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A Guide to Legal Research: Finding Primary & Secondary Sources

Primary Sources of Law - What are they?

Primary sources: The law itself, created by Federal and State branches of government.

Statutory Law:  Generally, laws passed by congress. They would include: statutes, codes, constitutions, rules of court. 

Case Law:   Decisions of courts and administrative bodies (i.e. Federal Court of Appeals)

Administrative Law:   Rules and regulations. Created by agencies (i.e. EPA, OSHA, Department of Education)

US Statutes and US Code

U.S. Statutes at Large (FDsys) Freely available from 1951 to 2011 (Digitized).

U.S. Statutes at Large (govinfo)Search Statutes at Large from 1951 - 2011.

Statutes at Large (1789-1950)Historical Statutes at Large dating back from 1789 on the Law Library of Congress site.

U.S. Code (Office of the Law Revision Counsel) Access current and historical editions of the official U.S. Code. Searchable and available in both HTML & PDF formats for download.

United States Code (FDsys)

United States Code (LII) Provided by the Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School

Library of Congress Law Library

Secondary Resources

Secondary Resources are legal sources written by experts.  These sources can provide discussion and commentary on the law.  Secondary resources  can be very useful in helping non-legal scholars understand the law on a particular topic or in a particular area.

Types of secondary resources:

  • Law Review Articles
  • Legal Encyclopedias
  • Legal Books & Treatises
  • Restatements of the Law 

Pennsylvania Laws & Statutes