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Dear Law Students, Secondary sources are like cheeseburgers. You like those, right?


By Jason Wilson

This came to me the other day, sitting in my car, thinking about how law students don’t know anything about secondary sources and just insist (said disdainfully, and as if I had dirt in my mouth) on looking for answers on Westlaw or Lexis as if it will just come to them if they ask. All the while, a perfectly good {pick all that apply: treatise, horn book, practice manual, research guide, forms book} would, potentially, both answer the question and help him or her actually understand what the answer means. But do they reach for such a magical device (also known as a “book”)? No, and I’ve decided it’s due to a lack of education.

So take a gander at the image above this post because it represents what a secondary source can be. You see, primary law and all of the incident @#!*% created around it (regs, A.G. opinions, appellate and district court briefs, jury instructions, judgments, agency determinations, and on, and on) is like a farm. And on this farm are cattle (bulls and cows), chickens, pigs, crops of all sorts, barns with hay bales stacked to the ceiling, tractors, combines, trucks, silos filled with grain, a woodshop, a metal shop, dogs, cats, mice, a farmer (of course), and his wife. Secondary sources are like cheeseburgers.

You see, when need to eat and you see a farm, you don’t know that it can give you a cheeseburger. Or a taco. Or chicken salad. You just see a farm. But you know that the farm can feed you, so you go out and you figure out how to make that cheeseburger. It’s going to take you a lot longer to do it that way than if you just went into the house, spoke to the Missus (that would most likely be your professor or librarian BTW), and asked “Do you have something to eat?” And that’s when she’d say “Sure, how about a cheeseburger?”

Do you understand what I’m saying? The cheeseburger will feed your appetite a whole lot faster than working the farm, no matter how awesome your tools are. That’s because someone who knows better already did the work for you.

Think about that for a while, and then go brush up on secondary sources.

And you’re welcome.

[Image (C) by David Schwen, and I hope he’s cool about it because I modified it to make a point.]

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • @fodden August 26, 2010, 8:14 am

    Oh yeah. A (good and reliable) lawyer told me recently that he had a good-grades student working at the firm who didn't know what the index to a book was or how even to find it. Swear to god.

  • @stevematthews August 31, 2010, 5:44 pm

    Great message, but the headline is pure magic. 🙂

  • Michael February 20, 2012, 3:17 pm

    I am currently in school and doing legal research. It IS amazing how many students rely on the Internet for answers. I am "old school," and actually returned to college in my mid 40's. I use books. I have gone to the library. I agree, it is a lack of education, but it is also laziness. Some of my fellow students haven't even purchased the textbooks for the classes, they have them as "e-books." Certainly technology is a wonderful thing, but if the Internet crashed and burned, so would a lot of careers. I am flabbergasted that college-level students have to be told by the professor to use quotation marks around information taken directly from a "source."

  • Legan February 2, 2013, 12:27 pm

    In Europe (not in the UK or Scandinavia) and in South America students still use secondary sources. Not only because they are civil law countries. I think because they want someone who has filtered the information for them. Of course, in most of Latin America, most law students (and many lawyers) rely stil on books for legal research. But this is changing…