Secondary Sources Research Guide
This guide explains periodical indexes, treatises, encyclopedias and American Law Reports.
INTRODUCTION: GETTING STARTED ON THE RIGHT FOOT!
You can do legal research by locating every relevant case and statute and regulation on your own, but that approach can waste lots of precious time. Why not tap into the expertise of other researchers by starting your project with a secondary source? Secondary sources do the initial legwork for you by collecting citations, if not also the full text, of the laws related to your issue. Moreover, these sources explain general principles more thoroughly than would a single case or statute. Secondary sources include Periodical Indexes, Treatises, Legal Encyclopedias, and Annotated Law Reports (ALR).
What is a Periodical Index?
A periodical index collects information about individual articles that appear in journals, newsletters, and magazines. That information is arranged alphabetically by title, author, and subject. Some indexes also include tables that list articles by statute or case name. Well-known online legal periodical indexes include: Legal Periodicals and Books (also known as the Index to Legal Periodicals and Books or ILP); LegalTrac (also known as the Current Law Index, Legal Resource Index or LRI), and the Current Index to Legal Periodicals. There are also periodical indexes for international and foreign legal periodicals and non-legal periodicals.
Why Use a Periodical Index?
Periodicals are often the first secondary source to cover new and emerging areas of law and to highlight developments and changes in the existing law. An issue that is too new to appear in an encyclopedia or treatise is often discussed heavily in the trade press or scholarly journals. Periodical indexes provide access to this information for research on current issues as well as contemporary perspectives on older issues.
Using Periodical Indexes
Periodical index volumes in print are usually organized by year. Within the annual volumes, articles are generally listed by topic, title, and author. Each entry will contain the basic bibliographic information (title, author, journal name, volume, page, and date) and often a brief description of the content. To find relevant articles, you need to identify the appropriate time period during which relevant articles would have been published and locate the corresponding annual index volume(s). You then search by subject, being careful to trace all cross-references to related topics. Periodical indexes are located in the west end of the Reading Room on the index tables.
For locating articles published since 1980, the online versions of the periodical indexes are recommended because they provide faster, easier, and more powerful searching. Legal and non-legal periodical indexes are accessible via the Georgetown University Law Library "Research" page, and on Lexis (ILP and LRI) and Westlaw (ILP and LRI).
What is a Treatise?
A treatise focuses on a single area of law. Treatises range from broad, multi-volume sets, such as Corbin on Contracts (KF801 .C65 1993), to narrowly focused one-volume titles, such as Bromberg and Ribstein on Limited Liability Partnerships and the Revised Uniform Partnership Act (KF1380.B76). Many legal treatises are updated regularly by pocket parts or looseleaf supplements.
Why Use a Treatise?
Practitioners rely heavily on treatises for the succinct summaries and practical tips they contain. The content varies tremendously, but you can usually find thorough explanations of the law at issue along with citations to relevant cases, statutes, regulations, and other primary and secondary sources. Some treatises also contain the full text of these materials in appendixes.
For more information on finding and using treatises, see our Legal Treatises Tutorial.
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 Encyclopædia Britannica, with topical articles arranged in alphabetical order and an index in the final volume(s). The two most popular general legal encyclopedias are American Jurisprudence, 2d (Am. Jur.) and Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.). 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?
Encyclopedia articles can be a good starting place if you are researching an unfamiliar area of law. They provide more in-depth information than a legal dictionary, while being nearly as accessible and easy to use. Encyclopedias also include citations to cases and other useful materials on a particular issue. Legal encyclopedias, however, are not intended to be used as authoritative sources on the law in any area, and thus are never cited in briefs, memoranda, or scholarly papers.
Using Legal Encyclopedias
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 one broad and one detailed outline of what is covered in the article, both of which can help you place your specific topic in context. You'll also find a scope note that delineates the coverage of the article and explains where related issues are discussed. This is worth reading to be sure your issue is not covered elsewhere. Following these preliminary materials, you'll find the text of the article, which is updated with the pocket parts found in each volume. In addition to these standard features, each encyclopedia has its own unique features.
For more information on using Legal Encyclopedias, see our Encyclopedias Tutorial.
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. Am. Jur. Is located in the Reading Room and on the 4th Floor at call number KF154.A42.
Corpus Juris Secundum is published by West Group. In keeping with West's tendency towards comprehensiveness, you will notice that C.J.S. articles tend to be longer and more detailed than Am. Jur. Articles C.J.S. provides citations to published cases and the U.S.C.A., as well as any appropriate West digest topic and key number for your subject. Thus, C.J.S. will be helpful in getting you ready to use the various West digests. C.J.S. is located in the Reading Room and on the 4th Floor at call number KF154.C7.
AMERICAN LAW REPORTS (A.L.R.)
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 in greater depth. A.L.R. is not designed to be comprehensive, so you will not find an A.L.R. annotation on every topic. Generally the annotations focus on rapidly developing or controversial areas of law. A.L.R. exists in 6 series: American Law Reports, First through Sixth Series, and American Law Reports, Federal. The first and second series are now used mostly for historical perspective, while current useful information is found in all four of the remaining series. There is a single index covering the second (1948-1965), third (1965-1980), fourth (1980-1991), fifth (1991-2006), sixth (current) and federal series (Reading Room and Fourth Floor, KF132.6 .I52 1992). A separate index covers the first (1919-1948) series.
Why Use an A.L.R. Annotation?
A.L.R. annotations provide a useful summary and practical 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. As with other encyclopedias, always check the pocket parts.
- Use the A.L.R. Index, covering everything except the First Series. These indexes are found next to the A.L.R. set at call number KF132.6.I52 1992.
- Shepardize or KeyCite a relevant case using Lexis or Westlaw. The result will list any relevant A.L.R. Annotations except for the First Series.
- Search A.L.R.'s full text on Lexis or Westlaw.
- Use American Jurisprudence, 2d, which provides references to relevant A.L.R. annotations
The First through Sixth Series are located on the 4th Floor and in the Reading Room beginning at call number KF132.A2. The Federal Series is located at call number KF105.A54 on the 4th Floor and in the Reading Room near the Computer Learning Center.
Revised January, 2007(MK)
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