Legal Research Strategy

This guide is intended for graduate level students and staff at the Harvard University who are interested in conducting basic legal research but do not have access to the Westlaw, Lexis Advance or Bloomberg Law databases, which are restricted to Harvard Law School affiliates.

Start your research by reading a legal book or article (often referred to as "secondary sources") before looking at the actual text of the law. Why? Books and articles will help you to identify the primary law (laws, cases and regulations) that applies to topic. Books and articles are also a valuable source of  legal citations to the law. If you are not familiar with the legal topic, recently published books are the best place to start your research if you are looking an overview of current laws. To find a book, search in our catalog, HOLLIS.

Finding a case or statute that appears to be applicable to your topic is not the end of your research.  Primary law is not binding in every jurisdiction.In addition,cases can be overturned in the courts. Statutes and regulations can be repealed or expire. Use up-to-date secondary sources to see if the primary law is still in force.You may also have to conduct a "cite check" in a database like Nexis Uni to determine if a law, statute or regulation is still good law.

Searching for Articles in Law Reviews

General Legal Databases

These expansive databases include a combination of primary and secondary law resources.

Citation Guides

US Law

Primary Law

The terms "primary law" and "primary authority" in U.S. usage refer to the categories of legal texts (statutes and codes, cases, regulations, and treaties) created by legislative bodies, courts, and agencies that taken together are the legal authorities that constitute "the law." In most cases, you should start with secondary sources to help you identify important primary law. Therefore, please review the Books & Articles tab in this guide before reading this section.

Case Law

Federal Laws & Regulations

State Laws


Foreign & International



Foreign & International Law


News & Tracking

Legislative History

Other Guides

Other HKS Library Research Guides

Research Guides from other Harvard Libraries

Law Librarians at the Harvard Law Library have authored a large number of specialized legal research guides on topics of interest to members of the Harvard Law School community. They can be viewed at http://guides.library.harvard.edu/law

Some introductory legal research guides are highlighted below: