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Representing Yourself: A Legal Resource Guide for Pro Se Litigants: Legal Secondary Sources

A resource guide to help pro se patrons at the James E. Faust Law Library find and use legal resources to further their personal legal matters.

About Secondary Sources

Secondary sources can be a really helpful place to start researching the law. However, it is important to remember that a secondary source is not the law, but rather a commentary on the law. Secondary sources are materials that explain, interpret, and analyze what the law is. They can also provide you with "terms of art" (legal terms specific to a particular area of practice) or lead you to primary law citations (cases, statutes, or regulations). Unlike primary law, secondary sources about the law are often difficult to find for free online. You can, however, come into the library and access them in print or through our public access databases such as LexisNexis Academic or HeinOnline.

Types of Secondary Sources


  • American Law Reports (ALRs)
    • ALRs are legal annotations, or articles, that contain in-depth treatments of specific legal topics. ALRs usually provide background on the topic, analysis of and citations to relevant law, and references to other useful secondary source materials.
  • Legal Dictionaries
    • Legal dictionaries define legal terms. They are organized alphabetically just like a standard dictionary. One of the more popular legal dictionaries is Black's Law Dictionary
  • Legal Encyclopedias
    • Like a standard set of encyclopedias, legal encyclopedias are multi-volume sets organized alphabetically by legal topic that provide a brief overview. These are a great starting point when you know little about an area of law. The two most popular are American Jurisprudence (AmJur) and Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS).
  • Legal Periodicals
    • Legal periodicals include legal newspapers, newsletters, and journals in which articles often discuss emerging areas of law or changes to existing law. Articles are generally written by legal scholars and professionals or law students.
  • Restatements
    • Restatments are highly persuasive secondary sources that "restate" rules of law constituting the common law in a limited number of areas. Although a secondary source, judges and courts can choose to adopt Restatments of law as the law for their jurisdiction. Restatements are written by law professors, judges and other legal experts and include areas of law such as Contracts, Property, Torts and others.
  • Treatises
    • Treatises such as hornbooks or Nutshells take a deep-dive into a specific area of law. They are often written by experts in the area of law they cover. Treatises can help you see the big picture for a particular legal subject and provide you with very useful "terms of art." An example of a treatise is Corbin on Contracts.

Legal Forms

Legal forms are one of the most helpful legal resources for pro ses. There are two kinds of legal forms. One is the kind that most people associate with the word "form," a document that allows you to fill in the blanks with your specific information. The other kind of legal form provides users with a prescribed or scripted set of words or legal language. Both can save you many hours when preparing your legal documents. It is also wise to see if the court provides pre-formatted legal forms for documents being submitted to the court as they already comply with all of the court's rules.

Did you know...

HeinOnline's Law Journal Library offers PDF scans of law reviews and journals going back to the earliest date of publication. This includes the law reviews of every law school in the United States, as well as many other law-related journals.

Public patrons need to visit the library in order to access this resource.

Free Access to Legal Secondary Sources

Both Google Scholar and SSRN (Social Science Research Network) are good resources for finding legal periodicals online for free.

Highlight: Newspapers

Public patrons can access a number of newspapers from our A-Z Database List while visiting the library. Some of our subscriptions include:

Highlight: Martindale Hubbell Legal Directory

Martindale-Hubbell is a national directory of attorneys. The database allows users to search by name, law firm, organization, location or practice area. Each lawyer's profile includes contact information and a brief bio as well as peer and client reviews.

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