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Sources of Free Legal Research: Home

Welcome!

Welcome to this research guide on sources of free legal research materials. This guide is a starting point for finding free legal information. It is designed for use by BLS students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

If you have questions or need more help after using this research guide, please contact one of our librarians.  We are ready to assist you with your research!

Primary Law

Primary law is the actual text of the law as issued by official government bodies. We say "primary law" to distinguish from secondary sources (see below).

A basic understanding of the United States legal system is essential to knowing what to look for and where to find it. In the United States, the legal system is actually comprised of two parallel systems–federal law and state law.  

The primary law of each system flows from four primary sources:

  • Constitutions (fundamental law of a nation or state).  Read the United States Constitutionprovided courtesy of the U.S. Senate.  Read the New York State Constitution, provided courtesy of the New York Senate.
  • Statutes (laws enacted by the legislature)
  • Cases (judicial opinions issued by courts)
  • Administrative Regulations and Adjudications  (rules and opinions issued by administrative agencies)

All three types of primary law are created and issued by the federal government and by the governments of each of the fifty states.  In order to research effectively, you must determine if your issue involves federal or state law and what type of primary law applies.

Secondary Sources

To determine what law applies, you can turn to secondary sources. This catch-all category of legal materials is essentially everything that is not primary law. Secondary sources are materials that explain, analyze, critique, or help you find the law. Examples are:

  • Legal encyclopedias (comprehensive sets of brief articles on legal topics)
  • Treatises (scholarly legal publications that cover a large area of law in depth)
  • Law review articles (scholarly legal publications on narrow areas of law, often expressing the thinking of an expert with regard to very specific problems)

Many researchers recommend beginning with secondary sources because secondary sources are generally easier to understand than the primary law.  In addition to helping you to understand the area of law you are researching, secondary sources will also point you to the relevant primary law by citing the important cases, statutes, and regulations.

Books

When Was This Guide Last Updated?

This LibGuide was last substantively updated:

On: April 3, 2024

At:  8:05 AM

By: Loreen Peritz

Head of Research Instruction, Reference Librarian & Adjunct Professor of Law

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Loreen Peritz
Contact:
250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 780-7538

Evaluation of Free Legal Information

Each time you take advantage of legal information available on the web, you must critically evaluate the information for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose - otherwise known as the CRAAP test!  The basic idea is that you must be skeptical about free web-based information until you satisfy yourself that you can trust the source.