Secondary sources are a great place to begin your research. Although the primary sources of law--case law, statutes, and regulations--establish the law on a given topic, it is often difficult to quickly locate answers in them. Secondary sources often explain legal principles more thoroughly than a single case or statute, so using them can help you save time. Secondary sources also help you avoid unnecessary research, since you're tapping into work that someone else has already done on an issue.
Secondary sources include:
Secondary sources are particularly useful for:
This guide provides a basic overview of each source, including their strengths and why you might use them, as well as tips on finding, using, and citing them.
This guide is based on material written by Deanna Barmakian.
This guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
You may reproduce any part of it for noncommercial purposes as long as credit is included and it is shared in the same manner.
Legal encyclopedias contain brief, broad summaries of legal topics, providing introductions to legal topics and explaining relevant terms of art.They also provide citations to relevant primary law and sometimes give citations to relevant major law review articles.
There are two main legal encyclopedias in the United States that are national in scope. They are useful, but not well-suited for jurisdiction specific research.
State legal encyclopedias provide background and explanations of state legal topics. Not every state has a legal encyclopedia. Depth of coverage and quality vary. State encyclopedia articles are updated irregularly.
Electronic versions of the encyclopedias are updated directly. If using a print encyclopedia, always remember to check the pocket parts for any updates.
Legal encyclopedias are listed alphabetically by state. Electronic versions are included only if they are comprehensive in scope.
For a few states, Westlaw offers a practice series that contains selective coverage of state law, usually covering a few major topics and information useful to litigators. To find them, browse the Westlaw directory by U.S. State Materials > Other U.S. States > State name > Forms, Treatises, CLEs, and Other Practice Materials, then browse the page for "practice series."
See Bluebook B8.15 and Rule 15.8.
17 AM. JUR. 2d Contracts § 74 (1964).
Treatises, not to be confused with treaties, are book-length expositions on the law as it pertains to a particular subject. Treatises may be scholarly in nature, such as Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law, or they may be geared toward a legal practitioner, such as a manual or handbook.
A legal treatise may be a short, single volume or a large, multivolume set. Many are available electronically as well as in print. Different kinds of treatises have different purposes:
Legal hornbooks are designed as teaching tools for law students. Hornbooks provide more detailed treatments of particular areas of law than an encyclopedia or ALR entry. They generally contain summaries of landmark cases and other useful details.
Nutshells provide an overview of a legal topic without the detailed analysis or extensive case referencing found in other treatises.
Some treatises are designed to serve as practitioners’ tools. These works tend to address realistic legal problems and often provide useful features for practicing lawyers, such as forms and tables.
Looseleaf services are an example of treatises designed to serve as tools for practitioners. Such works address realistic legal problems and often provide useful features for practicing lawyers, such as forms and tables. Looseleaf services are frequently supplemented treatises--hence the looseleaf binder format that enables single pages to be easily updated without republishing the entire volume--that often contain primary legal sources and finding aids in addition to secondary analytical material, making them an invaluable resource if one exists for your topic.
Still other treatises are designed to serve as self-help publications for the public, such as those published by Nolo Press.
There are several ways to locate legal treatises:
- The Legal Information Buyer's Guide and Reference Manual by Ken Svengalis
- Legal Information: How to Find It, How to Use It by Kent C. Olson (note: this guide does not include single volume works)
- Legal Looseleafs in Print by Arlene Eis
Using legal treatises is like using any non-law book with a few special advisories.
First, as with any book, use the table of contents and the index to quickly locate relevant sections.
Second, remember that for a publication to provide reliable coverage of contemporary issues, it must be updated regularly and accurately to reflect any changes in the law. Updating may happen through the addition of pocket parts (which are usually tucked in a pocket in the back cover of a volume), by updated pages in a looseleaf, or periodic republication or an entire volume. Researchers should always make sure they are working with the most current edition of the treatise and be sure to consult pocket parts.
Third, while many treatises are still only available in print, more treatises are becoming available online. For example, major treatises on insurance law are available in both Lexis and Westlaw. Electronic versions of treatises allow for full text searching, which can be valuable for research. For more focused search results, consider narrowing your search to relevant sections, if possible. In many cases, you can still access the tables of contents and indexes to help locate chapters or sections of interest.
Remember that you can (and should!) check to see how current the electronic text is by clicking the I link next to the title of the treatise to see how regularly it is updated and when the last update took place.
See Bluebook Rule 15.
RICHARD H. FALLON, JR. ET AL., HART AND WECHSLER'S THE FEDERAL COURTS AND THE FEDERAL SYSTEM 330 (5th ed. 2003).
Law review or journal articles are another great secondary source for legal research, valuable for the depth in which they analyze and critique legal topics, as well as their extensive references to other sources, including primary sources.
Law reviews are scholarly publications, usually edited by law students in conjunction with faculty members. They contain both lengthy articles and shorter essays by professors and lawyers, as well as comments, notes, or developments in the law written by students. Law review articles often focus on new or emerging areas of law and they can offer more critical commentary than a legal encyclopedia or ALR entry.
Some law reviews are dedicated to a particular topic, such as gender and the law or environmental law, and will include in their contents the proceedings of a wide range of panels and symposia on timely legal issues.
These resources all provide comprehensive coverage of United States law reviews, and allow you to search the full text of the articles that they index.
These resources only index articles, usually by author, title, keywords, and subject; you will have to find the full text separately. However, they provide additional ways of searching, including taking advantage of subject indexing by expert librarians, and they enable finding material that may not be found in full text databases. In most cases, there will be a link to find the article you desire at Harvard. If we do not own the journal in question, you may request the article via interlibrary loan.
Working papers are an additional source of secondary analysis. They are frequently draft or pre-publication versions of law review articles, though you will also find published versions of articles in these databases. When citing or relying on a draft paper, be sure to carefully check its citations and request the author's permission before citing.
See Bluebook Rule 16.
Paul Butler et. al., Race, Law and Justice: The Rehnquist Court and the American Dilemma, 45 Am. U. L. REV. 567, 569 (1996).
American Law Reports (frequently abbreviated and referred to as ALR) contains in-depth articles on narrow topics of the law. ALR articles, called annotations, provide background, analysis, and citations to relevant cases, statutes, law review articles, and other annotations.
ALR is published in series:
ALR annotations are not jurisdiction specific. Each annotation contains a Table of Jurisdictions to help you find relevant cases within specific states. In the federal series, the Table of Jurisdictions directs you to cases by circuit.
All ALR series continue to be updated, though not on a regular schedule. When using the set in print, always check the pocket parts for updates. ALR is also available in both Lexis and Westlaw, and the electronic versions incorporate updates into the text. ALR annotations can also be completely superceded by more recent annotations. Electronic versions will provide referrals to the superceding annotations, but in print, you should check the History Table at the end of the ALR Index to verify that your annotation has not been superceded.
Find relevant annotations by using the print indices or searching the ALR databases in Lexis or Westlaw. When using ALR electronically, it is most efficient to look for your terms in the titles of the annotations, since their titles are specific, and reflect their contents.
See Bluebook Rule 16.6.6
William B. Johnson, Annotation, Use of Plea Bargain or Grant of Immunity as Improper Vouching for Credibility of Witness in Federal Cases, 76 A.L.R. FED. 409 (1986).
Restatements are highly regarded distillations of common law. They are prepared by the American Law Institute (ALI), a prestigious organization comprising judges, professors, and lawyers. The ALI's aim is to distill the "black letter law" from cases to indicate trends in common law, and occasionally to recommend what a rule of law should be. In essence, they restate existing common law into a series of principles or rules.
Restatements cover broad topics, such as Contracts or Property. They are organized into chapters, titles, and sections. Sections contain a concisely stated rule of law, comments to clarify the rule, hypothetical examples, explanation of purpose, as well as exceptions to the rule.
Restatements are not primary law. Due to the prestige of the ALI and its painstaking drafting process, however, they are considered persuasive authority by many courts. The most heavily cited Restatements are the Restatement of Torts and the Restatement of Contracts.
The ALI web site contains information regarding Restatement projects, ALI membership, history and institutional processes.
Annotations of cases citing a Restatement section can be found in the Appendix volumes the Restatements in print. There may be one or many Appendix volumes. They are organized by Restatement series, (i.e. citations to the first Restatement, then second, etc.), then by section number. Appendices are not cumulative. The spines indicate sections and years covered. They are updated with pocket parts, cumulative annual supplements, and semiannual pamphlets called Interim Case Citations. The same case annotations are available when using the Restatements on LexisNexis or Westlaw.
You can Shepardize a Restatement section on LexisNexis using the following formats. Note that Bluebook citation format for Restatements, or permutations thereof, will not work.
You can also KeyCite a Restatement section on Westlaw using the following formats. Note that KeyCite finds significantly more citing material than Shepard's for Restatements. (See the KeyCite Publications List for additional help with citation format.)
Listed below are print editions of the Restatements and their locations in the library. Restatements are also available on both Lexis and Westlaw:
Restatements on LexisNexis
Rules (along with comments, illustrations, and notes) are searchable in separate sources from case citations. This makes searching for relevant rules very efficient on LexisNexis. Case citations are linked from individual rules. Browse tables of contents or search by keyword. Restatement drafts are in separate sources from final versions of Restatements. The first series of Restatements is not available on LexisNexis.
Retreiving Restatement sections using Get a Document is not intuitive. Search for restatement in the Get a Document Citation Formats list to determine the proper format.
Restatements on Westlaw
All series of Restatements are available on Westlaw. Browse tables of contents or search by keyword. Searching the Restatements on Westlaw can be problematic, because multiple series as well as selected drafts are combined into one database along with case citations to all of them, e.g. Torts first, second, and the topic-specialized Torts third series along with citations to all series are in one database. This can make keyword searching inefficient unless you use a fielded search or use the Table of Contents mode to search within a particular Restatement. Examine your search results carefully to ensure you are looking at the current version of a rule. If a rule has been superceded, there will be note above the rule text indicating this.
Retrieving Restatement sections using Find is somewhat intuitive. The format mimics the database ID. See the listed format for KeyCite below; they will also work for Find. For a complete list of Restatement retrieval formats, search the Find Publications List for restatement.
For more information about the drafting process, see the Restatements Drafts sub-tab.
See Bluebook Rule 12.8.5
RESTATEMENT (THIRD) OF PROP.: DONATIVE TRANSFERS § 2 (2000).
For a short overview of the drafting process for a Restatement, see How the ALI Works.
The following process typically takes between 9 and 21 years:
Other ALI-authored works, such as Uniform Commercial Code articles, are created in a similar process. If you want assistance locating materials relating to non-Restatement ALI projects, please ask a research librarian.
Legal researchers sometimes need to trace the historical development of a Restatement section, the impetus for its inclusion, which section of a prior Restatement it derived from, or how it came to be worded a certain way.
For many sections, Reporter's notes explain the development of a section, often explaining earlier versions and citations to cases that were used as the basis for the rule. Reporters notes can be found in the Appendix volumes of individual Restatements.
To trace how the text changed during the drafting process, you can compare various drafts: the tentative drafts, council drafts, preliminary drafts and proposed final drafts. Each draft has its own record in the library catalog. Use the Title Keywords search in Hollis Classic--for example, search restatement torts--to locate them. Drafts are also available in the microform set Archive Publications described below.
Some Restatement volumes contain conversion tables. These tables indicate where sections of drafts or sections from earlier series were included in the final, adopted version of a Restatement.
Although some Restatements are designated 2d or 3d, there are not always antecedents. For instance, the Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers is a Restatement of the Law Third, but there has never been a first or second Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers.
The American Law Institute is continually working on Restatements and other projects. Researchers are often interested in determining whether a Restatement has become final, or what stage the drafting process has reached. The following tools can help answer those questions, as well as provide a history of the development of ALI projects.
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