Why are Secondary Sources (also called commentary) Important?
- Searching for secondary sources is the first step in legal research.
- Secondary sources are books and other sources that assist the researcher in first, explaining and understanding the law and second, locating the law.
- Secondary sources are scholarly materials written by legal experts. They provide a good overview of the law and the text or footnotes can refer to relevant legislation or case law.
- Though not binding, some material found in secondary sources can have persuasive value in court.
- Secondary sources are useful for putting the law into context, and often will lead a researcher to relevant legislation and cases.
- Secondary sources come in both print and electronic format.
- The best place to start legal research is with a legal encyclopedia or textbook, and then move onto journal articles.
Types of Secondary Sources
Secondary sources can include:
- Textbooks, treatises, casebooks, loose-leaf services
- Legal encyclopedias
- Books of words and phrases
- Acronym and abbreviation guides
- Journals and periodicals
- Other Sources
- Government Documents
- Legal Directories
- Legal Education materials and seminar papers
- Law Wikis and Blogs
- News Sources
- Law Firm and Professional Associations Newsletters
Evaluating Secondary Sources
There are a number of criteria you can employ to judge the quality of secondary sources:
- Author: What are their credentials? Is the author an expert?
- Currency: When was it published? How recent is the information? Has it been updated or supplemented?
- Organization: Is it easy to use? Does it have a Table of Contents/Index/Table of Cases?
- Book Reviews: Have there been any reviews on the book? Can check this through the periodical indexes.