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Legal Research Basics


The law itself (primary authority) can sometimes be unorganized, require a finding aid, and is constantly changing, which can lead to misinterpretation. Secondary sources are a great place to start, since they provide an overview of pertinent issues, explain key terms and concepts, and provide citations to relevant primary authority. Secondary sources are things like treatises, practice guides, encyclopedias, periodicals, and more. The library has a lot of secondary sources both online and in print for you to use. 

Secondary sources generally cover two issues of law, substantive and procedural. Substantive law deals with people's rights, responsibilities, and causes of action under the law. Procedural law establishes the procedures and methods used for enforcing those rights and duties, such as pleadings requirements or discovery rules. 

Are You Researching a Substantive Legal Issue?

Start with a treatise! The Research Librarians have created a list of recommended treatises that include both Federal and California sources arranged by subject. You can also search for these by title in our online catalog.

Next, consult other secondary sources. Major legal databases such as Westlaw and Lexis have a lot of secondary sources like encyclopedias and journals that are cross-referenced and often cited in relevant statutes and cases (by KeyCiting / Shepardizing). If you have a known case or statute, you can use the "citing references" tab to also find relevant secondary sources.

Additional California specific secondary sources can be found below:

Are You Researching a Procedural Issue?

When researching a federal procedural question, consult one of the following:

When researching a California procedural issue, consult one of the following.

The Rutter Group, CEB (Continuing Education of the Bar), and Witkin publish excellent California-specific procedural guides.


1. Rutter Guides

2. CEB Practice Guides

3. Witkin