Skip to Main Content

Find Policies and Legal Research: Primary and Secondary Legal Materials

Introduction to primary and secondary legal materials

Both primary and secondary resources are used when conducting legal research. Which resource you choose depends on what you are researching.

Primary Resources

Primary resources are resources that establish laws.

Primary resources include:

  • Constitutions
  • Regulations
  • Municipal codes and ordinances
  • Treaties
  • Court cases
  • Statutes
  • Executive orders

For more information and help finding primary sources refer to the appropriate sections in this guide, such as Find Case Law, Find Municipal Ordinances, etc.

Secondary Resources

Secondary resources discuss and explain laws. Secondary resources may be used to create or interpret, but do not establish laws. They can also be useful for identifying primary sources.

Secondary resources include:

  • Dictionaries
  • Legal Encyclopedias
    • American Jurisprudence 2d ("AmJur") contains entries that summarize federal and state laws. Listings are alphabetical and contain information that can lead to the primary source.
  • Restatements
      • Restatements restate the law by synthesizing case law and statutes from across the U.S.
      • Restatements can be found in the Nexis Uni Database. See the section, Locate secondary legal materials in Nexis Uni in this guide.
  • Treatises
    • Treatises are books that discuss a particular legal subject in depth.
      • Treatises can be found in the Nexis Uni database. See the section, Locate secondary legal materials in Nexis Uni in this guide.
  • Law Journals (Law reviews)
    • Law journals cover many legal topics. Like other types of journals they contain articles written by multiple different authors.
    • Law journals can be found in the Nexis Uni or in Gale OneFile: LegalTrac databases.
    • Top 10 public policy journals.

In order to find secondary sources in the Walden Library see the steps for locating law reviews, journals, and secondary materials located on this page.

Locate secondary legal materials

  1. On the Nexis Uni homepage, enter your topic in the search box, for example, insurance
  2. Click on the All Content Types drop-down after the search box and click Legal
  3. Click on Law Reviews and Journals. Change the date from the default Previous 2 Years as needed
  4. Click Search
  5. On the results page, click Category under the section titled, Narrow By limit your results to a specific type of secondary source, such as Restatements or Law Reviews and Journals, as needed. You may need to click More to see all options. Not all secondary sources will be available for every topic.
  1. On the Nexis Uni homepage, click Menu and select All Sources in the drop-down
  2. Use the  Narrow By section  to narrow the search
  3. Under Category click More to see more options
  4. Click Law Reviews and Journals
  5. Once the search updates, you will find different options listed under Category. Select the secondary source you want to search, for example, Dictionaries, or Treatises & Guides.
  6. To browse an individual title, click on the three dots to the right of the title and select Get documents.
  7. To search within specific multiple documents, click the three dots and select Add to Search.
  8. To search within all of the documents listed, click Add All These as Search Filters button above the document list.

Gale OneFile: LegalTrac contains only secondary materials. In order to find primary legal materials, use Nexis Uni. 

  1. On the Gale OneFile: LegalTrac homepage, enter the topic you are interested in, for example, voting rights.
  2. Click search
  3. On the results screen, you can limit your search to specific publication types or by specific publication titles.
    You can use the options at the top of the screen under Showing Results For to limit the type of resource to Academic Journals or Books, for example. You can also use Filter Your Results on the side of the page to limit by document type or publication title.