Secondary Sources – Lifesavers for Law Students

September 4, 2013

Law school blog 5As a law student you will be asked to research topics and areas of law that you know very little about. Secondary sources are the best way to build your base knowledge of legal concepts so that you may approach your case law and statutory research with better understanding and forethought.

WestlawNext has a plethora of secondary sources to assist you. The number of resources at your fingertips can sometimes be overwhelming, but do not let that deter you from using these resources. This blog will introduce you to some of the most popular and helpful secondary sources that are sure to be of assistance throughout your law school and legal career.

American Jurisprudence (AMJUR) and Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS) – these are your legal encyclopedias. They are designed to address broad legal concepts with short blurbs. There can be some case law cited in these documents, but they are designed to help you understand the legal concept rather than lead you directly to the leading case law.

Black’s Law Dictionaryfor all those Latin legal terms this should be your first stop. Black’s Law contains specific legal terms like “res judicata” and “promissory estoppels;” however, it does not define every single word. Sometimes multiple definitions for sub-terms will appear under a broader definition (for example, search “judgment” under the BLACKS on WestlawNext).

American Law Reports (ALR) – includes topics that are more specific than general legal concepts. These articles are also significantly longer than AMJUR or CJS articles, because ALR contains myriad primary citations. Most reports divide case law by jurisdiction and circuit. This is a great resource to use when looking for circuit splits or overall discussions of the different applications of the law throughout the country.

Federal Practice and Procedure (aka Wright and Miller) – this is one of the narrower secondary sources, but is the main source for federal civil procedure resources and federal criminal procedure resources. Keep this handy for tricky procedural questions about filing and jurisdiction.

The (state) Practice Series or Jurisprudence Series – it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with secondary sources that are published applying specific state law. If you are asked to research New York law – look specifically in the New York Practice Series or New York Jurisprudence. You will find specific state secondary sources under the state tab on WestlawNext or by filtering your results in state specific searches. Keep in mind though, not every state has a specific treatise of law.