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1L Survival Guide: Resources

Basic Law Library Survival Information

What is a Law Librarian?

For the record, one does not have to have a J.D. to work in a law library, but only a librarian with a J.D. can be called a "law librarian."  In addition to a J.D., law librarians very often have a graduate degree in library and information sciences.  Many law librarians have several advanced degrees. 

Rest assured that when you get research assistance from a law librarian, you are getting qualified help.

Choice of Format

Most primary authorities are available in print or online. The Law Library houses many resources available in print, but the same resources may also be available online. The difference is scope.

Scope is the range or extent of a collection or archive.

Law students are given unlimited access to both Westlaw and LexisNexis.

Legal Authorities

The purpose of legal research is to find "authority" that will aid in finding a solution to a legal problem.

An authority is a statement of law used to support a legal proposition.

Authorities are divided into primary and secondary; mandatory and persuasive.

Primary Authority

Primary authority is the law itself.  This includes constitutions, statutes, published opinions, regulations, treaties and court rules.

Secondary Authority

Secondary authority is commentary on the law.  Treatises, Restatements, journal articles, A.L.R. Annotations, legal encyclopedias, hornbooks, etc. all comprise secondary authority

Mandatory Authority

Mandatory authority is primary authority that binds a court.  The court must follow mandatory authority when reaching its decision.

Persuasive Authority

Persuasive authority does not bind a court.  A court may follow persuasive authority when reaching its decision when it is persuaded to do so.

Update & Validate

All primary authority has to be updated and validated.  Cases are primary authority.

Let me repeat that.  All primary authority has to be updated and validated.


Literally, it means to bring something up-to-date.  Not all laws change daily, but many do.  You will learn how to update various types of laws in your Legal Research classes.


Only laws currently in force apply to any given legal situation.  So, you have to check to make sure the law hasn't changed between the time you found it and now.  Two validation tools help:  KeyCite (Westlaw) and Shepard's (LexisNexis).