Analyzing And Interpreting Statutes

Analyzing And Interpreting Statutes

Analyzing And Interpreting Statutes

Statutory interpretation may be nuanced, complex, and even confusing. Whether you work in a private law firm, a government agency, or a public service or interest organization, analyzing and interpreting a statute for any legal position will be part of the job. When encountering a statute for the first time, it’s a good practice to take certain analytical procedures to learn as much as possible about the subject law’s provisions and their application.

Start with the following actions:

  1. Understand the goals of the client. Firmly grasp your client’s goals and the underlying facts of your client’s situation.
  2. Read the statute. Start with the statute’s primary language for any inquiry into its meaning. Read the text closely. Consider that your initial understanding of the statute’s plain language may not be the only plausible interpretation or even correct.
  3. Confirm that the statute is still good law. Shepardize or KeyCite the statute to determine whether the statute or parts of the statute have been repealed, invalidated, or amended and whether there are any court decisions that may help clarify and interpret the statute.

While some statutes are seemingly simple and straightforward when first read, you may find, upon a second or third reading, that the terms of the statute are unclear or do not directly address your legal issue. Several tools are available to help clarify the meaning of an ambiguous statute or to decide between many plausible interpretations of the same legislation. These tools fall into the following four categories:

*The Statute’s Text

Many statutes contain a section with “definitions” setting forth and defining key terms used in the statute. This section may be contained in the statute under analysis or in one of the first sections of the entire act. These terms may be codified as definitions for a chapter or title, and, thus, intended to apply to the entire chapter or title unless otherwise specified. These definitions may have a specific meaning that differs from its meaning in common usage.

*The Statute’s Legal Interpretations

It’s likely that the statute you are trying to interpret may have already been interpreted by a court. Any court decisions may also pose alternative, plausible interpretations of the statute, and, more importantly, why the court either approved or rejected these alternatives. Shepardize and/or KeyCite the relevant section of the statute to find references to case law in the case annotations of an annotated statute.

Also, the agency charged with administering a statute may have issued regulations to clarify the interpretation and application of the statute. Agency regulations may be found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and are useful in determining both the meaning of a certain term or phrase and the statute’s underlying policy issues.

*The Statute’s Context and Structure

It is important to be aware of references to other statutes when reading statutes, especially those that are long, complicated, and confusing. Other references may identify different statutes that affect the meaning and function of the statute under analysis.

*The Statute’s Purpose

Establish the legislature’s intent for enacting the statute and use this intent to understand and interpret a statute’s meaning. As one jurist put it, “legislation is a purposive act and judges should construe statutes to execute that legislative purpose.” Legislation is the product of an informed and deliberative process, and, thus, it has discernable objectives and purposes. A tool of interpretation seeks to discern these purposes.

Some of the above processes may help identify and explain the meaning of a statute. Utilizing specific tools and techniques of statutory interpretation will help a lawyer better understand a statute, which will help a lawyer better predict its potential implications and effects on clients, enabling them to serve and meet their needs more completely.

At CDTA, we believe that a thorough study of California Bar test areas of legal study, examined regularly, and supplemented with skills, values, and historical perspective is a winning formula for educating, training, and developing extraordinary legal advocates. We train and prepare students to develop the necessary test-taking skills for successfully passing any, not just the California, bar exam. Call us today at (760) 342-0900 or find out more online here.

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