Research Strategy, Articles and Citation Guides
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 online access to the Westlaw, Lexis Advance or Bloomberg Law databases, which are restricted to Harvard Law School affiliates. Westlaw can be used at the HLS library.
Start your research by reading a legal encyclopedia, handbook, treatise, and other book or article (often referred to as "secondary sources") before looking at the actual text of the law. Why?
- Secondary sources will help you to identify the primary law (laws, regulations, and cases) that applies to topic.
- Secondary sources provide an overview, summary, synthesis and explanation of the law as well as analysis and critique.
- Secondary sources help you to identify subject headings, key numbers, and legal concepts and terms to help you search for how primary law materials.
To find a book, search in our catalog, HOLLIS. Elgaronline has academic handbooks and journals in law, management, public and social policies.
Harvard Law School Library, Secondary Sources guide explains and provides links to secondary sources. The American Jurisprudence 2nd (legal encyclopedia) can be searched within Nexis Uni.
Primary law is not binding in every jurisdiction. 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 Statutes and regulations can be repealed or expire.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 can conduct a "cite check" or Shepardize a cite in a database like Nexis Uni to determine if a law, statute or regulation is still good law. Federal regulations can be checked using the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR). Learn how with the E-CFR tutorial.
Searching for Articles in Law Reviews
Nexis-Uni and HeinOnline are full-text databases. Indexes can be used to search by subject headings, title, author, and journal, and may also have some full-text but not for everything. The indexes differ in the number and types of documents indexed, links to full text, date range, search interface (EBSCO, Gale, and HeinOnline) and subject headings. If you are new to legal research and these databases, save time and search more effectively by watching a video demo, reading the search tips or "Libguide", or asking a librarian.
- HeinOnline Law Journal Library (Harvard Login)Database of full text, PDF law review articles. HeinOnline is the most comprehensive law review articles database, as coverage begins with the first issue of each journal. Search by keywords, subjects, or known citations.
HeinOnline Law Journal Library also contains several indexes and finding tools, including the Current Index to Legal Periodicals, which indexes by fields or areas of law and the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals.
Use advanced search to search by topic, title or citation. Enter a term in "Search by PathFinder Subject" to bring all items indexed under that term. Alternatively, use Pathfinder subjects to browse subjects by text or interactive graphic. Pathfinder subjects also appears in search results. How to Browse and Search with PathFinder video (about 5 min.)
- Nexis Uni (Harvard Login)Full-text access to American Jurisprudence law encyclopedia, law reviews and journals; laws; administrative regulations; court cases; briefs; pleadings and motions; directories; news; and practice materials. Register to save documents and create alerts.
Nexis Uni uses SmartIndexing Technology to tag news, business, company, corporate surveys, legislative documents, names, geographic location, and subjects by topics and use of a controlled vocabulary. Nexis Uni Top 10 Features and Tips
Search within American Jurisprudence 2d (AMJUR) legal encyclopedia. From the main page of the database, click on the menu dropdown. Select "All Sources." You should see “American Jurisprudence 2d beside the search box. Enter search terms in the box. You can also search and browse using the AMJUR Table of Contents.
- Index to Legal Periodicals and Books H.W. Wilson (EBSCOhost) (Harvard Login)Provides complete coverage of the most important English language legal information, with international coverage of scholarly articles, symposia, jurisdictional surveys, court decisions, legislation, books, book reviews and more. The index was originally created by the American Association of Law Libraries, but it is no longer affiliated with the AALL. From August 1981 to the present. To search before 1981, change to or add the database "Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective: 1908-1981".
- LegalTrac (Gale) (Harvard Login)LegalTrac is an expanded web based version of the print Current Law Index (published by the American Association of Law Libraries). LegalTrac indexes more than 1,200 major law reviews, legal newspapers, specialty publications, Bar Association journals, and international legal journals, including more than 200 titles in full text. The database also covers federal and state cases, laws and regulations, legal practice and taxation, as well as British Commonwealth, European Union, and international law. It has an easy to use search page for keyword searching, Subject Search Guide and Topic Finder. 1980 to present.
- Current Index to Legal Periodicals (HeinOnline) (Harvard Login)Developed by the University of Washington School of Law, it is now published by HeinOnline. The index is included in the Law Journal Library and indexes mostly American law journals by fields or areas of law subject headings and has links to full-text. Select Libguide for user videos and list of subject headings. From 1936 - present.
- Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (HeinOnline) (Harvard Login)Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (IFLP) is an indexing service for legal periodicals from around the world that publish materials, in English and in other languages, on foreign (non-U.S.), comparative, and international subject matter. Bibliographic records for each article are given, along with a direct link to the full-text version if it is available in HeinOnline.
General Legal Databases
These expansive databases include a combination of primary and secondary law resources.The terms "primary law" and "primary authority" in refer to 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 such as law review articles or books to help you identify important primary law. Search in HOLLIS for books on your legal topic.
- HeinOnline (Harvard Login)Includes journal articles; English law (statutes and cases from 1200s to 1700s and 1800s); legal classics; US Code, CFR, and FR from inception; US congressional publications; state session laws and statutes; legislative history; treaties and world constitutions. While there is case law as part of FastCase Premium, cases are not annotated nor shepardized as in Nexis Uni.
- Nexis Uni (Harvard Login)Access to U.S. federal and state law primary law as well as sources of international law and the laws of other jurisdictions. Sources may include constitutions, legislation, legislative history, statutory codes, regulations, regulatory materials, cases, case digests, citators, law reviews, treatises, and general and legal news.
Includes Shepard's Citations for checking to see if cases, statutes and regulations are still good law. Register to save documents and create alerts.
- VitalLaw (Harvard Login)Formerly known as Cheetah, VitalLaw is a large legal database that covers mostly business and corporate law including intellectual property law, tax law and cybersecurity law. Includes the Capital Changes Reporter.
- Introduction to Basic Legal CitationTutorial published by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell University Law School to aid students in developing legal citations.
- Guide to the BluebookThis Bluebook guide for LLMs was created by HLS Librarian, Jennifer Allison, an is excellent resource for citing legal sources in your paper.
- The BluebookStandard legal citation guide used by authors who publish in legal journals and for submitting documents in court.
Legislative News & History
News & Tracking
- Hotline (Harvard Login)The Hotline, National Journal’s daily briefing on U.S. politics, provides bipartisan reporting with coverage from over 2,500 media sources.
- Politico Pro (Harvard Login)In depth news and analysis on current issues before Congress. Provides legislative and regulatory insights, data tools and resources for policy research.
- GovTrackGovernment transparency tool which tracks the status of federal legislation and the activities of senators and representatives.
- CQ Press Electronic LibraryA comprehensive reference resource for research in U.S. politics, elections, government, and public policy. Includes CQ Weekly, CQ Researcher Plus, the Congress Collection, Voting and Elections Collection, and more.
- Proquest Congressional (Harvard Login)Search for legislative history by bill or law. Coverage includes US bills and laws, committee prints, the Congressional Record, congressional hearings and House/Senate committee reports.
- Proquest Legislative Insight (Harvard Login)Provides legislative histories for enacted laws from 1929-2012, with links to full text documents. The histories are selected on the basis of importance, as determined by ProQuest or by input from Library staff. Easy to use but less coverage than Proquest Congressional.
- HeinOnline U.S. Federal Legislative Histories Library (Harvard Login)Access to the Sources of Compiled Legislative History Database and the U.S. Federal Legislative History Title Collection.
- Congress.govLegislative information from the Library of Congress. Includes access to the full-text of Bills, Laws, the Congressional Record, and Committee Reports. Includes email alert service for individual bills and for tracking legislator's activity.
- GovInfoWeb site developed by the U.S. Government Publishing Office, provides access to a wide range of government publications and data including Congressional Committe Materials, Congressional Bills and the United States Code
US Laws, Regulations, Ordinances & Cases
Federal Laws & Regulations
- GovInfoThis U.S. Government Publishing Office website provides free access to a wide range of government publications and data from the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Contents include statutes, bills, regulations, budgets, congressional hearings and reports, congressional committee materials, Supreme Court and federal court cases. Similar documents can be found within the below listed ProQuest and HeinOnline databases.
Listing of what is available at govinfo and links to other legislative, executive and judicial process resources. The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP), a finding tool for government publications (from July 1976 -present), includes records for print and content available on govinfo and links to govinfo for access to these publications.
- Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR)The eCFR provides updated, unofficial version of the Code of Federal Regulations.
- Congress.govLegislative information from the Library of Congress. Includes access to the full-text of Bills, Laws, the Congressional Record, and Committee Reports. Set up email alerts for specific bills or to track member's legislative activities.
- Regulations.govFind, read, and comment on federal regulatory issues.
- GovTrackGovernment transparency tool which tracks the status of federal legislation and the activities of senators and representatives.
- HeinOnline United States Code (Harvard Login)Federal statutes (organized by subject) from 1925 to current edition.
- HeinOnline Federal Register Library (Harvard Login)Online, full-text access to the Federal Register (volume 1, 1936 to near present) and the Federal Register Indexes (volumes 1-83, 1936-2018).
- Hein Online Code of Federal Regulations (Harvard Login)From 1938 to present.
- Proquest Congressional (Harvard Login)Coverage includes US bills and laws, committee prints, the Congressional Record, congressional hearings and House/Senate committee reports.
- Proquest Regulatory Insight (Harvard Login)Regulatory histories created by professional researchers compiling Federal Register articles associated with Public Laws and Executive Orders. Includes comments links to agency sites.
States Laws and Regulations
- Nexis Uni (Harvard Login)Provides access to state legislation, state court cases, bill tracking, and administrative code. Search law review articles to identify important cases, statutes and regulations on your topic.
- OpenStatesTrack bills, review upcoming legislation, and see how your local representatives are voting in your state. Open States aggregates legislative information from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. This information is then standardized, cleaned, and published to the public via OpenStates.org. APIs available. Now independent, from 2009-16, it was a Sunlight Foundation project. Data available for bulk download and APIs.
- National Conference of State LegislaturesNCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation's 50 states, its commonwealths and territories. The site features 50 state bill tracker.
- National Survey of State Laws (Harvard Login)This HeinOnline database provides a table format of state laws by legal topics in all 50 states. Users are able to make basic state-by-state comparisons of current state laws. The new 8th edition, along with the 5th-7th editions, are included in database.
For additional sources, visit the Harvard Law School Comparing State Laws and Constitutions research guide.
- NCSL State Legislative Websites DirectoryThis database contains information from the home pages and websites of the fifty state legislatures, the District of Columbia and the Territories.
- State Legislatures, State Laws and State RegulationsLinks to each state's legislature, state statutory code, and state administrative or regulatory code. Also provides telephone numbers to state government legislative assembly, legislative reference center, and state law library.
City/County Codes & Ordinances
There is no easy way to search all municipal codes at the same time. This HKS Library Fast Answer provides detailed instructions for locating municipal ordinances or codes in Nexis Uni. Please note that major metropolitan areas may have town, city and/or county ordinances that apply depending on what part of the metropolitan area you are researching. In some areas, you may have county and city codes that apply.
Search for reputable NGOs and think tanks in your policy area as they may have expert practitioners that monitor changes to state and local code.
Other free resources that provide access to ordinances/codes are listed below:
https://library.municode.com/ (links to county/local codes where available),
- Nexis Uni (Harvard Login)Includes US. state and federal case law and U.S. Supreme Court transcripts. Cases are annotated, have head notes, and Shepardized. For a known case, enter the case citation into the search bar.
- Google ScholarSearch and read published opinions of US state appellate and state supreme court cases since 1950, US federal district, appellate, tax and bankruptcy courts since 1923 and US Supreme Court cases since 1791.
- CourtListenerFree case law site with emphasis on US Supreme Court cases and US Appeals cases. Advanced search features include terms and connectors. Can filter a search several ways, including jurisdiction and date. Recognizes basic citation formats and docket numbers. Links to original slip opinion from court.
- Justia DocketDocket and filings information for federal cases from U.S. District Courts and U.S. Courts of Appeal from 2004 to present.
- Court Statistics ProjectState caseload data.
Foreign & International Law
- Constitute: The World’s Constitutions to Read, Search, and CompareYou can search by topics, countries or words, and filter by country and by date. Also, browse by country.
- ConstitutionNetSearch and download thousands of official documents from selected constitution building processes in the Americas, Asia and Africa.
- Oxford Constitutions of the World (Harvard Login)Includes US State Constitutions and Constitutions of foreign countries.
- HeinOnline Treaties and Agreements Library (Harvard Login)Collection of official and unofficial treaty series, all available in PDF.
- HeinOnline United Nations Law Collection (Harvard Login)Major United Nations legal publications, including the complete collection of the United Nations Treaty Series, the Monthly Statement of Treaties & International Agreements, the United Nations Legislative Series and more.
- Access UN (Harvard Login)Provides access to current and retrospective United Nations documents and publications.
Foreign & International Law
- Foreign Law Guide (Harvard Login)Offer relevant information on sources of foreign law, including complete bibliographic citations to legislation, the existence of English translations and selected references to secondary sources in one virtual destination. Includes 190 jurisdictions. Use Microsoft Browser.
- GlobaLex (NYU Law School)The guides and articles published are written by scholars well known in their respective fields and are recommended as a legal resource by universities, library schools, and legal training courses. They provide an overview of the legal and judicial system for each country, links to resources by international law topic, and comparative law resources,
- HeinOnline Foreign & International Law Resources (Harvard Login)provides full-text access to publications from the American Society of International Law and prominent Yearbooks from around the world, as well as the Hague Permanent Court of International Justice series and other useful materials.
- Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (HeinOnline) (Harvard Login)Multilingual index to articles and book reviews appearing in approximately 540 legal journals published worldwide. Provides in-depth coverage of public and private international law, comparative and foreign law, and the law of all jurisdictions other than the United States, the U.K., Canada, and Australia. Coverage: 1985-present.
- Law Library of Congress, Legal ReportsCountry surveys of laws and legislation on a variety of topics. Global Lex may be the better source for some countries and international and comparative law.
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:
Non-Harvard State Legal Research Guides
These guides will provide links to their own catalogs or login pages. Check HOLLIS to see if the resources are available to access the content.