Legal Research Class Notes 9/18/03


Today we’ll go over secondary sources.


Bring Bluebooks tomorrow for a big fat Bluebook class.

What is the difference between primary and secondary sources?  It’s not a distinction that’s unique to the law.  Primary materials are the actual (in this case) law, while secondary materials are writing about primary materials, or in this case writing about the law.


What is the difference between mandatory and persuasive authority?  Mandatory authority is what must be followed; it’s what the courts above you have said.  Persuasive authority, on the other hand, is not as well defined.  Some non-mandatory authorities may be more persuasive on courts than others.




What’s the difference between F.Supp. and P.?  P. is a regional reporter for state court cases, while the F.Supp. contains United States District Court cases.


What does the Federal Register contain?  Regulations, proposed regulations, executive orders, notices of hearings, and presidential proclamations.


How many federal circuits are there?  There are 13 federal circuits.


Where can you find a statute or regulation online besides Lexis and Westlaw?  You can look at THOMAS or GPO Access.


How do session laws differ from the statutory code?  Session laws are in chronological order, while codes are in subject order.


What is the difference between a reporter and a code?  A reporter contains cases, while a code contains statutes.


Where do rules and regulations come from?  They are made by the executive branch of the federal government.


What is a parallel citation?  There are two different places you cite a case, like to a state reporter and a regional reporter.


More on general sources


·        ALR is an annotated reporter that came out to compete with West’s Reporters.  They did it differently.  ALR prints selected cases and talks about them at length.  ALR became obsolete as a reporter, but it’s useful as an encyclopedia about specific issues.

·        Encyclopedias like OJur and AmJur are very broad.  OJur, though a secondary source, some courts of appeal cite to OJur as law.  Very interesting.

·        Dictionaries such as Black’s are good for looking up Latin and French phrases.


Stuff for us law students


·        Nutshells give a broad overview of any subject from the perspective of expert authors who are usually law school faculty.

·        Hornbooks are sort of the same thing except more specific.  It’s a detailed overview of a detailed subject.  Sometimes professors teach right out of hornbooks but won’t tell you.  If a professor says “you might want to read the hornbook”…do read the hornbook.

·        Treatises are any book or books on a single subject.  They can encompass anything from a Nutshell to a 30 volume set.  They can be in print or in electronic format.  Huge treatises are for practitioners.  Little treatises (monographs) are for us kids.




·        You can get articles in print or electronically.

·        Lexis and Westlaw have a lot of journal and review articles.

·        There are some online-only journals.

·        Articles may either be theoretical or practical, but practitioners usually don’t have much time to read articles.


Law reviews


·        This is where most articles are published.

·        They are the main forum for scholarly publishing.

·        There are “lead” articles (by law professors or very rarely practitioners who are trying to break into law teaching) as well as student “notes” or “comments” (usually students who work on that particular law review).

·        You can use them for in-depth analysis of a narrow issue.

·        Law review articles cover policy issues and may offer support for change in law.

·        You can use the citations in the article.  Even if the article isn’t good, the citations are often nice.


If you don’t write on a journal, you’ll do a seminar.  You’ll have to write a long paper.  Write it about something new, and after you’re done with it, try to send it off to a journal.  As long as you write it, try to get it published.


West has a Nutshell about writing contests.  Whaaahooo!


Don’t cite to Time Magazine in a law review article.  If you use citations, track them down!


Index to Legal Periodicals & Books


·        Also known as “ILP”

·        Its coverage starts in 1908.

·        It’s available in print and online.

·        It covers journal articles.

·        It’s been around a long time and covers a lot of journals.

·        On the other hand, it has rather broad subject headings and its coverage is narrow.




·        It’s on Lexis and Westlaw, and it also has stand-alone web access.

·        It covers the dates 1980 to the present.

·        The coverage is very broad, from law reviews and legal newspapers to bar journals and more.

·        The Current Index to Legal Periodicals is the print version of LegalTrac which is limited to law reviews and substantive journals


Other indices or text sources


·        Lexis & Westlaw

·        Law reviews have web sites, where you can usually access the contents of recent editions for free.

·        You can also check out Jurist which can be found at




·        They were started by the American Law Institute in the 1920s.

·        They cover 14 subject areas and are written by judges, practitioners and eminent scholars.

·        They distill American law and are considered strongly persuasive authority.

·        They are sometimes criticized as being not an accurate depiction of the law as it is but rather a view of how the law should be.


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