Nonlegal Research

Prepared by Mary Whisner for Bridge the Gap.
Updated Feb. 17, 2009.


Lawyers’ research often encompasses more than "legal research." Litigators, scholars, and policy makers need to know something about the real world -- so they might need statistics, news stories, scholarship from other disciplines, and information as basic as addresses and phone numbers.

Since law touches on so many aspects of life, some legal researcher may need to get information about almost anything -- from engineering (technical specifications about a piece of equipment involved in litigation, for instance) to medicine, anthropology to zoology.



As you work on your various legal projects, be open to nonlegal information. Recognize that you will sometimes need to look beyond legal sources and might even need to leave the law library.

Become familiar with some standard tools. Remember the tools you used as an undergraduate and in the other work you did before law school. When you try out a new tool, look for a table of contents, an index, and an introduction that explains how to use it.

Explore nonlegal databases. For instance, through your law school account, you may have access to your university’s subscriptions to economics, business, and medical databases. LexisNexis and Westlaw both have many nonlegal databases. If you are working in a commercial setting, be aware of the pricing. Some of the nonlegal Westlaw databases, for instance, have a different price structure than the legal databases.

Ask a librarian for help. For instance, if you need business information, go to the Foster Business Library at the University of Washington or Seattle Public Library (which has an excellent business collection) and ask a reference librarian to suggest sources.

The UW Libraries Subject Guides page provides lists of recommended resources for several dozen topics, including American Indian studies, business, China studies, economics, environmental sciences, government publications, international studies, Japanese studies, medicine, political science and public affairs, and public health. The Reference Tools page links to a variety of dictionaries, quotation collections, directories, and more.



See also the Gallagher guide on People-Finding guide for additional directories and biographical sources. 


Statistical Sources

  • Fedstats links to statistics from over 100 federal agencies.
  • U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States, annual. HA202, current at Reference Office and Reference Area. Current and all the back years (1878-present) available online.
  • U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. HV7245.S68, current at Reference Office, available online.  See also various statistical tables and charts on the Bureau of Justice Statistics website.
  • U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports for the United States (Crime in the United States, annual. HV6787.A3, current at Reference Office, 1995-present available online.
  • U.S. Census Bureau and Centers for Disease Control, The DataWeb. A network of data libraries covering census data, economic data, health data, income and unemployment data, population data, labor data, cancer data, crime and transportation data, family dynamics, and vital statistics data.
  • U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, Background Material and Data on Programs Within the Jurisdiction of the House Ways and Means Committee (The Green Book) provides "descriptions and historical data on a wide variety of social and economic topics, including Social Security, employment, earnings, welfare, child support, health insurance, the elderly, families with children, poverty and taxation."
  • The World Almanac and Book of Facts, annual. AY67.N5W7, current at Reference Area & Reference Office
  • American Bar Association, Market Research Department, Statistical Sources links to sources for statistics about lawyers, law students, legal education, and related topics.
  • Nationmaster offers graphs comparing statistics from different nations on a wide variety of topics.
  • Statistical Universe (UW Restricted). Searchable database with hundreds of thousands of tables from government and private sources.
  • UW Libraries Statistics.

English Usage Sources

See also Legal & General Writing Resources with citations to print and online sources.


Quotation Sources

  • The Yale Book of Quotations. PN6081 .Y35 2006 at Reference Area.
  • Familiar Quotations [Bartlett’s], 16th ed. PN6081.B27 1992 at Reference Area. The 10th edition of Bartlett’s (1919) is here.
  • Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service. PN6081.R435 1989 at Reference Area
  • Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 4th ed. PN6080.O95 1992 at Reference Office.
  • Oxford Reference Online: Quotations (UW Restricted). Includes:
    • Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations
    • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
    • The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. PN6080 .O95 1992 at Reference Area
    • The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations. PN6080.O94 1991 at Reference Area
    • The Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations
    Does NOT include:
    • The Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations. KF159.S53 1993 at Reference Area & Reference Office
    • The Oxford Dictionary of Twentieth Century Quotations. PN6080 .O955 1999 at Reference Area
    • The Oxford Book of Humorous Quotations. PN6084.H8 O94 1995 at Reference Area

For other quotation sources, search the Law Library's catalog, MARIAN, for the subject heading "quotations".

Medical Sources

  • Physicians' Desk Reference: PDR. RS75.P5, current at Reference Area
  • Physicians' Desk Reference for Nonprescription Drugs. RM671.A1P48, current at Reference Area
  • Medical Abbreviations: 8600 Conveniences at the Expense of Communications and Safety, 6th ed. R123.D35 1993 at Reference Area
  • Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 25th ed. R121.S8 1990 at Reference Area, available on Westlaw (STEDMANS)
  • Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 15th ed. R121.T3 1988 at Reference Area
  • American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. RC455.2.C4 D54 1994 at Reference Area. (Note: the current edition is DSM IV-TR, 2000.)
  • Westlaw: Attorney's Medical Deskbook (MEDDESK).
  • The Merck Manual Online.

See also the UW Health Sciences Libraries, Healthlinks. See our research guides on Health & Medicine.