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Legal Studies: Getting Started

Your Librarian

Charmaine Henriques
(847) 491-3130
Northwestern University Libraries
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208

Some General Advice

Legal research can be very complicated, due in no small part to the complexity of the law itself. Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. In legal research, primary sources are the sources of the law (e.g. statutes, regulations, court decisions), whereas secondary sources are publications that discuss the law (e.g. law review articles, treatises, encyclopedias).
  • Don't try to launch into a search in the law itself. You will quickly get lost and lose lots of precious time! Rather, let secondary sources give you references to specific laws that pertain to the situation you are interested in.
  • If you are not familiar with an area of law, take a look at a legal encyclopedia like American Jurisprudence, Corpus Juris Secundum or West's Encyclopedia of American Law. You would also do well to read through relevant chapters of a law treatise (Nimmer on Copyright, for example). A treatise is a scholarly work written by a recognized expert that provides in-depth discussion of the law in a particular field. Most of our treatises are located at the Pritzker Legal Research Center.
  • Nutshells are another good way to familiarize yourself with an area of law. Although these are not scholarly works, per se, they do provide very digestable treatments of the law with references to pertinent statutes and court cases. See more about nutshells below.
  • Your legal research project won't be complete without reading some solid law review articles. Law reviews are published much more frequently than books and delve into specific areas of law that are on the minds of legal scholars today.
  • For more help, be sure to check out the Prtizker Legal Research Center.


Nutshells are comprehensive guides to the law in specific areas. Written by recognized legal scholars, these books offer a summary of the law and provide references to relevant cases and statutes. These are a great place to get started in legal research.

The library holds many of the nutshell books (published by West), with some at Main Library and many more at the Pritzker Legal Research Center.

You can find these using NUsearch by doing a guided search for the keyword "nutshell" in the title field and "west" in the anywhere field.

Here are just a few examples: