When getting started with legal research, it almost always makes sense to start with secondary sources!
Secondary sources will often help you learn about an area of law and -- just as importantly -- help you find your first few relevant primary sources (cases, statutes or regulations). Finding more primary sources is much easier once you already have some, or even one, citation to a primary source. The secondary sources described on this page can quickly get you started, so start here!
For much of the legal research conducted at Princeton, a law journal article search is a great place to start. If you find a relevant law review article, you will learn a lot about the issue you are researching, and you will find citations to many other relevant sources, both primary and secondary.
Law journals (also called law reviews) are the scholarly literature of the academic field of law. They are usually published by law schools and contain scholarly articles written by law professors. The subjects are often highly detailed and narrow, or address a cutting edge area of the law. The articles will contain hundreds of footnotes citing primary and secondary source material. Law journal and law review pieces usually contain a high level of sophisticated analysis, and therefore are often important sources for academic legal writing.
Note that journals also publish student-written articles, often called “notes.” These articles do not carry the same scholarly weight as the professor-written articles, but are often still helpful because the footnotes can lead to other source material, both primary and secondary. If a student-written article is to be cited, common practice is to note in the citation that it was written by a law student.
The following two databases on this list are the most complete, and will probably be the the easiest to use for most Princeton Researchers:
There are many other types of secondary legal sources. Below is a selective listing.
Popular Secondary Sources
The following are popular secondary sources that are intended for undergraduate students, or non-law graduate students:
Ready Reference Tools
In legal research, a treatise is a book or set of books, written by an expert, about an area of law. Some will provide a clear explanation of the state of the law on a topic (called “black letter law”) and others will provide detailed commentary and analysis. All types usually include citations to relevant case law. Hornbooks are usually one-volume treatises geared toward law students.
Although not scholarly works, these brief guides to selected areas of the law provide an overview of the key legal principles and highlight the important cases and statutes. Generally, researchers do not cite to Nutshells. Rather, they use them to provide an introduction to an unfamiliar area of the law. Below is a list of only some of the Nutshells in the Princeton University Library collection.
Martindale-Hubbell Law Digests
Firestone Library, Trustee Reading Room
KF 190 .M3
Contains a summary of each state’s law using the same subject headings for each state so comparison is relatively easy. Focus tends to be on commercial laws. Includes citations to state codes. Electronic version: Lexis State Capital - Click on Statutes, then click on Martindale-Hubbell Law Digests.
Subject Compilations of State Laws
Firestone Library, Trustee Reading Room (current issue)
Firestone Library (F) - back issues 1983 forward
An annual bibliography of law review articles, reports and other documents that analyze state laws. Includes brief information on to what extent state law is cited in the particular article or report.
Uniform Laws Annotated
Firestone Library, Trustee Reading Room
KF 165 .A5
Text of uniform laws proposed to state legislatures including annotations of cases interpreting those laws. Includes tables listing states that have enacted uniform laws.
National Survey of State Laws, 5th ed.
Firestone Library, Trustee Reading Room (current edition)
Firestone Library (F) - previous editions
KF386 .N38 2003
Contains comparison charts of state law on various legal topics.
The Book of the States
Firestone Library, Trustee Reading Room – current issue
Firestone Library (F) – back issues
Additional copy in Stokes Library
Annual yearbook containing information on state government structure and selected state laws.