As law librarians, we try to emphasis to law students the value of beginning their legal research using Secondary Sources—especially for first year students who lack experience locating and analyzing legal material. When talking to students who have incorporated Secondary Sources into their research strategy, we hear how much easier it made the legal research process and saved them a considerable amount of time and frustration.
Now this article has referenced the term “Secondary Sources” a few times, but exactly what are these resources? These publications provide substantive analysis about a particular area of law or a narrower topic. As an undergraduate or graduate law student, if you were required to complete a research project using topical research books and/or articles, you already possess experience using these types of resources—just outside the legal context.
Secondary Sources serve as a great starting point to learning about an area of law and the legal issues involved—they help students build that necessary conceptual framework needed to analyze Primary Legal Material. While Primary Law may be another term that is unfamiliar to students, this is simply an umbrella term covering the actual Constitutional, Statutory, Regulatory, and Case Law that students already read, interpret, and apply. In addition to providing legal analysis, these Secondary Sources contain legal citations to actual Primary Law dealing with that topic/issue. Secondary Sources really can save students a considerable amount of time when developing an understanding of the law and finding those useful cases.
One particularly useful type of Secondary Source is the Treatise. Treatises are the legal equivalent of the single/multi-volume research publications students probably encountered when conducting undergraduate research. The logical, topical structure of these publications really help students develop a conceptual framework about how different aspects of an area of law fit together while providing students with relevant primary law citations addressing those particular issues. Many Treatises exist covering numerous areas of the law or focusing on more specific topics. Since there are so many Treatises, how should students go about identifying these publications and where to find them?
Law Librarians across the country produce online research guides designed to help their various stakeholder groups navigate different aspects of the law, identify valuable resources, and explain how to use these publications. The Georgetown Treatise Finder is one such guide. Georgetown Law Librarians have compiled a list of major Treatises which are available in-print and online and organized them into over sixty areas of law. Need to do Constitutional, Water Law, Intellectual Property, or International legal research? The Georgetown Treatise Finder can help students track down a particularly useful Treatise publication and where it can be accessed (most Secondary Sources are exclusive to one online legal research platform).
Remember that there are many Law Librarians who are creating content and meeting with students to help each one of them become better researchers. If you have questions or need research help, stop by the Reference Desk and speak with one of our friendly, experienced law librarians or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.