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Legal Research Resources for Beginners

This research guide provides basic information about the types of legal research resources and when to use them.

General Information

Legal research can be overwhelming. This guide will provide an overview of common legal information resources, the kind of information they contain, what audience they are intended for, and why you might use them in your research. 

Basics of Legal Research

There are two main categories of legal research materials: primary sources and secondary sources.

Primary Sources

Primary legal sources are the bills, statutes, ordinances, decisions, or regulations issued by a governmental body, such as the legislature, a judge, or a state agency. They are the authoritative, written statements of the law itself. For an overview of different kinds of primary sources and how they are used, please see the Primary Sources page.

Secondary Sources

Secondary legal materials are resources that explain, analyze, or comment on the law. They include treatises, nutshells, restatements, encyclopedias, and law reviews. Secondary legal sources can be both good starting places for research and places to turn for detailed, in-depth analysis of the law and how it functions. For an overview of different kinds of secondary sources and why you might use them, please see the Secondary Sources page.

Where should I start my research?

In general, secondary sources like encyclopedias are excellent starting places for most beginners starting their legal research. If you need basic information about a topic of law or would like to know what the law about it means, secondary sources can tell you where you can find laws on the topic, how the law has been interpreted, and how the law has been applied. Secondary sources will often also recommend further resources to help you continue your research.  If all you need to find is what the law said about a specific topic, starting with a primary source like the Texas Statutes may be sufficient.

Please see the What Resources Should I Use? page of this research guide for some common research scenarios and suggestions on what resources to use to get started.

Overviews of Legal Research

In addition to the information that we have compiled here, other organizations have made guides to legal research. The links below might be good starting places or summaries of the process.

Legal research webinars from the Law Library of Congress

The Law Library of Congress offers monthly webinars that give attendees a basic overview of the legal research process and resources. The topics cycle between researching United States case law, federal statutes, and federal regulations. If you'd like more guidance about how to conduct legal research or tips on federal legal research, the nation's law library is a great place to turn.

For more information about the next webinar and how to register, please visit the link below.

Research from Home

If you have a library account in good standing, you can check out an OverDrive e-book title or access our remote databases. Don't have a library account? Texas residents can register for a library account from home! Learn more about how to register from home.

Below are some e-book titles that will provide you with a broad overview of legal research.

Legal Research Resources

The titles below are the source material for the explanations contained within this guide.They are wonderful introductions to legal research and can be found in the Library's print collection.

Who Can I Contact?

The Texas State Law Library is happy to help you get started with your legal research. Our librarians are available by phone and email to answer questions about appropriate resources, how to use our materials, and how to formulate a search strategy. For assistance, please call (512) 463-1722 or visit our Ask A Librarian webpage.