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What is the Difference?

Primary legal sources are the actual law in the form of constitutions, court cases, statutes, and administrative rules and regulations. 

Secondary legal sources may restate the law, but they also discuss, analyze, describe, explain, or critique it as well. Secondary sources are used to help locate primary sources of law, define legal words and phrases, or help in legal research.

In short, anything that is more than the actual law is considered a secondary source!

Secondary Source Examples

Law reviews and journals

  • Virginia Law Review, Yale Law Journal

Legal dictionaries and encyclopedias

  •  Nolo’s Plain English Law Dictionary, Gale Encyclopedia of American Law

News Sources

  • New York Times, Newsweek

Research Resources

Primary Research Resources

Secondary Research Resources

Primary Source Examples

Constitution (either federal or state)

  • United States Constitution, Ohio State Constitution

Statutes (laws enacted by legislatures); municipal codes (enacted by local councils)

  •  United States Code, Cuyahoga County Code, Ashtabula Municipal Code

Cases (opinions handed down by courts)

  •  United States and state appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court  and Ohio Supreme Court

Rules and Regulations (established by administrative government agencies)

  •  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services


  •  Geneva Convention,  North American Free Trade Agreement

Primary and secondary definitions and examples adapted from Highland College Library's Introduction to Law: Primary and Secondary Sources