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Legal Research at Princeton

Getting Started - Secondary Sources

Consulting a secondary source is most often the best way to begin legal research.  Secondary sources will explain or summarize an issue of law, and most importantly, provide citations to the primary source cases, statutes or regulation.  It's advisable to start your primary source research with a citation already in hand, rather than from scratch.  Secondary sources can provide those first few primary source citations.

There are several types of major secondary sources for law:

  • Law Reviews and Law Journals.  These journals provide the academic literature for law, and are especially valuable for their footnotes to other resources, especially primary sources.  Consult the Law Review and Law Journal page for links to the relevant databases.
  • Legal Encyclopedias.  These encyclopedias summarize a law topic, and provide citations to primary sources.  Several major encyclopedias are located in Firestone stack and in the Firestone Trustee Reading Room.  One important general legal encyclopedia is Corpus Juris Secundum.  Many will be available electronically, such as the subject specific Encyclopedia of the American Constitution.
  • Treatises. Treatises refers generally to scholarly works that provide a statement of the law in a particular subject area, including citations to relevant cases, statutes, and regulations.  Examples include, Federal Practice and Procedure or Principles of Constitutional Law.  Some treatises are available electronically through WestlawNext Campus Research, but many are available only in print, and be located in the library's catalog.
  • "Nutshell" series. This popular series is comprised of short, concise, and easy-to-understand treatises on a myriad legal topics.  These are available in print, and can be located by searching the library's catalog.  Examples include First Amendment Law in a Nutshell and Public International Law in a Nutshell.  You can find most of these in one catalog search by doing and advanced search for the series title: Nutshell Series.