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Law 627: Legal Research: Unit 7: Secondary Sources

Unit 7: Overview

This page will provide you with an overview of Secondary Sources.

At the end of this lesson you should be able to:

  • Identify whether a particular legal research source is primary or secondary
  • Recall methods for finding secondary sources
  • Classify secondary sources according to given features and applications
  • Integrate knowledge of secondary and primary sources to carry out a legal research problem

Definition: Secondary Sources

A form of intermediation, Secondary Sources analyze, explain, summarize, or comment on the law. These materials do not have the force of law, but instead provide helpful information to legal researchers. Secondary Sources are always persuasive authority in court, never mandatory (or binding).

Secondary Sources help legal researchers understand an area of law and provide citations to relevant primary sources.

Thinking Outside the Box(es)

Secondary Sources can help you prepare for class and study for exams.

  • Having trouble with a case? Look it up in a citator to see if there are any journal articles that will help you to understand it. Or look in the Table of Cases at the back of a hornbook (treatise) to find out more.
  • Does your professor like policy arguments? Look for a law review article on the topic to find ideas.  
  • When putting together your review outline to study for exams, look at the Table of Contents for that topic in a legal encyclopedia to see how the topic is organized. If this structure makes sense to you, use it to get started with your own outline.  

Quimbee Lesson - Understanding Secondary Sources

Bluebook Citation Examples

Secondary Sources

Examples of Secondary Sources - Legal Encyclopedia, Restatements, Uniform Laws Annotated, Model Penal Code, ALRs, Law Reviews, Bar Journals and Treatises


Secondary Sources: Broad to Narrow


Source Example Good for But  Where to find it
ENCYCLOPEDIA AmJur - Libel & Slander overview of broad topic, primary sources in footnotes uses hidebound terms - start in the INDEX

Lexis+, Westlaw Edge, or print


RESTATEMENT Restatement of the Law on Contracts, 2d black letter law, plus comments and illustrations There may not be one for your topic

Lexis+, Westlaw Edge, or print

American Law Institute

UNIFORM LAW Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act  acts designed to be adopted in all 50 states - with comments  The law you need may not have been adopted in your jurisdiction

Uniform Laws Annotated: Westlaw Edge or print

Uniform Law Commission

TREATISE LaFave on Search & Seizure comprehensive coverage of a single topic, often updated at least annually often more scholarly than practical

Lexis+ - Content - Secondary Materials - Treatises

Westlaw Edge - Secondary Sources - Texts & Treatises

NUTSHELL Legal Research in a Nutshell quick and simple overview no detailed analysis, may be a year or two old West Academic Study Aids or print
BAR ASSOCIATION PUBLICATION Illinois Bar Journal practitioner-oriented content; focused on case management, client relations, etc. might not focus as much on developments in law Lexis+, Westlaw Edge, or in print
LEGAL NEWS PUBLICATION Chicago Daily Law Bulletin synopses of recent court decisions and legislation, activities at law firms, etc. might be rather brief / cursory in reporting on developments in law Lexis+, Westlaw Edge, or in print

Reforming Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Reorganizations
Ralph Brubaker, Robert M. Lawless, Charles J. Tabb 2015 U. Ill. L. Rev. 507

in-depth coverage of a specific topic not updated, tend to be scholarly and idealistic  Lexis+, Westlaw Edge, HeinOnline, or print
AMERICAN LAW REPORTS (ALR)  Liability of swimming facility operator for injury or death allegedly caused by failure to adequately fence facility detailed analysis of narrow topic covering numerous jurisdictions there may not be one on your topic Lexis+, Westlaw Edge, or print