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Legal Research Guide: Secondary Sources


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Dianna Kim



Secondary Sources are NOT Law

Brown law book with legal scales printed on the cover in gold letters

Image dedicated pursuant to CC0 1.0

While not primary legal authority, secondary sources are an excellent place to begin your legal research.  Not only do they serve as a pathfinder to locate primary legal sources, they offer commentary, explanation, and analysis on the law which can aid in your understanding of sometimes complex legal concepts.  There are several types of secondary legal sources including legal encyclopedias, legal periodicals (law reviews), legal dictionaries, treatises, and digests, each of which will be explained in more detail within this guide.

Legal Encyclopedias


A legal encyclopedia is a comprehensive set of brief articles on legal topics arranged alphabetically by subject. While they do not cover any area of law comprehensively, they do provide a general introduction to areas of law which can be very helpful when you are unfamiliar with a topic.  Legal encyclopedias provide case and statutory citations and give the general state of the law rather than analysis or criticism.


National Encyclopedias

The two primary legal encyclopedias (American Jurisprudence (Am.Jur.) and Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.)) are of general interest and of national scope.  While very useful in in providing overview of legal concepts, they are not particularly helpful with jurisdictional research.  Both encyclopedia sets contain over 100 volumes and are arranged alphabetically by topic.  Both also include a general index which is shelved following the last volume of the each set.



American Jurisprudence books on a shelf in a library                American Jurisprudence 2d 


               Contains over 400 separate titles covering a wide range of legal topics

               Provides additional focus on federal statutory material

               Available at NGL only on Westlaw




"Law Books: American Jurisprudence 2d Am Jur" by Janet Lindenmuth is licensed under CC BY 2.0



Corpus Juris Secundum books on a shelf in a library

​           Corpus Juris Secundum

  •                Covers state and federal topics
  •                Longer and more detailed coverage than Am.Jur.
  •                Available at NGL in reference: REF KF105.1 .C6





"Law Library Books: Corpus Juris Secundum" by Janet Lindenmuth is licensed under CC BY 2.0



State Encyclopedias

Many states also have state encyclopedias which are used in much the same manner as the national encyclopedias.

Texas Jurisprudence Books 

​        Texas Jurisprudence


        Provides coverage on a broad range of topics pertinent to Texas law


        Includes analytical treatment of all law established in Texas state and federal courts and by             acts of the legislature


        Also includes Words and Phrases index for ease in finding material


        Available at NGL in reference: REF KFT1230 .T4 and on Westlaw

Confused Man cartoon looking at a street sign


  • Where to begin

Although volumes are arranged alphabetically by subject, it is best to begin your search in the indexes located at the end of the sets. This is because while the volumes are arranged topically, some legal topics will be covered under a broader MAJOR headings rather than narrower topics.  For example, the term "sentencing" appears under the topic "criminal law" in Am.Jur., not under "sentencing. in the alphabetical volumes  Therefore, to find information on sentencing, you would need to locate the volume containing the topic "criminal law" then find "sentencing" within it.


"Man Looking at Signs" by Notas de presenta is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

  •  Synonymous/related terms

When searching within the indexes, be sure to consider synonymous and related terms.  Lawyer/attorney, doctor/physician, automobile/vehicle are examples of synonymous terms.  But also be prepared to consider related terms such as pretrial release when researching bail issues, or post-conviction remedies for criminal appellate procedure.

  • Locating Entries

Once you have located your topic within the index, you will see that the index gives you a topic (sometimes subtopic(s))  and a section number where you can find your article.  Example: Damages/Compensatory Damages/Measure and Elements in Breach-of-Contract Cases §50 Causal relationship between breach and damages.  Look on the spine to see which volume your entry is in.  In this case volume 25 of C.J.S. contains Damages §§1 to 191, so §50 will be located there.  In Am.Jur. in Westlaw, you will find a list of the broad topical heading.  Upon choosing a topic, you will see an outline of subtopics and section numbers.  This same outline is located at the beginning of each major topic in the bound volumes and can serve to place subtopics in context.

  • Reading entries

After you have chosen the appropriate volume, you will see each article contains a brief summarization of the law followed by footnotes citing primary sources supporting the summarization. 

  • Checking for updates

Given the fact that the law is in a constant state of evolution, it is extremely important that you do not rely exclusively on citations you find in the bound version of legal encyclopedias.  When using bound volumes, begin by checking the accompanying pocket part for updates.  A pocket part is pamphlet inserted into the back pocket of the book. If your section number is not listed, there have been no updates made since the original publication of the volume. Occasionally pocket parts are too voluminous to fit within the bound volume. When this is the case, updates are printed in paperback supplements which are shelved immediately to the right to the bound volume.  Online versions of the encyclopedias are continually updated eliminating the need to consult additional materials.




Since the information you find in a legal encyclopedia is not law, you typically will not be citing to those in support of a legal argument. However, in those cases where citation to a legal encyclopedia is necessary, The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 20th ed.provides the following format:

17 Am.Jur.2d Contracts § 74 (1964).

88 C.J.S. Trial § 192 (1955).

In the first example, 17 refers to the volume number, Am.Jur.2d is American Jurisprudence, second series, Contracts is the major heading, § 74 (section 74) is the subsection, and (1964) is the publication year for the bound volume.


American Law Reports


Annotated Law Reports books on a shelf in a libraryAmerican Law Reports (A.L.R.) contain articles (annotations) that summarize the law while providing comprehensive treatment of legal issues.  They also illustrate differences in how law is applied across jurisdictions.  Annotations are similar to articles found in legal encyclopedias.  However, whereas legal encyclopedias briefly cover a wide range of legal topics, A.L.R.s deal with considerably fewer and narrower topics in a much more thorough, detailed, and comprehensive manner.

A.L.R.s provide the user with an overview of legal topics and also serve as a finding tool for primary legal sources as well as law review articles.  Annotations often cover developing areas of the law or areas in which there is disagreement between jurisdictions.            "ALR" by Adam Engelhart is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0



For What are A.L.Rs Most Useful?

  • For finding cases
  • When you are unfamiliar with a particular area of law and/or
  • You want to know how various jurisdictions are treating your legal issue.

Differences Between A.L.R.s and Digests

  • Range of coverage
    •  A.L.R. annotations only refer to cases related to the issues contained in the annotation.  Digests contain ALL reported cases in each topical area
  • Depth of coverage
    • A.L.R. annotations provide explanation and analysis of legal issues. Digests provide only case citations. 
  • Organization
    • A.L.R.s provide lists of cases on a specific issue organized by jurisdiction.  Digests arrange cases around particular legal issues rather than jurisdictionally.


A.L.R. Types
Title Abbreviation Coverage
American Law Reports, first series (1919-1948) A.L.R. State and Federal
American Law Reports, second series (1948-1965) A.L.R.2d State and Federal
American Law Reports, third series (1965-1980) A.L.R.3d State and Federal
American Law Reports, fourth series (1980-1992) A.L.R.4d State
American Law Reports, fifth series (1992-2005) A.L.R.5d State
American Law Reports, sixth series (2005-2016) A.L.R.6d State
American Law Reports, seventh series (2016- ) A.L.R.7d State
 American Law Reports Federal (1969-2005) A.L.R.Fed. Federal
American Law Reports Federal, second series (2005-2015 ) A.L.R.Fed.2d Federal
American Law Reports Federal, third series (2015- ). A.L.R.3d Federal
American Law Reports International (2010 - ) A.L.R.Int'l International

On Westlaw:

Westaw provides access to full text of all A.L.R annotations EXCLUDING A.L.R. International.

Searching by Subject

  • Begin by consulting the index volumes. If you are searching specifically for federal cases, use the A.L.R. Federal Quick Index. REF KF132 .A473.  If you are interested in state cases, search in the combined state and federal A.L.R. Index. (REF KF132.6 .I53) or the A.L.R. Quick Index (REF KF132.6 .A544). The A.L.R. Index is a comprehensive multi-volume hardbound index covering the complete series.  The Quick Indexes (one-volume softbound indexes) contains only the most recent recent series in each set (3d -7d for state and 2d -3d for federal).  
  • Look up your topic by descriptive term.  As with other indexes, you should always be prepared to utilize synonymous terms when searching (doctors/physicians, vehicles/automobiles, attorneys/lawyers), 
  • When you have found your topic, you will see that the index refers you to a volume and a page number within the series volumes.  This is where the annotation begins. Example: 35 A.L.R. Fed. 2d 143 indicates that the annotation is located in volume 35 of the A.L.R. Federal 2d series and on page 143 of the volume.
  • The annotation will generally begin with an overview of the topic and a key primary case citation.  Following this is an article outline and table of cases organized by jurisdictions which have cited the primary authority. The annotation will then narratively cover the law on the topic while providing additional citations.
  • Be sure to check the pocket part or accompanying soft bound volume shelved next to the volume for important updates. To see if there are any updates, use the same topic and section number that you searched in the main volume. 

Searching by Case Name

  • If you have already located a case that you wish to do additional research about, you can also search within the Table of Cases to see if there has been an annotation written about it. 
  • If your case is federal, you can search in the A.L.R. Federal Table of Cases (REF KF132 .A473).  State cases can be be searched in for the A.L.R. Table of Cases  (REF KF132 .A5799)

Since the information you find in an annotation is not law, you will typically not cite them in support of a legal argument.  However, in those cases where citation is necessary, Rule 16 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 20th ed., provides the following format:

William B. Johnson, Annotation, Use of Plea Bargain or Grant of Immunity as Improper Vouching for Credibility of Witness in Federal Cases, 76 A.L.R. Fed. 409 (1986).

Legal Digests


American Law Digest Books on a shelf in a library



A digest is an index for case law.  Digests identify and organize by topic points of law raised in reported cases. They are generally organized by jurisdiction or geographic area, although there are some that combine state and federal within one set.  There are many types of digests typically organized by court or region as shown below.





"American law digests at the Law Society of Upper Canada's Great Library at Osgoode Hall"

by Alan Shin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Legal Digests
Court/Jurisdiction Reporter Digest
United States Supreme Court Supreme Court Reporter West's United States Supreme Court Digest
Federal Courts West's Federal Reporter and West's Federal Supplement

West's Federal Practice Digest


            Federal Practice Digest books

"Federal Digests" by Adam Engelhart is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

State Courts Most states have a state digest (exceptions: DE, NV, UT). Texas: Texas Digest (see below)
Regional Atlantic Reporter Atlantic Digest
  North Eastern Reporter Refer to State Digests
  South Eastern Reporter South Eastern Digest
  Southern Reporter Refer to State Digests
  South Western Reporter Refer to State Digests
  North Western Reporter North Western Digest
  Pacific Reporter Pacific Digest
Both Federal and State Courts  

General Digest, Decennial Digest



Select a digest

  • If you wish to search only within the state of Texas,  begin your search with Texas Digest 2d.  If you wish to search federal and state courts from all jurisdictions, you can either use West's General Digest or the Decennial Digests.

Choose the appropriate date range

  • Digest dates are important.  The Texas Digest contains cases from 1886 to present. The General and Decennial Digests however, contain date ranges. The most recent cases will be found in West's General Digest, Fifteenth Series and the Twelfth Decennial Digest.  Earlier editions will cover earlier dates.

Use the Descriptive Word Indexes

  • The Descriptive Word Index is typically located either in the first or last volumes of the digest.  Using the index will lead you to a topic and West Key Number (make sure you check the pocket parts at the end of each volume for any updates if applicable).

Pull the Appropriate Volumes from the Shelf

  • Select all of the volumes containing your topic and key number including pocket parts or bound supplements.
  • Turn to your topic and key number within teh volume. 
  • You will see abstract paragraphs of cases related to the point of law you are researching.
  • Immediately the paragraph, you will see two citations. Once citation is to the regional reporter and the other to the state reporter (if the state has a state reporter).

Use Retrieved Citations to locate the cases within bound reporters or on Westlaw.




Law Reviews

Texas Law Review books on a shelf in a libraryLaw reviews (also known as law journals) are scholarly journals which focus on legal issues.  Law reviews are published by law schools, bar associations, or commercial publishers. The articles in law reviews consist of essays written by judges, law professors, and legal scholars as well as notes or comments pertaining to legal developments written by law students. Law reviews can contain both lengthy articles as well as brief essays. 

While not primary legal authority, law reviews are an excellent secondary source because the published essays are heavily footnoted.  These footnotes cite to primary and secondary authority which can be quite valuable when seeking relevant and persuasive primary authority. 


Law Reviews Available in Print


The library has several law reviews in print.  Click on links for holdings information.

Print Law Reviews
Texas Law Reviews  
Title Call Number
American Journal of Criminal Law (UT Austin School of Law) K1 .M44
Baylor Law Review K2 .A2
Houston Law Review KFT1269 .H6
SMU Law Review KFT1269 .S6
South Texas Law Review KFT1269 .S68
Southwestern Law Journal KFT1269 .S6
St. Mary's Law Journal K23 .A35
Texas Bar Journal KFT1269 .T47
Texas Law Review KFT1269 .T48
Thurgood Marshall Law Review KFT1269 .T488
Other Law Reviews  
ABA Journal KF200 .A4
Administrative Law Review K1 .D65
Air Force Law Review K25 .N43
American Business Law Journal K1 .M4
American Criminal Law Review K1 .M43
Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law K9 .N393
Brandeis Law Journal K10 .O86
Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review KF5501 .A13E5
California Law Review KFC69 .C34
Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems KFN5069 .C651
Columbia Law Review KFN5069 .C65
Harvard Law Review KFM2469 .H37
Journal of Criminal Law KF9202 .J68
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology KF9202 .J681
Journal of Law and Economics KF175 .J68
Michigan Law Review KFM4269 .M5
Minnesota Law Review KFM5469 .M5
Northwestern University Law Review KFI1269 .N6
Industrial Relations Law Journal K9 .N393
Psychology, Public Policy and Law: An Official Law Review of the University pf Arizona College of Law and the University of Miami School of Law K16 .S93
Real Estate Law Journal K18 .E14
Southern Law Journal K23 .O788
University of Chicago Law Review K175 .U54
University of Louisville Law Review K10 .O86
University of Pennsylvania Law Review KF175 .U541
Tax Law Review K24 .A87
Vanderbilt Law Review KFT69 .V3
Villanova Law Review KF175 .V5
Virginia Law Review KFV2469 .V57
Yale Law Journal KF175 .Y3

Law Reviews Available Online

There are several options for finding full text law review articles online:

Online Law Reviews
Resource Description


(see link below)

Law reviews are located under the Secondary Sources tab from the main page. Click law Reviews & Journals.  from there national, federal, international, and law reviews by state or topic can be searched.
Google Custom Search Free full-text online law review/law journal search engine.


(see link below)

HeinOnline provides access to more than 2,400 law and law-related periodicals. Under Browse Databases by Name, select Law Journal Law Library for an alphabetical list of all law journals available.  HeinOnline also offers a Law Journal Quick Reference Guide for assistance in searching.

Legal Source

(see link below)

Provides access to scholarly law journals in areas such as criminal justice, international law, federal law, organized crime, medical law, labor and human resource law, ethics, the environment, and more.  International scope covers United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. Alphabetical and hyperlinked list of law journals.  Includes subject areas links under Law Articles limiter in left column.
Legal Scholarship Network Forthcoming law reviews and working papers from law schools.  Current publication emphasis.
Loyola Law eCommons Loyola LAW eCOMMONS is an open-access, sustainable, and secure resource created to preserve and provide access to research, scholarship, and creative works created by the School of Law community for the benefit of Loyola students, faculty, staff, and the larger academic community.
University Law Review Project Allows full-text searching or browsing of journals by topic.


Legal Dictionaries/Thesauri

Law Dictionary books on a shelf in a library



Legal dictionaries provide definitions of legal terms and phrases (including Latin).  In addition to providing citation, some legal dictionaries provide citations to cases, A.L.R. annotations and legal encyclopedias.




"The Concise Law Dictionary, English-Urdu and Urdu-English" by umjanedoan is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Black's Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary





While there are a number of legal dictionaries available, the most well-known and commonly utilized is Black's Law Dictionary. Black's references the West's Digests in addition to providing definitions which can be very helpful when beginning your research. It also contains legal abbreviations and a "legal maxims" section which gives explanations of traditional Latin legal principles. Black's Law Dictionary is available in print at NGL at REF KF156 .B53 2014 and on Westlaw.




How to use Legal Dictionaries:

Legal dictionaries function essentially like traditional dictionaries. Provided you have the correct spelling of the word you are trying to define, the process is as easy as using a standard dictionary.  Please note however, that like all secondary sources, definitions found in legal definitions are not authoritative or official statements of law.

Citing Legal Dictionaries:

Rather than cite to a legal dictionary, it is always best to cite to the primary authority providing a definition.  However, when necessary Rule 15 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 20th ed. provides the following dictionary citation example:

Black's Law Dictionary 712 (9th ed. 2009).

This citation indicates that noted definition begins on page 712 of the volume.


There are also other types reference sources that can help you when beginning your research. These include dictionaries of legal usage and legal thesauri. Below are a list of examples from NGL's collection as well as a description of each.


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