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Law Library: Legal Encyclopedias  

Last Updated: Oct 23, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Introduction Print Page

What are legal encyclopedias?

Legal encyclopedias cover a wide range of topics that are arranged alphabetically. Within each topic, the discussion is arranged by sub-topics according to the legal principles involved. Footnotes provide excerpts from judicial decisions and statues. References are found to A.L.R. annotations, West Topic and Key Numbers, and subjects within the A.L.R. Digests. Further references are given to Am. Jur. Proof of Facts, Am. Jur. Trials, Am. Jur. Pleading and Practice Forms, and Am. Jur. Legal Forms 2d.


Why are legal encyclopedias useful?

Legal encyclopedias provide broad coverage of American law, including state and federal law. They may be used to locate cases which support specific legal points. Unlike law reviews, they do not critique the law, and unlike Restatements, they do not suggest legal reform.

It is helpful to use legal encyclopedias at the beginning of a research project in order to obtain a broad overview of the area of law. You can easily move from sub-topic to sub-topic or to related areas of the law.

A state or specialized encyclopedia may have more credibility than Am. Jur. 2d or C.J.S. The text may be more detailed, and there may be more pertinent references. State encyclopedias may be quite useful in their treatment of jurisdictionally specific topics. They provide an overview of locally accepted doctrines and include extensive footnotes to primary sources.


How do you cite legal encyclopedias?

Encyclopedias are cited most frequently for broad, well-established points of law.

Refer to Bluebook Rule 15.7 (a).

70 Am. Jur. 2. What Constitutes Due Diligence § 580 (2005).

80 C.J.S. Necessity of Seaworthiness or Diligence § 282 (2000).


How do you research in legal encyclopedias?

There are two ways of locating material in an encyclopedia: the index and the topic list. Use the index volumes including the annual index supplement, which can be found at the end of set. Look up alternative terms, refer to cross-references, and read through entries and sub-entries. When you have found the appropriate topic, examine the more detailed subject index at the back of the volume containing that topic to find the appropriate section.

You may also locate pertinent material through the topic list. Am. Jur. 2d lists its topics in the Table of Abbreviations at the front of each index volume. In C.J.S., topics appear as the List of Titles at the beginning of each volume as well as the Abbreviations of Titles in the index volume. Once you have decided upon a topic, look in the volume containing that topic for a broad table of contents, followed by a more specific table of contents arranged by section. This provides an overview of the organization of the chapter, and you may be able to select the appropriate section from the arrangement of the table of contents.

You may choose to begin your research with a citation to a federal statute, regulation, court rule, or uniform act. Look in the volume containing the Table of Statutes, Rules and Regulations Cited for references to the topics and sections referencing these authorities. Am. Jur. 2d has a Popular Names Table in the final index volume.

Read the information in the main volume and update it by finding the same topic and section in the pocket supplement.

Both C.J.S. and Am. Jur. 2d provide references to West's Topic and Key Numbers that may be used in West Digests of on Westlaw to locate headnotes from additional cases that may be relevant to your problem.


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