Law 101

Researching the Law

Legal research materials are generally classified as being either one of two types of sources: primary or secondary. Primary sources are “the law” itself, which we are bound to follow. Secondary sources are materials about the law; they explain and help us to find “the law” in a given situation. Although secondary sources, sometimes called “persuasive,” are very useful in legal research, and courts often consider them, no one is legally bound by them.

Any legal research project will likely require the use of both primary and secondary sources. You can learn more about accessing primary and secondary sources at the Law Library and online in the guides listed below. For a fuller listing of primary law sources, including many free online sources, visit our “Finding Primary Law” page.

Community Resources

Law books State Law Library
California State Law Library
California Reports Other Law Libraries
Council of California County Law Librarians

Research Guides

The Law Librarians have created these research guides as an aid for those starting a legal research project. These guides recommend print and electronic resources that will help you find answers to your law-related questions. Many guides provide step-by-step information, as well as sample forms, for common legal procedures.

Legal Research Websites

These websites provide good summaries of legal issues, as well as links to primary resources, forms, and other sources of information. They can be a good starting point for many legal research projects. Also see the Finding Primary Law page for information about accessing primary resources.

Guide to Law Online
This website from the Law Library of Congress provides online access to international, foreign, federal, and state legal materials.

California State Courts Self Help Center
Provides information about various aspects of California law. Includes information on finding legal assistance, going to court, and locating additional resources. Also posts information on various topics, including family law, domestic violence, elder law, guardianships & conservatorships, juvenile law, landlord & tenant law, Small Claims Court, Traffic Court, and other topics.

Findlaw-Internet Legal Resources
Comprehensive collection of legal information available on the Internet. Good starting point for any online legal research. Posts U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Circuit Court cases. Includes extensive attorney directory.

The Legal Information Institute
Hosted by the Cornell University School of Law. Posts unofficial versions of the U.S. Code, Code of Federal Regulations, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Federal Rules of Evidence, and U.S. Supreme Court cases since 1990. Provides summary of several areas of law, including criminal law, intellectual property, and tax law. Contains links to other federal and state information available on the Internet. Has a “Current Awareness” section that summarizes recent developments in the law.

LawScout (Case Western Reserve University)
Collects links to law library research guides from across the country. This is a good starting place to find information on specialized or obscure topics.

State and Local Government on the Net
Provides extensive links to official state and local government web sites.

Northern California Association of Law Libraries – NOCALL
Contains extensive links to available legal information web sites.

Legal Glossaries from Sacramento Court
The Sacramento County Superior Courts has developed these legal glossaries in a 12 languages. These online glossaries are still evolving but they are useful for patrons and those individuals studying for the interpreter’s exam.