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Externships & Summer Jobs: Guide to Legal Research

This guide is intended to direct externs to relevant sources for completing research assignments.

State Agencies & Administrative Law

Washington administrative law consists of the rules, regulations, decisions, and other documents issued by executive branch agencies, boards, commissions, and offices, in accordance with Washington's Administrative Procedure Act (RCW 34.05). The Governor appoints agency heads and creates executive orders that can direct agency actions.

State administrative agencies also have legislative, adjudicative, and enforcement functions. Authority for agency regulations must be delegated from the legislature of the Governor through organic acts, enabling acts, and executive orders. Judicial review is available for state agency decisions after the exhaustion of administrative remedies.

Click for a list of Washington agencies with links to the agencies' websites.


The rulemaking process in Washington is governed by the Washington Administrative Procedure Act RCW Section 34.05.310 et seq. The rule-making process itself is governed by a set of rules (WAC 1-21).  The Office of the Code Reviser has created a flow chart (PDF) of the rule-making process. Note on the left side of the chart, one of the triggers for rulemaking is federal law or regulation, which can require a state agency to create a regulation. If the state fails to implement the regulation, the federal agency will take over (this is common in environmental law).

The basic structure of the rulemaking process in Washington is:

Rulemaking Agenda: Twice a year, the agency must notify the public about its plans for rulemaking in the coming 6 months.

Preproposal Inquiry: The agency must then publish a brief description of the rule and solicit comments.

Proposed Rule: A minimum of 30 days must pass after the publication of the preproposal inquiry before the agency can publish the text of the proposed rule. The agency will also publish the date and time of hearings associated with the rule.

Permanent: After consideration of the submitted comments and hearing testimony, the agency will publish the final rule and it will have legal effect on the effective date.

Emergency: If there are extenuating circumstances, an agency can by-pass the notice and comment process and create an emergency rule. The rule can only remain in effect for 120 days.

Effective Dates: For permanent rules, the effective date is 31 days after filing. An emergency rule is effective immediately for the duration of 120 days.


Secondary Sources

Washington Administrative Code (W.A.C.)

The Washington Administrative Code (WAC) contains all final rules promulgated by state agencies.

Table of Contents Searching

In the WAC, each agency's regulations are grouped together. Searching by an agency's name and then skimming the table of contents of that title can be a very effective search strategy.

Keyword Searching

Have as much information as possible when searching the WAC, and use the specific regulatory terms if possible. Once you find a result that looks close, make sure to back out to the table of contents to make sure you are looking at the correct regulation.

Tips for Searching the WAC

Regulations, just like statutes, function as a unit. It is important to look at the entire chapter so that you don't miss definitions, penalties, exceptions, or exemptions. You will also notice that regulatory sections are often interrelated and interdependent. Using the chapter as your frame of reference will ensure that you do not miss anything.

Unlike annotated federal regulations, which provide helpful information, the annotations in the Revised Code of Washington Annotated and the Administrative Revised Code Annotated are not very robust. There is also not a good index to the WAC online or in print. Given the lack of helpful editorial enhancements for the WAC, the most cost-effective option for using the WAC is at the above link rather than on a subscription database.

Updating Regulations

The legislature's website includes a link to "Agency Filings Affecting this Section" for each regulation. You can also use the WAC to WSR table to view the most recent agency filings.

WestlawNext - Keycite

Lexis Advance - Shepards

Bloomberg - Bcite


Washington State Register (WSR)

The Washington State Register (WSR) is published every 2 weeks, and includes: Rulemaking Agendas, Preproposal Inquiries, Proposed Rules, Notice of Hearings, Permanent Rules, Emergency Rules, and Executive Orders.

The WSR is useful for looking backward to research the history of a regulation and for looking forward to see if there are any proposed rules. The WAC on the legislature's website includes a link for each rule to "Agency Filings Affecting this Section." This provides links to the proposed and permanent rules from the WSR. For older regulatory history, you will need to look at the WSR in print.

Administrative Decisions

Agency websites are the best, most cost-efficient resource for Washington agency decisions. 

You can find a list of state agencies, boards, and commissions available at Access Washington, along with links to each agency's website.

Subscription Resources