When you are researching an unfamiliar area of law, secondary sources can give you the necessary background to generate search terms. They can also lead you directly to primary authorities. Secondary sources provide commentary and analysis of primary sources. They often summarize or collect primary law from a variety of jurisdictions. Secondary sources also often provide narrative explanations of complex legal concepts that would be difficult for a beginning researcher to grasp thoroughly simply from reading the primary law.
Because of this, secondary sources are an excellent starting point when researching a legal issue. Secondary sources are tools that will equip you with a solid understanding of the background of an area of law, and will help you to locate and evaluate primary authority on your research issue.
However, it is important to know that secondary sources are NOT primary authority. DO NOT quote or cite primary authority from a secondary source. You should always cite directly to the primary source.
Print Secondary Sources
1) Use an index or table of contents to find references to material on the topic you are researching. As with the index or table of contents in any other book, those in a secondary source will refer you to volumes, chapters, pages, or sections where you will find text explaining the topic you are researching. Some secondary sources may be a single volume while other secondary sources may include dozens of volumes along with a multiple-volume index.
2) Locate the material in the main text of the secondary source.
3) Update your research findings. Most secondary sources are updated with pocket parts which will be organized in the same way as the volume in which you found the text you are updating. If you do not find any reference to your topic in the pocket part, there is no new information to supplement the main text.
Electronic Secondary Sources
1) Locate the database for the appropriate secondary source on either Westlaw or LexisNexis.
2) To locate material, it is possible to browse the table of contents or conduct full-text searches. For most secondary sources online, there is no index available; the American Law Reports on Westlaw is the exception.
Legal encyclopedias provide a general description of the law. They do not provide analysis or suggest solutions. Instead, they simply report on the general state of the law. Because encyclopedias cover the law in such a general way, they are usually only used to gather background information on an established legal issue. Legal encyclopedias may have references to primary authority such as statutes, cases, and regulations, but are better used to find a general overview of a particular area of the law.
- American Jurisprudence 2nd
Print: Stack 3 Alcove: KF154 .A42
Lexis: American Jurisprudence 2d
Lexis: American Jurisprudence 2d
- Corpus Juris Secundum
Print: Stack 3 Alcove: KF154 .C56
- New York Jurisprudence
Print: Open Reserve: KFN5065 .N48 1979
Lexis: New York Jurisprudence 2d
American Law Reports contain a collection of articles called Aannotations.@ Annotations contain a narrative text summarizing the cases on a specific topic across a number of jurisdictions. There are a number of different series covering different time periods, the latest being the ALR 6th, as well as a federal series. One index covers all series.
Print: KF132.2 .I53 1992 (ALR Index)
LexisNexis: American Law Reports (ALR)
Published by the American Law Institute whose reporters and advisors are well-known scholars and jurists, the Restatements of the Law are probably the most persuasive secondary source available. You will find that Restatements are widely cited in court cases.
The Restatements attempt to organize and articulate the common law rules in selected subject fields, such as Agency, Contracts, and Property. Restatements will also state emerging rules where the rules seem to be changing, or proposed rules in areas where the authors believe a change in the law would be appropriate.
There is no comprehensive index, but each Restatement volume contains its own index. Separate volumes called Restatement Appendix volumes contain case summaries.
Print: Various locations depending on subject matter, though all begin with KF395.
Search FULLPAC to find individual call numbers.
Westlaw: Restatements of the Law
Lexis: Login to Lexis Advance. Then click Browse Sources in the upper right hand cornr. In the search box on the left, search for “Restatements." This will give you a list of all available Restatements in Lexis Advance
Whereas legal encyclopedias provide a general overview of a broad range of topics, treatises generally provide in-depth treatment of a single subject, such as torts or constitutional law. Treatises are usually written by someone who is an authority in that area of the law, but can vary widely from scholarly analysis to a basic description of the law.
Scholarly monographs may be written on relatively narrow topics (e.g. Robert Bork=s The Antitrust Paradox). Multi-volume scholarly surveys of particular fields in depth (e.g. Moore=s Federal Practice, White, New York Business Entities) provide exhaustive coverage of specific subjects with numerous references to primary sources.
Practitioners= handbooks and manuals, published by such groups as ALI-ABA (American Law InstituteCAmerican Bar Association Joint Committee on Continuing Legal Education) are less useful for students but invaluable in real life. They tend to address practical concerns and provide useful features designed to simplify routine aspects of law practice.
Hornbooks and law school texts (e.g. Prosser and Keeton on Torts), as well as the briefer “nutshells,” are written primarily for students but are also good for anyone seeking an overview of a doctrinal area.
Most print treatises that appear on Westlaw or Lexis will have an individual record assigned to them in the catalog which you can use to click through to the actual treatise. However, you might also wish to search the database directory for a particular treatise. Once you have located the database of the treatise you are seeking, use the Table of Contents to locate information on your topic.
Some of the most influential scholarly commentary in American law appears in law reviews. Law review articles can be useful for obtaining an overview of an area of law, finding references to primary and additional secondary authority, and developing ideas for analyzing a question of first impression or resolving a conflict in the law.
Because thousands of articles in law reviews are published each year, we need to use a finding tool to retrieve articles that are on-point. A periodical index is a subject arrangement of the articles from a number of periodicals. It is used to locate articles on a specific topic, no matter where they were published.
1. Index to Legal Periodicals indexes more than 700 legal periodicals by subject, title, and author. Coverage dates back to 1909.
Online: Index to Legal Periodicals (1981- )
ILP Retrospective (1908-1981)
Westlaw: ILP (1981- )
Lexis: Index toLegal Periodicals (1978- )
2. Legal Resource Index (LegalTrac) indexes approximately 1500 legal periodicals including law reviews, legal journals, bar journals and newspapers by author, title, or subject heading. Coverage dates back to 1980.
Lexis: Legal Resource Index
3. Current Index to Legal Periodicals is a weekly publication which provides the tables of contents and a subject heading arrangement of over 500 legal publications between 4-6 weeks before they are indexed by commercial publications.