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Essential Legal Research Skills for Law Students: Secondary Sources

During the fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters, some of the library services will be modified to address the effects of the COVID-19 virus. Check the Law Library web page for updates (

Secondary sources are everything but case law, statutes, and administrative rules & regulations. An easy way to think about it is this

  • primary sources = the law
    • case law (judiciary)
    • statutes (legislature)
    • regulations (executive)
  • secondary sources = not the law

Secondary sources are vast and varied, and can be found in print and online. There is at least one secondary source for each area of law that will be helpful for starting your research. 

Lexis and Westlaw both have secondary sources, but, except for law reviews, there is very little overlap. The major difference between these platforms is in the coverage of secondary sources. Some secondary sources are available on Lexis only, some are available on Westlaw onlyand some are available in print only. 

Some secondary sources may be available in a variety of formats, allowing you to decide which best fits your needs. 

Secondary Sources:

  • are about the law;
  • explain, comment, and critique the law;
  • provide background information and analysis about the law; and
  • cite, rely on, and lead to the primary sources of law. 

Secondary sources are written by legal scholars, law professors, lawyers, judges, law students, and other legal professionals.

Secondary sources compile resources on particular topics and subjects within a jurisdiction. Some secondary sources provide a general summary and overview and some provide in-depth analysis. 

The legal profession is increasingly cross-disciplinary. Therefore, you will find some secondary sources written by experts in other professions, such as medicine, health, math, sciences, business & economics, sports, social, behavior, or environmental sciences, statistics, history, diplomacy, engineering, computer science, education, art, fashion, journalism, entertainment, geography, demographics, and more. 

Secondary sources include citations to primary sources in the form of cross-references to case law, statutes, and rules & regulations. Some secondary sources are available in print ONLY, but many are in print and online. 

Type Description and Availability Examples



In-depth discussion and analysis of one legal topic. Single or multivolume, available in print, on Lexis, and on Westlaw. The treatises available on Lexis and Westlaw are not the same--each vendor has unique titles.

New York Criminal Practice (in print and on Lexis)

New York Zoning Law & Practice (in print and on Westlaw) 

Siegel's New York Practice (in print on reserve)


Influential treatises describing an area of law and guiding its development. Available in print and on Lexis and Westlaw. Published by the American Law Institute (ALI).

Restatement (Second) of Torts

Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers



One-volume summary of one area of law geared towards students. Available in print. Hornbooks for all first-year courses are available at the Circulation Desk.

Criminal Law (in print on reserve)

Civil Procedure (in print on reserve)

Dictionaries Legal dictionaries are available online and in print.

Black's (Westlaw and in print)

Ballentine's (Lexis)

Legal encyclopedias

Include brief articles on legal topics, generally multivolume. There are general legal encyclopedias and state-specific encyclopedias.

Am. Jur. 2d (available on Lexis and Westlaw)

C.J.S. (available on Westlaw)

N.Y. Jur. 2d (available in print, on Lexis, and Westlaw)

Carmody-Wait 2d (available in print and on Westlaw)

Forms and formbooks Sample legal documents, available in print, on court websites, Lexis, and Westlaw.

Family Court forms (NY Courts)

Law reviews,  journals, legal newspapers Available in print, on Lexis and Westlaw. Many law review articles are available for free in institutional repositories that you can find using Google Scholar.

Pace Law Review

New York Law Journal (on Lexis)

Law review article: John R. Nolon, In Praise of Parochialism: The Advent of Local Environmental Law, 26 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 365, 380 (2002).

American Law Reports (ALR)

A series of articles (called annotations) on a particular topic, subject, or issue, presenting an objective take on the controversy with rich and well-organized cross-references to primary sources. Available on Lexis and Westlaw.

ALR on Lexis

ALR on Westlaw

Study aids Useful for reviewing and studying throughout the semester. These should not be cited in court documents or articles.

All are available in print only. Latest editions are on reserve. Ask for them at the Circulation Desk.

Examples & Explanations series: Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, ContractsCriminal Law, Property, Torts

MBE strategies: Strategies & Tactics 1, Strategies & Tactics 2

Nutshells: Civil Procedure, Constitutional LawContracts, Criminal Law, Property, Torts

Q&A seriesCivil Procedure, Constitutional LawContractsCriminal Law, Property, Torts

  • Search the Library catalog or Discovery Service.
  • Consult a research guide on your topic. For example, the reference librarians at Pace Law Library compile legal research guides on a variety of subjects. Browse by subject or browse all research guides available at Pace Law Library.
  • Search on Westlaw. Search for a source by its title or browse Westlaw's secondary sources by jurisdiction or subject. N.B. One of the major differences between Lexis and Westlaw is in the coverage of secondary sources. 
  • Search on Lexis. Search for a source by its title; browse Lexis titles; or search for a title and filter results by a jurisdiction, time range, or a topic. N.B. One of the major differences between Lexis and Westlaw is in the coverage of secondary sources. 
  • Search other databases. Pace Law Library provides access to a number of electronic databases. One database worth highlighting is HeinOnline, which, among other resources, offers access to all law reviews dating back to volume 1 in PDF format. 
  • Online. There are many ways to find secondary sources, including online legal research guides, institutional repositories, directories, online legal platforms, and of course Google, including Google NewsGoogle Books, and Google Scholar Articles and Legal Documents. Google Scholar searches institutional repositories and the metadata for databases like HeinOnline and Academic Search Premier and retrieves links to those articles. 
  • Ask the person who gave you the assignment. For any legal research project, ask the person who assigned it to recommend a good place to start. 

  • Ask a reference librarian. Most of the librarians at Pace Law Library are dual degree, meaning they have both the J.D. and M.L.S. degree. It's our job to be familiar with both print and online resources. Stop by the reference desk to ask your question, or use our online reference service.

Answer the following question:

Secondary sources can be used to:
A. Get an explanation of what the law is: 3 votes (3.8%)
B. Find useful primary sources: 1 votes (1.27%)
C. Both A and B: 72 votes (91.14%)
D. For citation as a point of law in a brief: 3 votes (3.8%)
Total Votes: 79