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The Legal Research Process

Primary Sources

Continue your legal research by reviewing primary sources of law.  Primary sources are essential because they are the law.  These sources consist of statutes, case law,  and regulations.

Case Law - is law based upon a judicial decisions rather than constitutions, statutes, or regluations. Case law is the collection of precedents regarding specific topics and issues and can differ among jurisdictions. Case law is published in federal, state, and national reporters. Publishers of reporters often add summaries of selected points of law, called headnotes.

Regulations - are official rules determined by various government administrative agencies, which have a narrow authoriity within their areas of responsibility. Regulations are printed by both commercial and government publishers and are organized by subject matter.

Statutes- are written laws passed by a legislative body, both state and federal. Usually organized by topic, these sets of laws are called codes. Statutes, or codes of law, can be found in publications like the United States Code, the United States Code Annotated, and the United States Code Service.

Primary authority resources graphic

Image used with permission, from the CALI Lesson Hold 'em, Fold 'em, Walk Away or Run: When to Stop the Search. © 2021 The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction.

Finding Primary Sources in Westlaw

Search primary sources in Westlaw. 

Cases: Searchable by states, jurisdictions, and topics. Can also search for federal court cases by court and circuit.

Statutes & Court Rules: Searchable by states, territories, and topics. Federal content includes:

Statutes and cour rules graphic

Users can also find: 

  • Bill Tracking
  • Historical Statutes
  • Legislative History
  • Rules Update Orders

Regulations: Searchable by state, territories, and topcis. Federal material includes the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Users can also find:

  • Historical Regulations
  • Regulation Tracking

Finding Primary Sources in HeinOnline

HeinOnline is an excellent collection of legal history databases offering coverage of more than 1,500 law and law-related periodicals.

Search by keyword, browse databases by category, or search databases by name: