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Introduction to Legal Research

Introduction

Secondary Sources are a great way for someone to begin their research of a legal topic, especially if a researcher is unfamiliar with that area of the law.  Unlike primary sources, which contain the actual text of the law, secondary sources aim to describe, comment on, or analyze the law.  Secondary sources are valuable because they can provide an overview of a particular area of the law, introduce key terminology, and provide citaitons to important primary source materials.

Some of the most highly used secondary sources belong to the following categories: legal dictionaries, legal encyclopedias, American Law Reports, law journals, Restatements, and treatises.  

Legal Dictionaries

Legal dictionaries are good sources for researchers who need to lookup unfamiliar legal terminology and Latin words and phrases that they may encounter duing the research process.  Legal dictionaries provide brief definitions and pronunciations of words.  In addition, they may also provide citations to relevant primary source law, such as cases and statutes.

Here are some popular legal dictionaries:

Legal Encyclopedias

American Jurisprudence 2d (Am. Jur. 2d) and Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.) are two good sources to consult to get basic information on an area of law.

Am. Jur. 2d is an encyclopedia containing over 400 separate titles on a broad range of legal topics.

C.J.S. is a legal encyclopedia covering state and federal legal topics, and has been cited over 90,000 times by all levels of U.S. Courts.

Law Reviews & Journals

Law Reviews & Journals are another great secondary source for researchers looking to start and expand upon their research.  Reviews and journals are the primary forum for legal scholarship in the academic legal community.  Generally the articles included in these publications are written by law professors, judges, legal scholars, and law students.  These articles contain a wealth of information, including footnotes that cite to primary authority and other secondary resources.

Here are two good places for locating law review articles:

American Law Reports

American Law Reports (ALR) combines elements of both legal encyclopedias and case reporters.  ALR contains articles, known as annotations, which are very similar to articles one might find in a legal encyclopedia.  Unlike a legal encyclopedia, ALR annotations are very specific in coverage, dealing with narrow topics.  These topics are discussed with more depth and detail than those presented in a legal encyclopedia.

In addition to references to primary source materials like cases and statutes, ALR annotations also provide citations to law review articles and other related ALR annotations.  There is no guarantee that an ALR article has been written on a researchers topic, as they are generally written on developing areas of the law. 

Annotations are not organized by topic.  Instead, similar to case reporters, they are bound in the order that they are published.  Therefore one would need the citation of the annotation to find it or would need to use the index volumes to find a annotation on a particular topic.  

ALR are organized into two parts:  (1) A series of six collections covering state law topics (ALR, ALR 2d, ALR 3d, ALR 4th, ALR 5th, ALR 6th) and (2) a series of two collections covering federal law topics (ALR Fed, ALR Fed 2d).

Additional Guides

Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the State of Georgia, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. Georgia State University College of Law and the authors of the works contained on this website do not assume or accept any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, currentness, or comprehensiveness of the content on this website. The content on this website does not in any manner constitute the issuance of legal advice or counsel. The information on this website is intended to provide resources that may aid the research of the topics presented, and are in no way a comprehensive list of sources one should consult on the topics presented. Please note that case law, statutory law, and administrative law may be modified and/or overturned. Additionally, because the laws vary between jurisdictions, the laws referred to herein may or may not be applicable to the law within the reader’s jurisdiction.