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A restatement of the law is a compilation of legal rules, principles and premises that is written by law professors, judges and other legal professionals. A restatement of the law is designed to give a complete picture of the rules guiding a given area of the legal system. Restatements are not laws themselves, but are simply guides to the laws that are in existence.
Within common law systems, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, laws come from several different sources. Laws can be made by legislatures, if formal bills or statues are passed. Laws also come from constitutions. Finally, laws come from case law or common law, which refers to judge made law. If a judge hears a case and decides an issue a certain way, the decision and the principles in that case become binding legal precedent and in a sense become the law.
As such, knowing exactly what the law is on a given issue can be confusing. If, for example, a person wanted to understand how the language of a contract should be interpreted, he might have to consult a statute, such as the Uniform Commercial Code. He might also have to consult numerous judicial cases in which judges have made rulings on how to interpret words within a contract.
A restatement of the law gathers all of this information together. Restatements are most commonly written about legal subjects in which common law or judge made laws apply. A restatement exists for contract law and for tort law, for example. The restatements gather all of the data on judge made law from given jurisdictions on the issue and collect it all in one place, so that a person can simply consult the restatement to find out his legal obligations.
Restatements generally provide some degree of interpretation, explaining what the black letter law on a given issue is. For example, if the rules of contract law — garnered from judicial cases and legislation — all say that the language of a contract should be interpreted by looking at the plain meaning of the words, the restatement of the law will state this legal principle in simple terms. The restatement will then usually provide lists of citations to the many cases in which judges made rulings that led to this black letter law.
These restatements cannot be cited as law. For example, a plaintiff cannot go to a judge and tell the judge to decide on the case on the basis of what the Restatement of Contracts says. The plaintiff can, however, use the restatement to find out what the law is and then use the restatement of the law to find citations to cases he can quote in an argument to the court.