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The Legal Research Process

Secondary Sources

Begin your legal research process by reviewing secondary sources. These sources provide a foundation for the legal issue being researched, and many times they cite primary authority that you can use. Take advantage of these resources! They can save you lots  of research time!

Below are the most common types of secondary sources of law. 

  • Treatises: Summaries and analysis specific areas of law
  • Legal Encyclopedias & Dictionaries: Summaries of legal topics and an introduction to legal terminology. Begin with these sources when researching an unfamiliar area of law.
  • Restatements of Law: Simplified interpretations of common law
  • American Law Reports (ALR): Contains in-depth articles, called annotations, on narrow topics of the law. ALR provide background, analysis, and citations to relevant cases, statutes, law review articles, and other annotations.
  • Law Review Articles: In depth reviews of specific legal issues or laws.

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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.

Never cite secondary sources of law in your legal research; they are considered persuasive authority and are NOT the law.

Below are suggested databases to find secondary legal resources.

Finding Secondary Sources in Westlaw

In Westlaw, select the Secondary Sources link:

Secondary Sources link

On the Secondary Sources page, browse titles by type of source, by state, or by  topic.

You can also browse the alphabetical index of secondary source titles and access Black's Law Dictionary: 

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Finding Secondary 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:

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