer to statutes that do not expire.
  • Affirmative statutes contain affirmative, positive words. They do not take away common law.
  • Negative statutes use negative words and do control common law.
  • Personal statutes concern personal matters such as birth, freedom, making a will, and much more.
  • Real statutes apply to objects, property, and other things that do not fall under the personal matters of personal statutes.
  • Mixed statutes are both personal and real because they concern both personal matters and property.

Different Kinds of Law

It is essential to understand the different types of law before deciding which to specialize in. Statutory law is not to be mixed up with common law or administrative law. These three types of law differ significantly.

Unlike statutory law, the judicial branch creates common law. It is never passed through legislation. Specifically, common law is crafted over time from judicial decisions made in similar court cases. As court cases are decided, they set a precedent for making decisions in similar court cases in the future. Precedent is often the basis of common law. After all, all laws are created for a reason. Administrative law governs government agencies, controlling how they run and what powers they have.

While statutory law is different than common law and administrative law, both can become statutory law if they are officially written up and passed by a legislative body, such as in a declaratory statute.

How Do Statutory and Common Law Differ?

Common law develops over time thanks to the rulings of the presiding judges. It is used in two cases:

  • Where there are no statutes in place: If a judge feels that no statute covers the case in front of them, they'll make a ruling based on their experience and set a precedent that could later become statute.
  • Where the judge reinterprets the law: In some cases, a judge may feel that the existing law needs to be redefined. When this happens, they put their own interpretation onto the law. This process also creates a precedent, and that precedent can be used when arguing a similar type of case in the future. The statute might later be changed as a result of this precedent.

Aren't Judges Meant to Rule Strictly in Terms of the Law?

Judges have some discretion here. Over time, statutory laws may become outdated, or obsolete thanks to the way society has changed. For instance, a hundred years ago, a man could be arrested for having sexual relations with another man.

Today we acknowledge that this law was discriminatory and unfair. What you may not know, however, is that same-sex relationships as such were only legalized in 2003.

Changing statutory laws is a long and involved process. It moves very slowly. As a result, the judges need to exercise their own discretion when it comes to cases that are more open to interpretation. Naturally, the decisions of the judge can be appealed.

How Do Statutory and Administrative Law Differ?

Administrative law is created by executive agencies to govern agencies of the government. Different departments, bureaus, and agencies are responsible for creating, directing, supervising, and enforcing special legislative policies.

These include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Park Service (NPS), and much more.

Administrative laws are the policies they create and enforce, such as hunting regulations established by the National Park Service or food regulations created by the Food and Drug Administration.

Administrative laws also perform a crucial function in our society. They guide government agencies and ensure that the proper checks and balances are placed on them. Take the National Park Service, for example.

They'll have administrative laws in place governing what activities we're allowed to perform in our National Parks. Here you'll find rules about what constitutes poaching, and so on.

On the other hand, the agency itself also needs to be governed. This system is designed to ensure that citizens are treated in a fair and equable manner.

How is Statutory Law Created?

When creating a statutory law, a legislative body first proposes a bill. The bill is then voted on by the entire legislative body. If it does not pass, it can be amended and then voted on again. If it passes, it is sent on to the executive branch of the government.

The executive branch could be the President of the United States or governor of a specific state. The executive branch then has the choice to pass the law or veto it. If it is vetoed, it is returned to the legislative body where they can try to pass it again. If the executive branch passes the law, the law becomes a statute and is codified.

Who Can Create Statutory Law?

These laws can be created by any branch of government, at a federal, state, or local level. When a law passes at a federal level, it will apply across the whole country. These laws take precedence over any other type of law. State or local laws can't override these laws.

If a law passes at the state level, it is only valid in that state. If it passes at a local level, it is only valid in that city or town. At the same time, a federally passed law does not necessarily override existing state law. Let's look at an example to clarify how this might work.

Up until very recently, gambling was prohibited under federal law in the United States under the Professional and Amateur Sports Act of 1992. The only states exempt were those that had legislation in place allowing gambling. This totaled three states.

Who Works with Statutory Law?

Naturally, a statutory lawyer works with statutory law. However, just about every lawyer should be familiar with statutory law because they will encounter it at some point in their career. Even attorneys who practice specialized areas should be familiar with statutory law, especially the statutes that apply to their area of expertise.

Since different laws can be interpreted in different ways, lawyers need to know statutory laws. This knowledge is vital to argue their case and why the law should be interpreted their way. This point is especially true if the case involves something there is no precedent for.

If a precedent has already been set, then the situation is different. You could argue your case in terms of the precedent. Specialist statutory lawyers will work with legislative bodies at the state or federal level to help get new statutes enacted.

What Does a Statutory Lawyer Do?

Statutory lawyers work at all different levels of the court, but especially in the higher levels. Because statutory laws and cases involving them tend to work their way through appeals to the higher court levels, statutory lawyers do a lot of work with appeals. Sometimes, statutory lawyers also do research and briefing in court cases for the judicial branch.

One of the primary jobs of a statutory lawyer is working with the legislative branch of the government. Since the legislative branch is the one that creates statutory law, they need the help of statutory lawyers in writing the laws. Because the primary trait of statutory law is the way the laws are written, every word needs to be perfect and used for a specific reason.

The exact wording of a statutory law goes through many revisions processes and takes an expert to perfect it so that it has the meaning they intended. It's also essential to ensure that there are no potential loopholes in the statutes.

What Makes a Good Statutory Lawyer?

Statutory lawyers have to be extremely sharp when it comes to language. Because they must finesse the way statutory laws are written, they have to understand how words are used and be able to use them in ways that convey a very exact meaning by focusing on every single word.

Naturally, then, working with statutory law involves a great deal of writing. Statutory lawyers must also have excellent writing skills and know-how to convey the intent of the law with very few yet extremely precise words. These laws should leave no room for ambiguity.

They also need a great deal of patience. Getting a new statute passed can take some time. You'll find that there's a lot of back and forth when it comes to amendments people want to make. If you don't have the patience for dealing with this, then it's best to steer clear.

One thing that the best statutory lawyers have in common, though, is a passion for the law. You're changing the fabric of society here, so it's great if you have a specific cause that speaks to you.

If you're specializing in statutory law, you won't be trying cases in front of juries. So, if you're not a strong litigator, this could be an option for you to consider.

What you will need, however, is to be able to put a compelling argument forward. You'll need to present why the law should change. You're dealing with legal professionals here, so you'll still need to make a compelling case. This requires a great deal of research into facts. Assumptions will not fly here.

You'll also need to make your case in a logical manner because you're going to be presenting it to higher court judges.

How to Research a Code

When researching statutory laws, it is crucial to know how the codes work. When a statutory law is passed, it is given a reference number, which is its code, and then collected into one resource. The United States Code (USC) is what contains all official federal code.

These codes not only contain the text of the law itself, but also information surrounding when the law was passed if it was ever amended. You can also find case summaries which discuss any court cases that have interpreted this statute and cross-references which refer you to other codes that are similar.

There are two different ways you can use to look up a code. First, you can look up the code directly if you have a citation number to use. You can do research and find an appropriate code within the United States law library.

Every code has a two-unit number system which makes it easy to find. The first number refers to the title number of the statute, and the second number refers to the section where the statute is located. From here, you can quickly find the code and the volume it is located in and use it in conjunction with your citation.

When you do not have a citation to look up a code, you can simply pick a code to research. To select a code, you should first decide a legal issue or area of law that you want to research. This will narrow down the search for a code. You can search for codes in the subject index to do this. After you have found a topic, you will then be able to find a citation and code to go with it.

Different Kinds of Codes

There can also be several different kinds of codes. The different codes determine how the codes are organized. There are many different codes – here we'll list some of the more common ones.

  • Family or civil codes: Here you'll find commonplace subjects like labor disputes, civil claims, divorces, and so on. The matters covered here are not criminal in nature. These cases can be presented in conjunction with a criminal matter, but the defendant will not face prosecution under these laws.
  • Criminal codes: These are issues of criminality. If the police decide to arrest you, and the prosecutor decides to take the matter to court, you'll be tried under the criminal code. You could receive an acquittal, be jailed, given a suspended sentence, put under house arrest, be fined, or asked to do community service.
  • Welfare codes: These are issues that deal with the public as a whole, with the intention of benefitting the people. Issues that might be addressed include injury on the job, things like the reporting of births or deaths, and so on.
  • Probate codes: These are in place to govern how deceased estates are dealt with. So, it will cover issues like administration of a trust, execution of a will, and more.

Statutory law can be complex. There are many different kinds of statutory laws, and statutory lawyers need to be able to discuss these laws in detail, as well as argue for one interpretation or another. You'll also need a working knowledge of what precedents have been set challenging those laws.

Statutory lawyers are vital to all branches of the government, and there is always a need for them. It's a great way to make a real contribution to the betterment of our country. It can be somewhat dry at times, but there's nothing quite like knowing that the amendment that you've proposed has been enacted.