On Secondary Sources – The How, When and Why Explained

Despite the progress the fee-based databases, such as Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, or Lexis Advance, which aim to present the researcher an integrated approach to legal research where primary and secondary sources are amassed in one relevant-looking answer, secondary sources remain the pivotal starting point in legal research.

Think about secondary sources as shortcuts to the law: some explain and guide, while others only guide you to the law.

Here are some reasons for mastering secondary sources.

I will start with what Bob Berring calls “research-aid tools,” then move to finding-aid tools, and end with legal scholarship and hybrid sources of legal commentary and analysis.

Research-Aid Tools:

  1. Legal Dictionaries
  2. Citation Guides
  3. Research Guides


  1. Library Catalogs and More
  2. Other Controlled-Vocabulary Research Tools

First Steps in Locating Secondary Sources? Use Secondary Sources

Legal Scholarship and Other Legal Commentaries and Analysis