Secondary sources help the researcher to identify and understand the law. Though generally not cited as legal authority, courts will sometimes use them to help explain legal terms or ideas. They include legal dictionaries and encyclopedias, journal articles, books, treatises, practice aids, self-help materials, and finding tools.
It is easier and generally more effective for a researcher to consult a secondary source to read about key statutes, regulations, and cases governing a particular area of law, e.g., family law, probate law, employment law, criminal law, before attempting to identify, locate and analyze those same resources using indexes for codes and regulations and digests for cases.
Certain secondary sources are available online via subscription to databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. Louisiana colleges and universities, including law schools, and public libraries may provide access to popular legal dictionaries via subscription to academic and public-access versions of Westlaw and LexisNexis under the Secondary Sources or Legal Reference sections of those databases.
The legal encyclopedias mentioned above are available online through subscription databases. Cornell’s WEX is a comprehensive legal encyclopedia available on the Internet for free.
Law reviews and legal journals are published by law schools. Articles contain interpretations of the law and court decisions, and are written by law professors, attorneys, and law students.
Often, the easiest way for a non-lawyer to learn about a legal topic is to locate a current book on the topic— preferably one written for the layperson. These books in Fant Memorial Library contain in-depth discussions on different legal topics:
Other than the four main primary sources of law, there are a few other sources that have varying degrees of enforcement and power. Executive materials include executive orders, which are orders by the president or governor to an administrative agency, have the full binding force of law. A treaty is a formal written agreement between two or more sovereign nations, which is governed by international law. In the U.S., only the president or member of the executive branch are authorized to negotiate treaties. But all treaties negotiated by the president must be endorsed by the U.S. Senate before it is official. Treaties are also called international agreements, international conventions, and international protocols. Attorney General opinions are issued by both the U.S. Attorney General (who is the head of the U.S. Department of Justice) and the Mississippi State Attorney General. Attorney General opinions are written interpretations of existing law. They cannot create new law. Though they are considered highly persuasive by courts, they are not authoritative. Municipal ordinances are passed by local municipalities such as cities or towns, and have the full force and effect of primary law.