PRIMARY AND SECONDERY SOURCES OF LEGAL RESEARCH
Because the law is so varied, there are many different resources available to help locate the law, each with a specific use and specific limitations. The major types of legal research resources are primary sources of law and secondary sources of law.
Primary sources of law are the actual law itself — constitutions, statutes, administrative regulations, ordinances, and court opinions. Anything that creates the law is a primary source of law. All legal research should rely on primary sources.
By contrast, secondary sources of law provide summaries and interpretations of the law. They are the result of what someone thinks the law is, not the law itself. Secondary sources are used to locate the law and to explain the law. Secondary sources are useful tools for finding the law, but they should never be relied on as stating the law.
There are three main categories of primary sources of the law. They are statutory law, administrative regulations, and case law.
Statutory law is any law enacted by a legislature and includes constitutions. It is also called enacted law. Statutory law is sometime contrasted with written opinions issued by the courts, called judge-made law (or common law). Statutory law can fill a void left by the common law, supplement the common law, or replace the common law.
Even though statutes are intended to be available to the public, locating the appropriate statutory law can be surprisingly difficult. There are several sources for locating statutory law; which of these sources you use will depend on the nature of the client's problem.
If the client's problem involves the application of a new law or a recent amendment of an old law, your legal research should begin with the most recent version of the statute. In most states, the earliest version of an effective statute is the slip