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LRAC Legal Research Class Site

What is a Secondary Source?

A legal secondary source (aka secondary authority) is writing about the law (aka primary authority). Legal secondary sources have two main purposes:

1.  Provide an explanation of the law

2.  Provide citations to primary authorities such as cases, statutes, regulations, etc.

Best Starting Point!

A secondary source is often the BEST STARTING POINT for legal research, especially when you are unfamiliar with the area of law.

You can save a lot of time at the beginning of your research by locating a good secondary source. Ideally, you would like a secondary source that is authorativecurrent, and specific to your jurisdiction (if possible) which provides in-depth treatment of your topic.

Types of Secondary Sources

There are a VARIETY of different types of secondary sources.

Legal Dictionaries

Legal Encyclopedias 


Legal Periodicals

  • Articles generally cover relatively narrow topics
  • Useful for researching emerging areas of the law
  • Useful when you can't find any information about your topic in a treatise
  • Examples:

American Law Reports (ALRs)

  • American Law Reports (ALR) articles, called annotations, provide analysis on narrow legal topics
  • Articles are not jurisdiction specific but provide citations to primary authority from many jurisdictions
  • Doesn’t cover all legal topics but a great place to start if there is an article on your issue
  • Very useful source that is always a FAVORITE with students


  • Restatements are published by the American Law Institute (ALI), a prestigious organization comprising judges, professors, and lawyers
  • Distills the "black letter law" from cases, to indicate a trend in common law, and, occasionally, to recommend what a rule of law should be
  • Covers a variety of broad topics such as torts, agency, contracts, property, security, etc.
  • One of the few secondary sources cited in motions, briefs, and court opinions
  • Examples:

Practice Materials