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United States Legal Research Guide: Secondary Sources

Research Strategy

Begin your U.S. legal research by finding commentary in secondary sources such as books, legal dictionaries and encyclopedias, books, journal articles, American Law Reports, and Restatements of Law, etc.  This approach will help you:

  • Become familiar with the area of law;
  • Determine whether you need to research federal and or state law; and
  • Discover U.S. legal terminologies, which may be different in Australia. You must use the relevant legal terminology to conduct the most effective online searching.
  • Find references to the leading primary sources of law including cases, legislation and administrative regulations.

Starting with secondary sources will save you time in the research process, because unlike primary sources, answers to legal questions are more readily available in secondary sources.  Secondary sources are based on research that someone else has already conducted and provides you with a more thorough explanation of legal principles. 

For more help, see Secondary Sources for Legal Research for more detailed information on researching secondary sources.
 

 

Legal Dictionaries (Online)

Black’s Law Dictionary is the leading legal dictionary in the U.S.  You can access this dictionary online in the Westlaw International database.  See instructions below along with some other U.S. legal dictionaries:

Legal Dictionaries (Print)

Black’s Law Dictionary is the leading legal dictionary in the U.S.  The print version of this dictionary is in the High Use section of the Law Library.  Along with Black’s Law Dictionary, below are some other print U.S. legal dictionaries:

Legal Encyclopedias (Online)

Two of the most popular U.S. legal encyclopedias are American Jurisprudence, 2d and Corpus Juris Secundum.  These two encyclopedias can be accessed through the Westlaw database - see instructions below.

Legal Encyclopedias (Print)

The following encyclopedias can be found in the Law Library.

American Law Reports (ALR)

American Law Reports (ALR) is an annotated law report that contain articles (called annotations) on narrow topics of the U.S. law.  Although similar to encyclopedic entries, ALR annotations differ in that they are not organized alphabetically, but in the order of when the leading case for the particular topic was decided.  Each annotation discusses in-depth a very specific legal concept and provides cases from every U.S. jurisdiction that have taken a position on that topic.  Along with citations to cases, the annotations also provide references to statutes, digests, texts, treatises, law reviews, and legal encyclopedias on that topic.

ALR is accessible through the Westlaw International database:

Restatements Of the Law

Restatements of the Law are a set of highly regarded treatises on general principles of common law.  The Restatements is an attempt to codify case law.  They are created by the American Law Institute, a prestigious organization comprising judges, professors, and lawyers.  Their aim is to distill the "black letter law" from cases, to indicate a trend 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.  Although the Restatements are not a primary source of law, they are considered persuasive authority by many courts, especially the Restatement of Torts and the Restatement of Contracts.

The Law Library has a number of Restatements in print.  Search "Restatement of the Law" in the library catalogue to see the full list.  However, the most up-to-date Restatements can be accessed online via the Westlaw International and Lexis databases.

Journal Articles

Most journal articles will be found online.  Search the Law Library's journal articles databases to find articles related to U.S. legal topics.  The listed databases below are the best ones for finding articles related to U.S. legal research.

If you cannot an article online, you may want to search to see if we have it in print.  Search the catalolgue for the name of a particular journal and if we have it in print, it will be located on level 4 of the Law Library.  The new journals display is located in the High Use area on level 3. 

Books

Use the library catalogue to find books discussing U.S. law.  Use a keyword or subject search for your legal topic and the terms “United States”.  If you find a relevant book, click on the subject headings or call number in the catalogue record to find similar titles.

The following are a sample of recent titles dealing with law and the United States: