Skip to Main Content

SJD Guide to Law Library Services

SJD Guide to Law Library Services


Welcome to the Harvard Law School Library. This guide lists many of the services available to you as an HLS SJD student. For questions large and small, always feel free to email

Research Assistance

Research librarians are available for drop in assistance without an appointment Monday-Thursday 11-6 and Friday 11-5 in the Reference alcove on the third floor, south end of the library. We are also available by chat and email Monday-Thursday 10-6 and Friday 10-5.

Our Ask a Librarian page provides contact information, current hours, a consultation request form, and searchable Frequently Asked Questions. See

As an SJD, you have a research librarian assigned as your primary point of contact. You can reach out using the generic contacts above to be connected with them, or contact them directly. 

The Historical and Special Collections department expertly cares for and provides research assistance in the use of rare and historical materials as well as our manuscript collections. Please reach out to them by emailing

Questions about library hours, materials, book borrowing, renewals, etc can be directed to our Access and Circulation department. They have a service desk in the main lobby and can be reached at  There is also a page explaining How to Borrow, Renew and Return Library Materials at Harvard Libraries.

Liaisons and Service Links

SJD Research Librarian Liaisons

If you are a current SJD student and your name is not paired with a librarian please email

Service Contacts and Info Pages

Service Contact
Access, Circulation, Library Information
Database Access and Passwords
Borrow Direct (fast ILL through 13-member consortium) Borrow Direct
Scan and Deliver (requests via HOLLIS) Directions for Scan and Deliver
Historical and Special Collections
Printers, Copiers and Scanners (at HLS Library) Printers Scanners & Other Equipment
InterLibrary Loan (ILL) ILL/Scan & Deliver
Document delivery: FRIDA
Publishing Support and Journal Submissions
Purchase Requests Your Liaison or Purchase Request form
Renewing Library Materials
Bloomberg Law, Lexis, Westlaw Accounts
Research Help Your Liaison or
Study Rooms Book a Space EMS (Student Express Room Template)

Library Spaces

A wonderful benefit of pursuing a doctorate at HLS is full access to the array of libraries and library spaces all over campus. These pages help introduce the study spaces and library locations available throughout the Harvard Libraries. 

Book and Article Delivery

Obtaining Books, Chapters and Articles

As an SJD student, you have access to a range of services to retrieve items from other libraries on our campus and from libraries of other research institutions. 

HOLLIS: Request Pick Up

HOLLIS: Scan & Deliver

Borrow Direct

InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

Research Help

Research Services may be able to help you with items not obtainable through HOLLIS Request, Borrow Direct, Scan and Deliver or ILL.

Contact us by email or via the Asklib form. Please include as much information about the item as possible, and any time requirements you have.

Please note that we cannot retrieve: Harvard Business Review cases.  


Recommendations for Purchases & Gifts to the Library

The library encourages you to recommend new and important older titles to add to the collection. In certain cases, entire databases can be licensed if necessary for your research and scholarship. Please send as much information as you have about recommendations or donations to your liaison or fill out the Purchase Request form online.


Research Catalogs and Databases

Library Catalogs

Harvard-wide Databases and Journals

Major Legal and Law-Related Databases

Selected Links to Major Legal Databases

E-Book Collections favored by SJDs

In addition to the selected e-book collections listed below, Harvard Library subscribes to over 500 other ebook collections. On the Harvard Databases page search by title, subject or keyword, then refine your results by content type "E-books and texts"

Research Adjacent Tools

Perma: Preserving and Citing Materials on the Internet is a free tool to preserve links to public websites referenced in your work from changing or disappearing. The HLS graduate program strongly encourages its use. As an HLS SJD, you may have a sponsored Perma account which will allow you to make unlimited Perma links. 

You may request an account through your liaison, or the links below.


Zotero is a research management software that is easy to use and will help you manage citations. The software itself is free, and Harvard pays for unlimited storage. Zotero will produce consistent citations but does not produce perfect Bluebook format automatically. It is still a good tool to track articles and books in folders and note down points of interest in each.

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation

The Bluebook is the main citation manual for law in the U.S. If you plan to submit papers for publication or your SJD supervisor requests it, you will need to use this system of citation. The publisher does not allow the library to provide institutional online access. Consequently, you will need to purchase a print copy, use a Bluebook available at the library, or purchase an online version for a 1 to 3 year subscription. 


Research Guide on Publishing

Please look at our research guide on Publishing in Law Reviews and Journals for a more comprehensive overview of this topic.

Journal Submission Software: Scholastica

Scholastica Submission support started in 2021-22. Under this program:

  • SJD students are entitled to up to 50 submissions each academic year (7/1-6/30) that they are students at HLS. 
  • Unused submissions rollover to the following academic year.
  • Remaining unused submissions may be used up to 10 months after graduation
  • No additional submissions will accrue post-graduation

To request Scholastica access, please contact and review the library's tutorial and quiz to obtain a Scholastica account  (HarvardKey required).

Find & Use Data

Empirical Study Support at HLS

Study Plans & Reading Lists

Select Sources for Creating Reading Lists

Current Awareness Services

New articles and working papers

Numerous options are available for keeping up with newly published literature, including those listed below. Please contact your librarian liaison or the Reference Desk for information about customizing journal alerts to meet your current awareness needs.

Current Index to Legal Periodicals (CILP)

Current Index to Legal Periodicals (CILP), updated weekly, offers tables of contents for newly published law periodicals, tracking over 500 major law reviews and journals.


EconPapers provides access to RePEc (Research Papers in Economics), the world's largest collection of on-line economics working papers, journal articles, new titles and software.

Google Scholar

Any search on Google Scholar allows you to create an email alert for any new articles matching that search.  Perform your search, then look to the bottom of the filters on the left side of the page.  

You can also follow certain authors if they have a Google Scholar Profile.  Click on the name of an author underlined in a Google Scholar citation.  You will be directed to that author's personal page.  Click on the blue "Follow" button to track that author.



Through HeinOnline's MyHein, you may set alerts for tables of contents from journals or search queries.  See MyHein's User Guide for more information.


SmartCILP provides customized weekly emails from Current Index to Legal Periodicals. You may subscribe to SmartCILP through MyHein. See this page with instructions.

LegalTrac Search Alert

LegalTrac Search Alerts allow you to create email alerts and RSS feeds of searches run in LegalTrac. Email alerts can be sent daily, weekly or monthly. After running a search in LegalTrac, create an alert using the Search Alert link in the upper right.


IngentaConnect, a database of the tables of contents of more than 28,000 multi-disciplinary journals, allows you to create a profile in which you designate journals of interest to you and receive regular email alerts of the table of contents of new issues.  

1) register as an individual

2) select My Profile

3) Create new publication alerts and follow the instructions.


Journal Alerts through Publisher/Vendor Platforms

Many journal publishers and vendor platforms provide alert services. Try the following strategy to discover whether an alert service is available for a journal of interest to you:

  1. Look up the journal in Hollis (limit to journals as resource type and then limit to online on the right hand side after you run your search).  
  2. A list of records that have links to the full text of the journal will be displayed.
  3. Select the database that has the most current issues and locate the journal.
  4. Look for a link to set up an alert.

Sometimes, the links in the alerts will not work properly. Try using the Lean Library extension or the Check Harvard Library bookmark to get the appropriate URL for Harvard access.

Alternatively, you can try inserting just after the .com or .org and before the first slash in the URL. For example,     ​

becomes     ​

Please contact the Reference Desk if both of these workarounds fail.

SSRN Social Science Research Network

SSRN is dedicated to rapid dissemination of social science research and provides an email alert service in several specialized areas, including law, management, accounting, economics and politics.  Through Harvard's institutional subscription, you may create e-mail alerts to a range of subject matters and series in various networks on SSRN.   When you register for an SSRN, make sure you affiliate yourself with Harvard's institutional subscription.  Ask your librarian liaison or contact the reference desk if you need assistance.

Law Commons (BePress)

Law Commons is a network of law school repositories on the BePress Digital Commons platform.  You may follow specific authors, institutions and subjects that interest you.  Look for the blue "FOLLOW" buttons: 

New Books at Harvard

You can generate alerts for new results for searches run in Hollis when you are logged in.  Look for the "Save Search" button at the bottom of the filters down the left side of the results page.

Westlaw Alerts

Within Westlaw, you can set up a search to be run regularly and have the results delivered to you.  You can also create an alert from a search you have already done.  Look for the bell icon.

Set up a KeyCite Alert to be informed when new materials are added to the KeyCite report for the authority you are citating.  Westlaw offers documentation about its alerting services. 

Lexis Alerts

You can set up a search to be run periodically on Lexis and have results delivered to you. Additionally, with Shepard's Alert changes to Shepard's reports for your authority can be sent to you automatically.  See instructions for setting up alerts on Lexis Advance.

Researching Employers

Academic Jobs

These resources will help you to find academic job postings, research potential employers and keep up-to-date on scholarship in your field. You may also want to look at the career portals for universities of interest to you, as jobs are often also posted on those sites.

Corporate Jobs

Whether you are interested in working as in-house counsel or in working in a different type of corporate job, these databases will help you to research potential employers.

Government, Nonprofit & NGO Jobs

If you are interested in finding a job at a nonprofit, NGO or governmental agency, try these websites.

Law Firm Jobs

Those interested in working at a law firm will want to start their research with these resources. You may also want to consult the resources provided by the HLS Office of Career Services.

Researching U.S. Law

A Brief Introduction to U.S. Legal Research

This section of the guide provides a brief overview of the process for researching an issue of U.S. law.  It is intended to introduce you to important concepts and terms without going into too much detail.

The U.S. Legal System

The United States has a common law legal system. Applicable sources of law include both legislation (statutes) and judicial opinions (cases).

The United States Constitution provides the framework for the U.S. legal system. It also guarantees that certain powers, rights, and liberties, for both the states and the people, are protected.

Three Branches of Government 

Under the Constitution, there are three branches of the federal government, and each is endowed with unique powers:

  • The Legislative Branch is comprised of two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is responsible for enacting legislation.
  • The Executive Branch is headed by the President, who signs legislation enacted by Congress.  This action creates binding federal statutes. The Executive Branch also includes federal administrative agencies, which are responsible for promulgating regulations pursuant to the powers granted to them in federal statutes.
  • The Judicial Branch hears cases to determine the constitutional validity of federal laws and to resolve legal disputes involving federal law between parties.


In addition to the federal government, each individual U.S. state also has its own government that creates its own law. As is the case with the federal government, states create law through legislation enacted by the state legislature and judicial opinions issued by judges in state courts.

If a state law directly conflicts with a federal law, the state law is preempted by the federal law.

If you are doing comparative research in which the U.S. is one of the countries, it is important to understand that, in the U.S. common law legal system, certain areas of law are generally the exclusive domain of the federal government.  These include, but are not limited to, bankruptcy, federal taxation, immigration, and intellectual property.

Likewise, some areas are, in general, a matter of state law.  Examples of these include property law, corporate law, and family law. In the areas of law that are generally governed by the states, there are some common law principles that apply generally in every state. So, for example, if you would like to research divorce law in the U.S., you will need to look at both the common law principles and the laws of the individual states.

Primary Authority: Cases

The United States has both federal courts and state courts. Each court system is organized in a three-tiered structure.  

The court of first instance for almost all cases is the trial court.  

  • Federal trial courts are the United States District Courts. Each District Court serves a region, such as the District of Massachusetts, the Central District of California, or the Southern District of New York. 
  • The trial court has various other names in the states, such as the Superior Court in California, the Superior or District Court in Massachusetts, and, confusingly, the Supreme Court in New York. 

Appeals from the trial-level courts are heard in the appropriate appellate court.

  • The federal appellate court system is organized into twelve circuits. Massachusetts is in the First Circuit, New York is in the Second Circuit, and California is in the Ninth Circuit. Each circuit has its own United States Court of Appeals.  
  • Each state also has its own system of appeals courts. These courts hear cases directly from the state trial courts.

At the top of each system is the highest court.  

  • In the federal system, this is the United States Supreme Court.  
  • Each state has its own supreme court, which generally has the final word on the application of the laws in that state. However, the U.S. Supreme Court can still decide cases on the validity of state laws under the U.S. Constitution.

In the U.S. legal system, law created by the judiciary has the same legal stature as statutory law. The idea of legal precedent is also very important.  Under the principle of stare decisis, opinions from higher courts are binding on lower courts, and must be followed.

Researching Case Law

Judicial opinions are published in chronological order in case law reporters. These are available in print and electronically.

There are two types of case law reporters:

  • Official reporters, published by the government, generally include only the text of the judicial opinion.
  • Unofficial reporters are published by legal publishing companies. In addition to the text of the opinion, they additional content to help the researcher understand what the case is about and find related opinions.


A citator is a tool that you can use to learn whether a judicial opinion is still good law. This is important because judicial opinions can be overruled by higher courts. The U.S. Supreme Court can also overrule its own previous decisions.

The two major citator services are part of larger subscription legal databases:

  • Westlaw's citator is called KeyCite.
  • In LexisNexis, the citator service is called Shepard's (the term "Shepardizing" a case comes from this).

When you are looking at a case in either of these databases, there will be a symbol at the top of the screen that indicates its citator status. In both databases, a red symbol indicates that the case is no longer good on at least one point of law. This does not mean the whole case is no longer valid. Instead, the researcher will have to read subsequent opinions to determine the exact point(s) of law on which the earlier case has been overruled.

Primary Authority: Statutes

Legislative activity basically works the same way in federal and state governments. An identical version of a proposed version of a statute, called a bill, is passed in both legislative houses. Then, the bill is signed by the executive. At that point, the bill becomes law.

A simple graphic representation of the process for a bill becoming a law is available here.

Researching Statutes

There are two type of statutory publications:

  • Statutes are published chronologically, in the order in which they were enacted. For federal statues, the name of this publication is the United States Statutes at Large.
  • Statutes are also "codified." This means that all of the statutes that are currently in force are organized by topic. The United States Code contains all of the federal codified statutes. It is divided into 51 titles, each covering a distinct area of law. Each title has multiple sections.

Annotated codes, which are published by major legal publishing companies, are great for research. They include the statutory text and helpful resources, such as citations to relevant journal articles, legal encyclopedias, and judicial opinions.  

Secondary Authority

It is best to start your legal research with secondary sources, because they can help you easily find and understand the law.  

Types of secondary sources are listed below, in order of least depth to most depth.

  • A legal dictionary defines a legal word or phrase in a few sentences.  
  • Legal encyclopedias define a specific legal concept in a few paragraphs.
  • An article in a legal periodical (called a law journal or a law review) provides analysis of a legal topic, generally in around 25-75 pages. Articles are written by law students, law professors, practicing attorneys, and judges.
  • A legal treatise provides book-lengthy analysis of a legal subject.

Each type of secondary source, in addition to providing explanations and analysis, cites relevant judicial opinions and statutes.

The Harvard Law Library has a separate research guide that explains in much more detail how to use secondary sources for legal research. Check it out at

Legal Citation

It is generally required that citations to legal sources in academic documents be in the format required by the Bluebook. The current Bluebook is the 21st edition (published in 2020).You can borrow a copy of the Bluebook to use for up to two hours (in-library use only) from the law library's circulation desk. 

If you will be using it frequently, you may want to purchase your own copy. You can purchase a physical copy, access to the electronic version, or both. Note that the law school does not provide access to the online Bluebook for students.

Fore additional guidance on how to use the Bluebook, see our research guide: 

U.S. Legal Research: Steps

Once you have a topic, it is recommended that you conduct your legal research project in this order.

1.  Look up any unfamiliar legal words or phrases in a legal dictionary, such as Black's Law Dictionary.  Note citations to any relevant statutes and judicial opinions.

2.  Learn some basic information about your topic from a legal encyclopedia, such as American Jurisprudence or Corpus Juris Secundum, again noting citations to relevant statutes and judicial opinions.

3.  Once you are ready for more in-depth anaylsis of your topic, try looking for relevant law review articles and treatises, making sure to continue to keep track of citations to relevant statutes and judicial opinions.

4.  Use the annotated code to research the statutes that were cited in the secondary sources.

5.  Use the annotations from the annotated code, in addition to citations you collected earlier, to find relevant judicial opinions.

6.  Make sure the judicial opinions you find are still good law by using citators.

Getting Help

Contact Us!

  Ask Us! Submit a question or search our knowledge base.

Chat with us! Chat  with a librarian (HLS only)


 Contact Historical & Special Collections at

 Meet with Us  Schedule an online consult with a Librarian

Hours  Library Hours

Classes View Training Calendar or Request an Insta-Class