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Secondary Sources

This guide will provide descriptions of many different kinds of secondary sources as well as tips on how to find and use them.


Legal periodicals can be very useful if you are researching an unsettled or obscure area of the law or if you are looking for persuasive authority on a point for which there is not yet a hard rule in your jurisdiction. Legal periodicals are primarily law reviews and journals, although other publications, such as trade magazines, legal newspapers, and commercial journals are also legal periodicals.

Articles published in law reviews generally contain substantial analysis of narrow legal issues. The issues discussed in law reviews are often in areas where there is still dispute about what the law should be. They are also often focused on theory rather than pragmatic legal questions, although there are journals that are written for practitioners. Because of this focus on novel and hypothetical issues, law review articles are not the best place to start if you are looking to learn about established principles in an area of law.

If you have been unable to find controlling law on your issue, however, articles can be an excellent resource. Law review articles are meticulously sourced, which makes them very useful for finding primary law relevant to the issue they discuss, and if the article is written by a prominent scholar, the analysis and conclusions of an article might be persuasive to a court in deciding how to rule. Because articles are focused on new issues, they can also be excellent resources for familiarizing yourself with issues that are too new to be covered by legal encyclopedia articles or A.L.R. annotations.


There are many good options for finding legal periodicals online.

Google Scholar
Provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. Sources include articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. For quick, free searching, Google Scholar ( can be a good place to start. Google Scholar includes advanced search options such as searching by author or publication, and limiting the data range of the results. Google Scholar is not as comprehensive as some of the other options listed here, and because your results will not be specific to law, it can sometimes be difficult to filter the results you want. Try using the Advanced Search Form, and limiting your search to articles published in HeinOnline. This should result in more law-specific results. Many of the articles returned in a Google Scholar search will be behind paywalls, although if you search while in the law school, or while on the VPN, you will be able to access those that belong to a database we subscribe to.
To search for legal periodicals on Westlaw, click on Secondary Sources, and then Law Reviews & Journals. You can then either narrow down the periodicals you want to search by geography or topic or search the entire periodical database. Note that narrowing by geography only limits where the article was published, and does not necessarily affect the jurisdition discussed. Coverage in Westlaw varies by publication, but in general, full text is often available for the last two decades, and earlier for some publications.

To search periodicals in Lexis, select Secondary Materials in the content type menu, and then run a search for your search terms. You can then narrow your results to include only Law Reviews and Journals via the filters to the left of the search results. Coverage in Lexis is similar to Westlaw.

Provides access to over 3,100 law journals inception through the most currently published issues allowed based on contracts with publishers.
Other materials include U.S. Reports, the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations, foreign and international resources such as English Reports, U.S. Treaties, world trials, and government documents such as session laws and legislative history. The Law Journal Library at HeinOnline is one of the most comprehensive, and because materials are available as scanned pages from the print edition, the text is extremely reliable. For many older articles, this may be the only place they can be found online.

LegalTRAC (1980 - Date) 
Legal periodical index. Contains major law reviews, legal newspapers, bar association journals and international legal journals going back to 1980. Many articles are available in full text.

SSRN Legal Scholarship Network 
The Social Science Research Network includes abstracts and articles that have been submitted for publication  This database is a great place to find upcoming or recent articles. Because many scholars post drafts of their work here before they are officially published, there are many articles here that can't be found through the more traditional databases above. Articles are free to download.

Bepress Digital Commons 
Allows searching or browsing through peer-reviewed Berkeley Electronic Press journals, plus a wealth of unrestricted working paper series, preprints, monographs, and other content from institutional and subject-matter repositories hosted by bepress.  This is another excellent free resource for searching for legal scholarship. It is not as comprehensive as other databases on this list, but more and more recent scholarship is available here.

In Print

Due to the frequent publishing schedules of legal periodicals, searching for articles in print is increasingly difficult. If possible, I recommend finding citations to articles you would like to read using the online sources above. Please ask a reference librarian if you would like assistance searching for articles online.

If you already have a citation to an article, you can access it in print by searching the library catalog for the publication name (the name of the journal, not the article) or find it on the A-Z list. The catalog will inform you whether or not we carry the title you are looking for, and whether the library has the specific volume that contains your article. If the volume is in our collection, you can use the call number to locate it.

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