The law collection at Princeton University Library is a rich, historical collection that has developed over the decades without supporting the research and teaching of a law school. The strengths of the collection are U.S. constitutional law and international law.
Princeton has an extensive collection of primary sources of U.S. (federal) law and New Jersey state law. With a combination of the print and electronic sources described in this guide, legal researchers at Princeton will find many of their research needs met.
For some highly specialized areas of legal research, users may need to consult nearby law libraries at the Rutgers University (both the Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark Law Libraries are open to the public), the New Jersey State Library in Trenton, the Columbia University Law Library, the New York University Law Library, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Legal research, like the legal system itself, can be quite complex. Legal information is organized in a distinct and unique system and many of the sources and finding tools of the law are unique to legal research. Also, an understanding of legal authority, precedent and jurisdiction are usually necessary to effectively conduct accurate legal research. Finally, updating or “Shepardizing” each primary legal source, to make sure the law or legal rule located is current, may (depending upon the nature of the research) be necessary. In sum, legal research can be quite different from the research most non-law students are used to conducting.
The most important tip for starting legal research is to begin with several relevant secondary sources. Do not begin by researching case law or statutes (either in print or on Westlaw or Lexis). Rather, locate information on your topic in a variety of secondary sources. This will provide substantive information on your topic and provide citations to relevant primary source materials. Conducting this preliminary secondary source research will result in far more effective primary source research afterwards.
This guide is intended to be introductory guide to legal research and should provide a road map to at least begin most legal research projects. If more detailed assistance is needed, please contact the David Hollander, Law & Legal Studies Librarian. To schedule an appointment, click here to access his online appointment calendar. Otherwise, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 258-5316.
This is not a general guide to legal research. Rather, this research guide is tailored specifically to legal research conducted at Princeton University, by undergraduates and non-law graduate students.
For a research guide to legal research specifically for history students see: U.S. Law for Historians.