Legal Research for Non-Law Students

This guide is designed for non-law students who are researching a legal issue.

Contact the Law Library

The Law Library's Reference Librarians are available from 9AM - 5PM, M - F. 

Email us and we will respond as quickly as possible. 

Stop by the Circulation Desk and ask to speak to a reference librarian. 

Call 615-343-8731 and ask to speak to a reference librarian. 

The Virtual Library Experience

Your classes have moved online, and the Library is here to help!

  • Access databases, journals and e-books online using your VUnet ID & password
  • Work directly with a librarian!

Introduction to Legal Research

The guide is intended to help non-law students locate the legal materials they need. It is organized as follows:

1. Identifying a legal research issue. 

2. Beginning your research. 

3. Locating useful primary sources

4. Locating useful scholarship. 

It is merely intended as a primer. If you are tackling a large legal research issue, we strongly recommend that you reach out to the Law Library. Our librarians are happy to answer questions via email or in-person, at the Reference Desk or by appointment. 

What is Legal Research?

Legal sources are often used for research in other disciplines, such as history and sociology, but historians and sociologists use the legal sources for a purpose or result different from that of a law student or practicing attorney. Even if you are using legal sources, you may not be doing legal research.

Legal research is a search for statements of the law found in statutes, cases, or other primary sources of law that can be used to predict how a court would decide a dispute involving a specific fact situation.

Legal research is always library research, whether it is done in books or computer databases.

Identifying Your Research Issues

Before digging into your legal research, you will want to narrow your issue. This will allow you to identify exactly what type of material you need to locate. If you are not sure how to narrow your issue, you may want to begin with some initial research and reading into the broader area of law. Contact the Reference Desk if you are uncertain where to begin. Some resources that are commonly used to gain basic understanding about an area of law are: