Primary authority

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A primary authority is a term used in legal research to refer to statements of law that are binding upon the courts, government, and individuals. Primary authority is usually in the form of a document that establishes the law, and if no document exists, is a legal opinion of a court. The search for applicable primary authority is the most important part of the process of legal research.

Examples of primary authority include the verbatim texts of:

Verbatim re-prints by private commercial law publishing companies are also considered primary authority, as long as the document purports to be and actually is a verbatim re-print of the applicable document, statute, regulation, court opinion, etc. Many lawyers, legal scholars, government agencies and others use verbatim re-prints of texts published by private publishing companies.

The term 'primary authority' is used to distinguish primary authority materials from texts considered to be Secondary authority.


Statsky, W. (1997). Introduction to paralegalism: persepectives, problems, and skills. 5th ed. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company.


  1. Although the texts of court opinions are primary authority, care should be taken when analyzing the texts to determine which parts are binding as holdings in the case (see Stare decisis, Precedent and Ratio decidendi), and which parts are non-binding (see Obiter dictum).

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