Research Guides

Successful Summer Strategies: Research in the Real World

Using Secondary Sources for Background Research

Use at the outset of your research for background on an unfamiliar topic:

  • Some treatises
  • Hornbooks/Nutshells
  • Internet Searching - even Wikipedia may provide useful bakground and links!

Use near the beginning of your research for citations to primary authorities:

  • Law reviews or other legal periodicals
  • Legal encyclopedias: state or national
  • American Law Reports (A.L.R.): state or federal

Use for in-depth analysis and scholarly discussion:

  • Treatises
  • Restatements
  • Law reviews

Use for obtaining the most current information on pending appeals, lawsuits, legislative developments:

  • Legal newspapers

Use closer to the end of a research project, to confirm conclusions or refine analysis:

  • Treatises
  • Law reviews, especially if current

Use for a state law research project:

  • A state law encyclopedia
  • State bar journal or legal newspaper

Use for expanding a research project to persuasive authority:

  • A.L.R. (state or federal)
  • A national law encyclopedia (Am. Jur. 2d or C.J.S.)

General tips:

  • Make sure the secondary sources you consult are as up to date as you can find. Both the background information and the citation finding benefits are diluted if you look at sources that are out of date.

If searching for secondary sources online:

  • Use the Locate (Westlaw) and Focus (Lexis) functions to help you browse the materials.
  • Avoid printing out lengthy documents that may prove to be marginally relevant.
  • Try natural language searching if you are not familiar with the jargon.
  • Use appropriate date and title field restrictions to cut down on the volume of search results.

Detailed information on particular secondary sources can be found in the TMLL Guide to Legal Research, "Background Research Using Secondary Sources."

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