Skip to main content

Legal Research at Princeton: U.S. Law: Getting Started: Secondary Sources


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!

Law Reviews & Law Journals

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:

Index of articles from approximately 850 law journals and selected books with some full-text.
Full text access to over 700 law journals, most back to the first volume. Most recent issues are often not included.

The following databases also contain law journal articles:
Note: If Westlaw Campus asks for a password, please click the refresh button on your browser. This should allow access to the database without putting in a password.  This database contains US law reviews, most back to 1980’s.
This database contains US law reviews, most back to 1980’s.
Index of articles from selected foreign law periodicals and US law reviews focused on international law.
Legaltrac  (1980+)
Index of articles from approximately 800 law journals with some full-text.  This database includes many non-academic law journals such as professional and bar journals.

Other Important Secondary Legal Sources

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:

  • Encyclopedia of the United States Constitution / David Schultz. Trustee Reading Room (DR). KF4548.5 .S38 2009
  • U.S. Constitution A to Z / Robert L. Maddex. Trustee Reading Room (DR). KF4548.5 .M33 2008
  • Encyclopedia of the American Constitution / edited by Leonard W. Levy and Kenneth L. Karst.  Trustee Reading Room (DR). KF4548 .E53 2000 (also available in an online format)
  • Encyclopedia of American Civil Rights and Civil Liberties / edited by Otis H. Stephens, Jr., John M. Scheb II, Kara E. Stooksbury. Trustee Reading Room (DR).  KF4748 .E53 2006

Ready Reference Tools

  • Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed.) Trustee Reading Room (DR) - Ready Reference KF156 .B53 2004 The standard legal dictionary.
  • Bieber’s Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations Trustee Reading Room (DR), Ready Reference KF246 .B46 2001 Useful for deciphering legal acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Uniform System of Citation, 18th ed. (The Bluebook) Trustee Reading Room (DR) - Ready Reference, Firestone, Donald E. Stokes Library (SPIA) -- Reference, K50 .xU64 This book is the standard source for legal citation forms. 


Legal Encyclopedias

  • Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.), Law Cases and Statutes (LAW), Firestone 7607.269 [Note: shelved out of sequence] A very comprehensive treatment of U.S. law (federal and state), focusing on case analysis.
  • American Jurisprudence 2nd (Am. Jur. 2d), Electronic version available on Westlaw Campus. Similar in scope to Corpus Juris Secundum above.
  • West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF154 .W47 1997 A basic description of major areas of U.S. law.


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.

  • Calamari and Perillo on Contracts / Joseph Perillo, Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone, KF801 .C26 2003
  • Conflict of Laws / by Eugene F. Scoles ... [et al.]. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF411 .S28 2000
  • Constitutional Law / John E. Nowak, Ronald D. Rotunda. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF4550 .N6 2000
  • Environmental Law / Frank P. Grad, Joel A. Mintz Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF3775.A7 G73 2000
  • Federal Practice and Procedure / Charles Alan Wright ... [et al.], Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone, KF8840 .W68 1982
  • The Law of Federal Courts / by Charles Alan Wright. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF8840 .W7 1994
  • Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts / W. Page Keeton, et. al. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF1250 .P73 1984



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.


  • Administrative Law and Process in a Nutshell / by Gellhorn & Levin.Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF5402.Z9 G4 1997
  • Advanced Criminal Procedure in a Nutshell / by Cammack & Garland. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF9619.3 .C36 2001
  • Comparative Legal Traditions in a Nutshell / by Glendon, Gordon, & Carozza. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone K560 .G43 1999
  • Constitutional Civil Rights in a Nutshell / by Vieira. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF4750 .V5 1998
  • Constitutional Law in a Nutshell / by Barron & Dienes. STrustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF4550.Z9 B35 2003
  • Criminal Law in a Nutshell / by Loewy. Trustee Reading Roomr (DR), Firestone KF9219.3 .L63 2003
  • Criminal Procedure: Constitutional Limitations in a Nutshell / by Israel & LaFave. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF9619.3 .I8 2001
  • Environmental Law in a Nutshell / by Findley & Farber. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF3775.Z9 F56 2000
  • European Union Law in a Nutshell. 4th ed. / by Folsom. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KJE949.E976
  • First Amendment Law in a Nutshell. 3rd.ed., 2004 / by Dienes. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF4770.Z9 F77
  • Intellectual Property: Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright in a Nutshell /by Miller & Davis. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF2980 .M52 2000
  • International Human Rights in a Nutshell / by Buergenthal, Shelton, & Stewart. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone K3240.4 .B84 2002
  • Legal Research in a Nutshell / by Cohen & Olson. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF240 .C54 2000
  • Public International Law in a Nutshell / by Buergenthal & Murphy. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KZ1242.5 .B84 2002
  • The State and Religion in a Nutshell / by Berg. Trustee Reading Room (DR), Firestone KF4865.Z9 B47 1998

Multistate Resources

Multistate Legal Resources


Researching the law of several states can be time-consuming because each state’s legal system is organized differently.  The following sources are helpful in comparing state law.


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 
KF240 .S795 
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 
JK2403 .B62  
Additional copy in Stokes Library  
Annual yearbook containing information on state government structure and selected state laws.

Contact the Law Librarian

Law and Legal Studies Librarian
Firestone Library