Legal Encyclopedias Research Guide
Brief explanations of legal encyclopedias and American Law Reports are featured.
WHAT IS A LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIA?
A legal encyclopedia is a comprehensive set of brief articles on legal topics. It is arranged similarly to a general encyclopedia, such as Encyclopedia Britannica, with topical articles arranged in alphabetical order. In the final volume(s) of most legal encyclopedias is an index. The two most popular general legal encyclopedias are Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.), and American Jurisprudence, 2d (Am.Jur.). In addition, there are numerous state legal encyclopedias, as well as encyclopedias with a more narrow focus, such as American Jurisprudence Trials.
WHY USE A LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIA?
There are two primary uses for legal encyclopedias. First, the articles can be quite useful as a general introduction to an area of law which is new to you. They provide more in-depth information than a legal dictionary, while being nearly as accessible and easy to use. Second, encyclopedias are a way to find citations to cases and other useful materials on a particular issue. These two uses make the encyclopedias a very good place to begin major research, whether for an academic paper or a legal memorandum. However, the legal encyclopedias are not intended to be used as authoritative sources on the law in any area, and thus are not cited in briefs, memoranda, or scholarly papers.
USING A LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIA
Using a legal encyclopedia is straightforward: look up your topic in the index volumes at the end of the set, identify the section or sections where your topic is discussed, turn to the volume containing those sections, and read them. At the beginning of each major topic, you will find two outlines of what is covered in the article: first a broad general outline, and second a very detailed outline. These outlines may be useful for placing your specific topic in context. At the beginning of each entry you will also find a note on "scope," indicating what will be covered in the article, and what will be treated elsewhere. This is worth reading, to be sure your particular issue is not covered better in a separate article. Following these preliminary materials is the text of the topical discussion. The articles and footnotes are updated in pocket parts found in each volume. In addition to these standard features, each encyclopedia has its own unique features. Because of these differences, you may begin to prefer one encyclopedia over the other in certain circumstances. However, when beginning major research, it is a good idea to consider using both.
Am. Jur. Features
American Jurisprudence's methodology is selective, in contrast to C.J.S.'s comprehensiveness. This means that Am. Jur. provides citations only to the cases the editors consider the best or most important. This results in shorter footnotes, adding to the readability of Am. Jur.'s articles. In addition, this set of encyclopedias is more likely to cover important federal statutory material. It is available on both Lexis and Westlaw.
Articles in Corpus Juris Secundum tend to be longer and more detailed than American Jurisprudence articles. Because C.J.S.'s goal is to provide the researcher with every relevant citation, you will see some pages which have more footnotes than actual text. Second, C.J.S. will tend to give you citations to mostly cases, and fewer statutes. If there is an appropriate topic and key number for your subject, C.J.S. will also provide these. Thus, C.J.S. will be helpful in getting you ready to use the various West digests. (See Research Guides: Digests)
WHAT IS AN A.L.R. ANNOTATION?
American Law Reports, or A.L.R., annotations are similar to encyclopedia articles, except that they treat more narrow or specific legal issues and treat them in greater depth. Another difference is that they are not designed to be comprehensive, so you will not find an A.L.R. annotation on every topic. Generally the annotations are focused on rapidly developing or highly controversial areas of law: the very topics you may be interested in researching. A.L.R.'s exist in 7 series: American Law Reports, First through Sixth Series, and American Law Reports, Federal. To locate articles in A.L.R., use the A.L.R. Index that covers the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Federal series in the Williams Reading Room. American Law Reports are also available on Lexis and Westlaw.
WHY USE AN A.L.R. ANNOTATION?
A.L.R. annotations provide a very useful summary and analysis of the law in a specific area, and include citations to relevant cases, statutes and regulations, and law review articles. If there is an A.L.R. annotation on your topic, it can save you a great deal of time by identifying these key sources, as well as giving you an overview of the current state of the law. Like the encyclopedias, A.L.R.'s are updated with pocket parts. There is also an 800 number provided for futher updating.
WHERE ARE LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIAS AND AMERICAN LAW REPORTS FOUND ONLINE and IN THIS LIBRARY?
American Jurisprudence 2d (green) is found in the Reading Room Reference Collection at call number KF154.A42. Am.Jur. is also available on Lexis and Westlaw. Close by is Corpus Juris Secundum (blue) at call number KF154.C7. Since C.J.S. is published by West, it is only available on Westlaw. State encyclopedias are found with the individual's state material on the third and fourth floors. For other specific titles and locations check GULLiver, the online catalog.
American Law Reports is also found in the Reading Room. The First through Sixth Series are located close to each other, beginning with call number KF132.A2. The Federal Series is located at call number KF105.A54, closer to other federal materials in the Reading Room. A.L.R. is also available on both Lexis and Westlaw.
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