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General Legal Research  

Information on basic primary and secondary legal sources.
Last Updated: Sep 25, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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See the guides below for information on general legal resources.

Free Legal Resources
by Lindsay Steussy - Last Updated Apr 21, 2015
A guide to free legal research resources on the internet and in the library.
94 views this year
Mobile Legal Research and Learning
by Lindsay Steussy - Last Updated Apr 21, 2015
A guide to the best apps, sites, and tools for doing legal research on your iPhone, iPad, or Android phone.
102 views this year

Basic Legal Research Resources

The following books will give you an overview of the legal research process and of the different resources you may come across while performing legal research.  They are all available on reserve in the Legal Research Center!

Cover Art
Pennsylvania Legal Research Handbook - Frank Y. Liu et al.
Call Number: Law Reserves - KFP75 .P47 2008

Cover Art
Legal Research in a Nutshell - Morris L. Cohen & Kent C. Olson
Call Number: Law Reserves - KF240 .C54 2010

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Principles of Legal Research - Kent C. Olson
Call Number: Law Reserves - KF240 .O47 2009

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Fundamentals of Legal Research - Steven M. Barkan et al.
Call Number: Law Reserves - KF240 .B37 2009



This guide will introduce you to the main primary and secondary legal sources, as well as other resources that will help you with your legal research. 

Guide originally created by: Stephanie Huffnagle


Getting Started...

Quick Tips!

Not sure where to begin your legal research?  Try a secondary resource like a legal encyclopedia to get background information on your topic or issue.

Take advantage of electronic indexes and/or table of contents and don't solely rely on keyword searches.

Use terms & connectors, field restrictors and proximity searches to create useful search queries and to get relevant results.  Not sure which searching techniques work for a specific database?  Use the Help links to find out!

Common Issues

Keep these things in mind when you are researching a legal issue:

  • Audience: For whom is the resource written (lawyers, academics, general public, etc.) and for whom are you gathering the information (senior partner, non-lawyer client, self, etc.)?

  • Jurisdiction: Make sure that the materials at which you are looking are relevant to the jurisdiction you are in.  If a state-specific material is available, use that as opposed to a general or multi-jurisdictional resource.

  • Costs: Balancing the costs of both time and money in performing legal research is very important.

  • Print vs. Electronic: Cost and convenience are important factors here.  Remember - not everything is available electronically.

  • Evaluation: Pay attention to things like authority, accuracy, credibility, and currency of the source and information provided.

Develop a Plan

Whatever your legal issue, you should always develop a plan of action for your research process.  Always keep a good record of your research trail so you know what you have already done and what you still need to do.

It's important to create a plan that works for you and for the specific issue or project on which you are working.  Below is just one example of a strategy that may help you.

Research strategy image

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