Step 1: Secondary Sources - Introduction

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
  • Dictionaries
  • 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
    • Listservs
    • 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.