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Secondary Sources

This guide will help explain why you should generally start your legal research with secondary resources, which to use for your research task, and how to use them effectively.

What are Digests?

  • Digests are multi-volume, bound sets used to locate cases that are relevant to your legal issue and ideally within your jurisdiction.
  • There are a number of different digest resources available.
    • The case digest system created by the West Publishing Company, was the first significant print system.
    • Both West and LexisNexis have created online digest systems but out of these two publishers only West's is available in print.
  • Digests generally correlate to specific case reporters.
    • For example the Federal Practice Digest covers reported federal cases, state digests cover state reporters, etc.
    • There are also specialized digests that focus on cases within a certain area of law, such as bankruptcy or education law.
  • Generally, digests will assign a keynote or headnote to an issue that is discussed within a case. Along with the headnote or keynote it will give an exceprt about that issue. You can then use that headnote or keynote to find other cases discussing that topic.

When to use Digests?

  • Digests are extremely useful to practitioners, law students, and other legal professionals as they are the premier case finding tool.
  • They are great to use at the beginning of your research when you may only have just one case.
    • You can review the headnotes in that case, pick out the relevant ones, and then proceed to find other cases that have discussed that headnote.
    • They will help you in your initial case selection process, as you decide the strengths and weaknesses of your argument.
  • They are helpful as you are preparing drafts and even before you go before a judge.
    • As you draft a brief, motion, or other legal writing you will often come to the realization that you need to beef up the authority of one of your legal arguments. With digests it is relatively easy to go back and do some quick research to help strengthern an arugment that lacked authoritative wright.
    • In preliminary hearings judges will often have questions about the authority relied upon by the attorneys and it helps to have the ability to quickly have back up cases or to rapidly find other cases discussing opposing counsel's arguments, esepcially in the circumstance when a judge asks for an impromptu brief on the subject.

Print Digests

Photos by Flickr user tellumo.

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.