Secondary Sources

Legal Research Guides

Updated June 20, 2014.
Prepared by Mary Whisner. Adapted from a handout distributed to the Basic Legal Skills classes.

Books & Other Library Materials

Use the Law Library's online catalog, to find books, practice guides, videos, journals, and other material. Search by keywords, author, title, etc. Once you find a book, look for tables of contents, indexes, and tables of cases.

The Reference Area contains hornbooks, commonly used treatises, study aids, and some practice materials. Other locations include:

  • Classified Stacks (on floors L1 and L2)
  • Compact Stacks (on floor L2)



Use LegalTrac (available from the Law Library homepage under Selected Databasess or through the UW Libraries Research Databases page) to find legal periodical articles from 1980 to date. Print indexes are located in the Reference Area, K33. The Subject Index to Washington Law Reviews, 1970-1994, is in the Reference Area, KF8.K85 1994.

Search the Law Library online catalogy title of the law review or periodical to find a periodical's location. Most law reviews are shelved by title and located Compact Stacks. Some journals are shelved by call number in the Classified Stacks or the Compact Stacks.

With a citation to a law review, you may also check HeinOnline, a service that has digitized historical collections of U.S. law reviews. Use the Citation Navigator in the upper right corner to see if the journal you want is included. Then add the volume number and the first page of the article. Links to Hein Online and other law review sources are on the Legal Databases & Indexes page.


Legal Encyclopedias

  • American Jurisprudence 2d (AmJur 2d) (green): KF154.A42 at Reference Area
  • Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.) (dark blue): KF154.C562 at Reference Area

Both encyclopedias cover U.S. law generally (with an emphasis on caselaw). Both have general indexes for the whole set and title indexes for individual articles. Articles (or "titles") may be hundreds of pages long; each begins with a scope note and an outline. Articles are arranged in alphabetical order. The indexes refer to the topics by abbreviated titles; each index volume has a list of the abbreviations. Both sets are updated with pocket parts and occasional replacement volumes.

Tips for using legal encyclopedias:

  • Be patient with the index. Suppose you start with a heading A, and look for subheadings on your topic. You might find some references to topics and sections; you can go look those up. But you might also see cross-references to other headings. A cross reference to "B (this index)" means you should go look under that heading (B). A cross reference to "X, infra" or "Y, post," or "Z, supra" means stay with the same heading you started with (A), but look under X, Y, or Z as a subheading. (Am.Jur. 2d uses "infra" and C.J.S. uses "post.") Be aware of indents; some index headings have sub-sub-subheadings.
  • Occasionally you will follow an entry from the index and find that the section you looked up does not match the topic in the index; if so, check to see if there's a table indicating the article was renumbered when the volume was revised.
  • Watch the dates. Some volumes are 30 years old; others were revised within the last few years. Be sure to check pocket parts for new material.


American Law Reports

  • A.L.R., A.L.R.2d, A.L.R.3d, A.L.R.4th, A.L.R.5th, A.L.R.6th and Index: KF132 at Reference Area
  • A.L.R.Fed.: KF105 at Reference Area

American Law Reports contain selected, illustrative cases, accompanied by "Annotations," which are articles summarizing legal issues and noting cases from around the country. Annotations are on more focused topics than legal encyclopedia articles — e.g., a specific issue concerning a store's liability for a customer slipping and falling in the store, rather than all of negligence. A six-volume Index to Annotations covers all A.L.R.s except the first series (which is very dated). Check the pocket part or the Annotation History Table at the end of the S-Z volume of the Index to see if your annotation has been superseded. A.L.R.3d, 4th, 5th, 6th, and Fed. are updated with pocket parts.