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Secondary Sources in Legal Research: Encyclopedias

Encyclopedias. Treatises, Periodicals, Restatement, American Law Reports and other secondary source material.

General Information

Legal Encyclopedias

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.

National Encyclopedias

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.

State Encyclopedias

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. 

  • California Jurisprudence 3d
  • Florida Jurisprudence
  • Georgia Jurisprudence
  • Illinois Law & Practice
  • Indiana Law Encyclopedia
  • Kentucky Jurisprudence
  • Maryland Law Encyclopedia
  • Massachusetts Practice
  • Michigan Law & Practice
  • New Jersey Practice
  • New York Jurisprudence 2d
  • Ohio Jurisprudence 3d

Characteristics

  • There are general legal encyclopedias, subject & state specific legal encyclopedias
    • But there isn’t a state encyclopedia for every state
  • Have breadth of coverage (a broad array of topics)
  • Lack depth of coverage (any individual entry is not very detailed)
  • Slow to recognize new areas of law
  • Have many citations to primary sources

Encyclopedias in Lexis and Westlaw

Lexis Advanced

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.’ 

Westlaw

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

  • CJS is only available in Westlaw
  • AmJur is available on both services
  • Some titles are not updated as quickly on one service as the other
  • Check each service for state encyclopedia coverage.
  • Only Westlaw has indexes

Online vs. Print

Advantages to Using Encyclopedias on Lexis & Westlaw

  • Terms & Connectors Searching
  • Browse the Table of Contents
  • Hypertext links to cited sources
  • Portability: Information on your desktop, WiFi
  • Download/E-mail/print information
  • Avoid cost of subscribing to print version or time to go and use it at a library
  • Multiple users at the same time (don’t have to wait for a book that someone else is using)

Disadvantages to Using Encyclopedias on Lexis & Westlaw

  • Cost of searching online
  • Harder to browse online (i.e., harder to flip back and forth through “pages”)