Legal resarch material is generally divided into two types:

  • primary sources, include court cases and laws; and
  • secondary sources, include legal encyclopedias, books and articles

Primary authorities are the law as stated by the courts or government; secondary sources discuss and explain the law. They do not have the binding authority Primary sources do, but they can influence. Often, secondary sources can provide information on primary sources. For example, if you are looking for information on child support in a practice guide, the discussion on child support may reference several cases. Always begin with secondary sources, as those sources will allow you to become familiar with your issue, and learn the terms which can further aid you in your research.

A few Secondary Sources are:

  • Legal Dictionaries
  • Legal Encyclopedias
  • Annotated Law Reports
  • Legal Treatises, Hornbooks and Nutshells
  • Practice Guides
  • Periodicals such as law school journals and/or law reviews, and bar association periodicals


Secondary sources will give you a good overview of a particular subject.

Nutshells, hornbooks, practice guides or treatise combine secondary and primary sources in one convenient place. Also, they are updated on a regular basis.

Take good notes, remember to cite the material you are using and proof-read everything.