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Paralegal and Legal Assistant Program @ NCC

The United States Legal System & Legal Research

The United States government is a system of checks and balances.  The federal government has specific powers as do the states.  Within each there are three distinct branches of government.  Legal research is largely the ideas/papers that these branches create ("primary source material") and secondary information produced about the ideas and papers created ("secondary source material").



Primary Source Materials

Primary Source Materials

Primary source materials are anything written by the government: codes (laws), the work product of the executive branch (the President, governors, & executive agencies), and judicial cases.

Sample print versions of these types of materials may be found of the second floor of the library near the Help Desk.  Materials can also be found on paid databases, such as Westlaw and Lexis, and free online. 

Secondary Sources

Secondary Source Material

Secondary sources can be almost anything- in the legal world, if it is not written by the government it's considered secondary.  However, in law, there are specialized secondary source materials, that are especially helpful in finding primary source material:

Legal Encyclopedias


Law Review/Journal Articles (Westlaw, Lexis, some available free on individual websites)

Form Books (Westlaw and Lexis)

Legal Dictionaries (Westlaw and Lexis, Black Legal Dictionary )

"How to" Books

The library has several of these materials and they are found in our law collection on the second floor, near the Help Desk.