Reading and UNDERSTANDING the law

One of the most important things to keep in mind when reading any legal document is the concept of ‘Terms of Art’. A term of art is a word or phrase with a particular meaning within a specific context. There are many legal terms that are considered terms of art. For example, in common usage, the phrase “double jeopardy” simply means any situation that poses two risks. When used as a legal term of art, however, “Double Jeopardy” specifically means an impermissible second trial of a defendant for the same offense that gave rise to the first trial.

Similarly, the usage of ‘shall’ versus ‘will’ can be confusing in legal documents, particularly since the word shall isn’t often used in everyday speech. In legal terms, ‘shall’ denotes actions that are mandatory, required by law, whereas ‘will’ is reserved for simple statements about the future. Another common source of confusion is the difference between Legislative and Administrative laws in the United States. 


Legislative or Statutory Law deals with the enactment of laws (or statutes) by Congress or State Legislatures. These laws set policy for the area governed by the legislative body. This is like creating a general plan or set of guidelines for how to handle future situations.  

Administrative or Regulatory Law deals with procedures established by federal, state, and local administrative agencies. When an agency is created by a legislative body, it is endowed with the authority to issue regulations based on the laws enacted by that legislative body. These regulations or administrative laws are the practical, everyday rules on how to apply the broader policies set forth by Legislative Laws. 

Simply put: Legislative Laws are enacted by elected legislators to set new policies or replace old ones, while Administrative Laws are rules and regulations created by government agencies in order to implement those legislative laws.


Once the difference between Legislative Law and Administrative Law is clear, it’s easier to understand why the processes for creating these two types of laws also differ. A key similarity is that citizens have the right to be involved in both processes. In the case of legislation, citizens can propose bills, work to inform their representatives on the issues that affect them, and lobby for or against the enactment of bills being considered. In the case of administrative regulations, a petition can be submitted by interested citizens to initiate a new rule, and often before a new rule is drafted the agency in question will gather information from people and organizations interested in that issue. Additionally, all new regulations must be posted for review and public comment.

The Legislative Law Process

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The Administrative Law Process

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