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United States Legal Research Guide

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 Legal Research: Secondary Sources 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.