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. 

Start Your Research with Secondary Sources

When you are a non-law student researching the law, it is often best to start your research with a secondary source, which will mean a trip to the law library. The internet is not a comprehensive source for legal materials so do not expect to be able to do your research from the comfort of your dorm room.

Below are some of the most popular types of legal secondary sources and how to find them. But don't forget, if you have any questions:

Current Awareness Resources

If you are trying to figure out what are hot topics at the moment, or you just want to stay up to date with legal developments in certain areas, a current awareness tool is your best friend. Here are some of the more popular current awareness tools you have access to: 

You might also have success locating useful blogs and other materials by finding a legal research guide. Just Google your topic and "legal research guide." Most good legal research guides include links to agency websites, blogs, nonprofit organizations who put out news, etc. 

Legal Encyclopedias

Legal Encyclopedias are good places to start when you know very little about the area of law and you want to get the basics (no in-depth analysis). They are great for providing background information and for identifying many of the key issues in a particular are of law. Below are descriptions of the two most commonly-used legal encyclopedias and how to access them. 


Treatises :

Treatises are comprehensive, in-depth examinations of a particular area of law within a particular jurisdiction. For example, you might look at a federal health law treatise or a California education law treatise. There are a few different ways you might locate a useful treatise.

Practice Resources

Practice Resources are useful for when you are researching how to actually do something: form a company, send a warning letter, file a complain in court, draft a contract, etc. Practice resources generally include explanatory language, along with sample documents. To locate useful practice resources, try the following:

It also never hurts to do some creative Googling. That might lead you to a government agency website, a legal blog, or other useful resources. Just be mindful of the provider. Not all free legal resources are equal!

Legal Periodicals and Scholarship

Legal Periodicals and Scholarship are periodical/journal publications of law schools, bar associations, and commercial publishers that contain articles providing in-depth analysis of legal issues or practical legal information. Since law review articles are well-documented with footnotes, they give the researcher quick access to citations of relevant primary law (such as cases and statutes) and interpret and explain those primary sources of law as well.

Check out the legal scholarship page of this research guide for more information about how to find and use these resources.