Encyclopedias can be a useful beginning point when you are unfamiliar with a legal topic. Encyclopedias are useful for background information and jargon, cites to major cases, statutes and regulations. They give the general state of the law, the settled doctrine. They don’t analyze or criticize the law.
There are two national encyclopedias, American Jurisprudence 2nd ed. and Corpus Juris Secundum. Both present a complete restatement of American law in a ‘A to Z’ list by subject: ‘Abandoned, Lost and Unclaimed Property’ to ‘Zoning and Planning.’ There will be an article covering each subject.
Encyclopedias will have multiple indexes: a subject index, Table of Cases, and Tables of Laws and Rules.
In our library, print copies of AmJur2d and CJS are in the Reading Room.
There are 17 true state encyclopedias. They mimic American Jurisprudence 2nd and Corpus Juris Secundum. When researching areas of state law, state encyclopedias can be a better resource than a national encyclopedia. They provide citations to leading state cases and relevant state statutes.
In Lexis Advance click on ‘Browse Sources.’ Enter a title, American Jurisprudence, in the ‘Search Sources’ box. You will see the title listed in the right frame. Left click on the title and then on ‘Add this source to the search.’
In Westlaw you may enter the title, Corpus Juris Secundum, in the search box. Titles will display in a menu will appear below the search box under a tag, ‘Looking for this.’ Click on the title. In the alternative, you may click on ‘Secondary Sources’ and then ‘Texts and Treatises.’ You may then click on Corpus Juris Secundum (or American Jurisprudence) to restrict your search to that database. Once in, you should additionally see a link to the set's General Index.
Lexis versus Westlaw