Secondary Sources: Understanding what they are, why they are important, and how they can benefit your practice | Ania Pobojewski

Consulting secondary sources is the first, most crucial step when conducting legal research. Although not binding, they are an indispensable preliminary research tool that puts the law into context and saves you time by pointing you to the most relevant legislation and cases. Without secondary sources, legal research would be a time-consuming, near impossible task.

What are secondary sources of law?

Cases and statutes establish the law, while secondary sources of law are background resources that explain, interpret, and analyze the law.

Secondary sources come in a variety of forms. They can include

  • Textbooks, treatises, casebooks, loose-leaf services
  • Legal encyclopedias, such as Halsbury’s Laws of Canada
  • Dictionaries
  • Books of words and phrases
  • Acronym and abbreviation guides
  • Journals and periodicals
  • Legal Education materials and seminar papers
  • Law Wikis and Blogs
  • News Sources, such as The Lawyers’ Daily
  • Law Firm and Professional Associations Newsletters
  • Case Citators
  • Statute Citators

Why are secondary sources of law important?

Secondary sources are important because they reflect how the law is being viewed; they provide insight into how courts are interpreting primary sources of law like case law and statutes. 

They do this by:

  • offering valuable insight into recent court decisions or new statutes
  • considering implications of a new ruling
  • examining topical legal trends or the current state of an area of the law

Without secondary sources, it would be difficult to get a picture of how the law is being viewed in a time-efficient and straight forward manner.

How do secondary sources benefit your practice?

Secondary sources are the first step in the research process for a number of reasons: they save time, direct you to the key primary resources, help you get up to speed quickly, and give insight into how to frame your legal argument and strategy.

As a starting point, secondary sources save an invaluable amount of time by directing you to the most relevant cases and statutes, summarizing the law, and allowing you to get a snapshot of how the law is being treated. For instance, case citators such as QuickCITE® on Lexis Advance® Quicklaw® quickly allows you to visually see how cases in your area of research have been treated, and even allows you to set up an alert to monitor the status of your research.

Secondary sources also assist you in getting up to speed quickly on an area of the law that you may not be familiar with. For instance, an encyclopedia like Halsbury’s Laws of Canada, which is available on Lexis Advance®  Quicklaw®, will quickly give you an overview of the law, often directing you to the key statutes and pieces of legislation to further continue your research.

Secondary sources also do more than send you in the right direction. They contain expert insight and analysis which helps you to craft your legal strategy and frame your arguments. This is particularly invaluable when it comes to less established areas of the law where it pays to know nuances about the law, such as the rationale and policy arguments behind the direction that the law may or may not be taking.   Being aware of these nuances can give you an extra edge in designing your legal strategy and argument.

By using Lexis Advance® Quicklaw® to do your legal research, you can access powerful tools and features that enhance the benefits of secondary sources. Lexis Advance® Quicklaw®  also contains an unparalleled collection of secondary sources from top legal experts in every area of the law, such as[1]:

[1] The following sources are accessible online on Lexis Advance® Quicklaw®. For a complete list of Print Titles sources online click here.

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