Skip to Main Content
site header image

Summer Associate Research Guide: Locate and Use Secondary Sources

This guide is intended for students who will be working at law firms over the summer. It is similar and related to the Experiential Learning Resources Guide which focuses more on externships and clerkships.


This page provides background information and instructional videos on how to use secondary sources (books, treatises, and law review articles) as part of your legal research.  The page is divided into four sections:

Instructional Videos

Library Catalog Search Box


Advanced Search

Using the Library Catalog to Locate Secondary Sources

The LUC Library Catalog is where you'll find a record of every book, e-book, set of books, and journal (by title) in LUC libraries.  The Library Catalog also provides access to many but not all titles that LUC provides access to via subscription databases. 

If you are looking to see if Loyola has a particular book, the best way to search is to go to the advanced search screen, then choose 'Title' from the first-drop down box and enter the book title (or pertinent keywords).  Make sure that you are searching under the "Books, Articles & more" to ensure that you search all LUC libraries.

If you would like more information on using the Library Catalog to locate secondary sources, watch this brief demonstrative video. The Catalog interface has changed slightly since this video was made, but the information is essentially the same.

Three-step Process for Locating Information in Print Secondary Sources

Once you’ve located a print secondary source, using the library catalog, for example, it is important to know how to access the information contained within. Locating material in print resources is different than searching materials online for a couple reasons:  first, because print resources are only updated periodically, it is necessary to ensure completeness by checking to make sure there is no additional related material in a pocket part or supplement. Second, it is not possible to do a full-text search in print.  Instead, you are going to have to use a keyword index.

So, here is the basic three-step process for searching secondary sources in print, whether those sources be encyclopedias, books, or treatises.

First, begin your search by identifying your keywords and looking them up in the keyword index. A keyword index is usually located at the end of a book, treatise, or set of books if the secondary source is an encyclopedia or multi-volume treatise. I will discuss the ins and outs of keyword searching using an index in just a moment but let’s complete the process first. Once you have located the appropriate keyword in the index there should be a reference to where you can find related material in the main volume or the main part of the book or secondary source.  Usually the reference will be to either a topic and a section number, or a chapter and corresponding section number.
Second, using the reference in step one, locate the relevant material in the main text of the source. There may be a more refined table contents at the beginning of the chapter which will allow you to further narrow your search, but, do not be afraid to read everything. It is better to be too broad and know too much than to be too narrow to focused and miss something relevant.
Finally, once you have finished reading the relevant portion of the main text or source, look to the end of the book or set of books to see if there is a supplement or pocket part.  If so, look for the same chapter and section number, or topic and section number that contained relevant material in the main source and see if that section is not updated in the pocket part. Always read the pocket part.  Be aware that due to delays in publication even the most up-to-date pocket part or supplement still lags in time. So we would never suggest that one ends research using only a print resource.
For more information on the basic three-step technique for locating information in secondary sources in print, watch this brief instructional video.

Searching Secondary Sources Online

More and more our access to secondary sources exists through commercial providers like Lexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg. So it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of using secondary sources online. While it is certainly true that commercial providers offer access to many secondary sources that the libraries no longer maintain in print, one must remember that the documents retrieved from online secondary sources are among the most expensive available, so be wary of costs when accessing secondary sources through Lexis and Westlaw. 

Also, when using secondary sources online, remember to take advantage of finding tools like keyword indexes, and tables of contents.  For more information on using tables of contents and indexes to locate information in secondary sources watch this instructional video. Note that many online secondary sources do not have keyword indexes, but all have some form of table of contents.

Finally, be aware that treatises are available in either Lexis or Westlaw but not in both. If you are trying to search a specific treatise online, you will have to know who the publisher or provider is to access it.  This is one of the reasons why the library catalog can be so valuable.  It lists all the treatises and points you to all the places that they are available.

For more on specific techniques for searching secondary sources in commercial databases, watch this instructional video.

Locating Law Journal Articles Online Using LegalTrac and HeinOnline

Law journal articles often provide helpful references to cases, statutes, and other authorities on a subject matter.  For that reason, an on-point law journal article can often prove to be a legal research homerun. There a number of different ways to search for law journal articles. If you do not have access to law journal articles through a commercial provider like Lexis or Westlaw, two of the best sources for locating law journal articles are HeinOnline and LegalTrac.

For more information on using LegalTrac and HeinOnline to search for law journal articles, watch this brief instructional video.

Subject Guide