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Thinking About Legal Research Problems

Created by Paul D. Callister from earlier version at

Primary, Secondary & Combined Resources

Type of Source  General Examples Binding Upon Used For
Primary Constitutions All branches of government. Known item and institutional searches where you need binding authority.

Codes and Session Laws (Public Law No. or Statutes at Large)

Except as found unconstitutional, all branches of government.
Court Decision Reporters, Case Digests (Topic and Key Numbers) and Words and Phrases (video explanation) Binding upon lower courts of the same jurisdiction and other branches of government.
Codified Regulations or Administrative Codes and Administrative Registers or Regulations (site) Binding upon agency issuing the regulation until repealed.
Administrative Agency Opinions and Rulings Generally binding upon the agency. Sometimes, may only be binding upon the agency with respect to the parties in question.
Secondary Encyclopedias (Missouri Practice), Treatises and Hornbooks, Law Reviews and Bar Journals, Form Books (video explanation) Not binding. Subject, statistical and special experience searches where you need to understand the issues and background of an area of law or problem. Also use to confirm your interpretation of a primary source.
Combined Looseleaf and Newsletter Services, American Law Reports (If ALR were an animal what would it be? Answer) (video explanation) Only primary sources have any binding authority. Use when ease is important. Such sources combine statutes, regulations, commentary, and case law annotations in a topical arrangement with a good table of contents and indexing system.