The page provides an introduction to and suggestions for finding U.S. secondary source materials, such as treatises, books, and articles. Whenever you conduct legal research, starting with secondary sources is always recommended. Secondary sources will explain the background of an area of law, give you a grounding in a specific topic, and point you to relevant primary materials (and tell you what types of primary materials are most likely to be relevant to your research question). Please also see our Summer Research Training Videos & Handbook_2022 guide for more detailed information about the research process.
The below includes resources for searching for books and articles, as well as special secondary sources (dictionaries, research guides, and citations and abbreviations).
While Stanford has access to myriad books, articles, and resources, you may sometimes find a reference to source that we don't have access to. If our library does not have a book or publication, we can try to obtain it for you by borrowing it from another library. Submit an interlibrary loan request or find out more information about interlibrary loans.
Several databases provide electronic access to a wide range of treatises and practice guides. Coverage varies depending on the publisher. To access each databases' collection of secondary sources:
To find relevant treatises and practice guides, you can use a treatise finder such as Georgetown Law's Treatise Finder, which will point you to the major treatises in various areas of law; or you can browse or search through the databases' collections of treatises. For more information, see our videos on locating relevant secondary sources.
To find books owned by the law library or another Stanford library, type in the publication name into SearchWorks, our library catalog.
You can also search by Subject; or, once you've found a relevant title, scroll down to the Subject section of the catalog record and click the relevant subject heading. This will then search the catalog for all books that have that subject heading:
Several databases provide electronic access to a wide range of journals and articles. Coverage varies depending on the publisher. To access each databases' collection of journal articles:
For more information, see our videos on locating relevant secondary sources.
The library's catalog for articles, you can search in Articles+ by article title, author name, subject, or journal title. Because it searches all of the articles to which the library has access, a precise subject or title search is best. It also includes sources beyond legal sources.
Legal Citations and Abbreviations
It can be useful to understand the U.S. legal citation system and the various abbreviations employed.
Most citations follow the Bluebook, and many citation questions can be answered by consulting its Tables or Index. Somewhat less popular is the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation. Be aware the individual states and courts may also have their own citation styles.
If you come across an abbreviation either in a source or in a citation, there are two useful resources for deciphering it:
Some legal research will be complemented by looking up legal definitions.
Black's Law Dictionary is the most widely-used legal dictionary in the U.S. and can assist in defining legal terms used in secondary and primary sources. You can access Black's in print at the law library; or through Westlaw.
Cornell LII also produces a freely-available legal dictionary and encyclopedia, Wex. It's a great option when Westlaw or a print version aren't available; or for a quick look-up of a term.
When you start your research, it's good practice to locate a relevant research guide. These are guides, similar to this one, that provide guidance and resources related to researching a specific topic.
The best way to find these research guides is through Google. Type "research guide" [your topic] site:edu. For example: "research guide" administrative law site:edu will find research guides on administrative law published on education sites. It's often best to compare a few research guides, since their depth and breadth of content will vary.
You can also browse the research guides compiled by the reference librarians at SLS and review the state-specific print research guides available at the SLS law library.
There are also several frequently-used legal research textbooks, which provide in-depth guidance on legal research. The below are a few examples of the texts available in the law library.
©Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305.