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A guide to using the Security and Exchange Commission's website for law students and other researchers



The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was established to “protect investors, maintain fair, orderly and efficient markets and facilitate capital formation.” The SEC fulfills this mission by creating and enforcing regulations that set the standard for public disclosure of financial information by public companies. The main areas of enforcement activity are:

  • Insider trading
  • Accounting Fraud
  • False or misleading investment information

The SEC’s reach extends to securities exchanges, securities brokers and dealers, investment advisors, and mutual funds.

The SEC was created in 1934 to restore the public’s confidence in the stock market after the Great Depression. Today there are five Commissioners who are appointed by the President.

The SEC is divided into four divisions:

  • Division of Corporate Finance
  • Division of Market Regulation
  • Division of Investment Management
  • Division of Enforcement

The SEC strives to increase transparency and trust in the stock market. The goal is to encourage international business with U.S. financial institutions including: banks, investment banks and legal firms.


Annual Reports & EDGAR

Publicly traded companies are required to file an annual report with the SEC, and these reports are made publicly available at Annual reports contain a great deal of company information, including:

  • Names, ages, salaries and fringe benefits received by directors
  • Financial status of the business including independently certified financial statements
  • Material terms of contracts or lease agreements held by the company
  • Operational information

All of this information makes it easier for an investor to become more knowledgeable about the company before choosing to buy stock. This can also help a shareholder get a better picture of the company’s assets and future plans.

These reports are part of the EDGAR database, which includes more than just annual reports. provides helpful information on using the EDGAR database:

“The SEC’s EDGAR database provides free public access to corporate information, allowing you to quickly research a company’s financial information and operations by reviewing registration statements, prospectuses and periodic reports filed on Forms 10-K and 10-Q. You also can find information about recent corporate events reported on Form 8-K but that a company does not have to disclose to investors.

EDGAR also provides access to comment and response letters relating to disclosure filings made after August 1, 2004, and reviewed by either the Division of Corporation Finance or the Division of Investment Management. On May 22, 2006, the staffs of the Divisions of Corporation Finance and Investment Management began to use the EDGAR system to issue notifications of effectiveness for Securities Act registration statements and post-effective amendments, other than those that become effective automatically by law. These notifications will be posted to the EDGAR system the morning after a filing is determined to be effective.”

[See for the above, as well as the official guide to searching the EDGAR database.]