Legal research materials can be drawn from a number of different sources. Most legal research materials are centered on either two categories of legal research – primary resources and secondary resources. Secondary resources refer to articles, opinions, treatises, and other reference materials that describe laws as it relates to specific contexts, interpretations, and arguments.
Commonly, research materials can be found in number of areas, a brief listing of which can be found below.
Databases – Legal databases have become a key element of modern legal research, and have honestly been a boon to the industry. Legal databases have been able to provide legal research from the comfort of an office, bringing materials that often were previously the domain of law libraries to anywhere in the world, especially now that many of these databases have gone online.
Dictionaries – Legal dictionaries are often a valuable resource for trying not only to decipher legal language and jargon, but also for listings of prominent laws, precedents, statutes, and even legal cases, which are then defined and described in objective terms. most popular law dictionary and the one that sets the industry standard is Black’s Law Dictionary, followed by Ballantine’s Law Dictionary, although most dictionary publishers, such as Merriam-Webster, McGraw-Hill, Barron’s and so forth produce many of their own legal dictionaries.
Encyclopedias – Legal encyclopedias are generally far more comprehensive than a dictionary, providing extensive articles that go very in depth on particular subjects, laws, statutes, famous cases, judicial branches, agencies, and categories of law. Most legal encyclopedias are multi-volume, and more and more are available in database format via software and even online. Encyclopedia are often extremely expensive, and are thus usually found only in law libraries or high end law firms.
Journals – Legal journals are where many academic style discourse on the law is published on an annual basis. These articles can take the form of case studies (both historical or contemporary), try to forecast coming trends or events, examine theoretical concepts in a way to contextualize them, or even present new legal theories to the legal community.
Treatises – Legal treatises are works written either by individual author(s) or committees that are focused on particular elements and subjects of the law, within particular contexts. They can include textbooks, academic texts, and even books for laypersons.