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Legal Research Basics: Secondary Sources: Introduction

General characteristics of major secondary sources in legal research

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You may be wondering why you would use Secondary Sources in legal research.  Primary sources (such as cases, statutes, and regulations) have binding authority, whereas secondary sources do not; instead, secondary sources have persuasive authority, and can be used to support your legal argument.  Moreover, secondary sources are an excellent place to begin your research, because secondary sources offer explanation and analysis of legal concepts; thus secondary sources also serve to expand your research and further your understanding of a particular legal problem.

This guide discusses the various types of secondary sources most commonly used and relied upon in legal research.  You can access the different pages of this guide by clicking on the colored tabs across the top or using the links in the Table of Contents box to the left.

Legal Dictionaries and Other General Research Aids

To begin, there are some basic secondary sources that can help you understand what you are reading, namely, legal dictionaries and abbreviation aids.  These can help you understand the meaning behind unfamiliar legal terms and interpret unclear citations.

Legal Dictionaries Legal Abbreviation Aids
  • Define legal terms
  • Often include judicially defined terms with reference to cited authority
  • Best known:
    • Black's Law Dictionary
    • Ballentine's Law Dictionary
    • Words & Phrases (multi-volume)
  • Location: Law Library Reference shelving, beyond the Circulation Desk; copies also in the Reference Office
    • Black's is also available on dictionary stands on each floor of the Library
  • Help interpret legal citations
  • Best known:
    • Prince's Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations
    • Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations
    • The Bluebook - leading legal citation manual; tables in the back provide explanations of many common legal abbreviations
  • Location: Law Library Reference shelving, beyond the Circulation Desk; copies also in the Reference Office
    • Copies of The Bluebook are additionally available for 24-hour loan at the Circulation Desk