Research Guides

TMLL Research Guide - Chapter 3


USING LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIAS


Legal encyclopedias provide a brief, integrated statement of the law. They pull together an enormous body of legal literature, definitions, rules, and practice points derived mainly from case law. Indexes and cross-references are provided. Sections may be written by experts or by editorial staff who are not themselves legal scholars. Generally they are more descriptive than analytical. Encyclopedias tend to be most useful at the beginning of a research project to provide an overview of specific topics and to briefly outline issues that may be involved. They can be good finding tools at this stage. Encyclopedias may also be useful at the close of a research project to again provide an overview and a check that no issue has been overlooked.

Issues to consider when using legal encyclopedias include the following:

1) encyclopedia articles are often oversimplified;

  1. each article is only as good as its author/editor;
  2. encyclopedias should never be cited as authority; always track down the quoted source, read it in context and cite to that instead;
  3. encyclopedias emphasize case law, and generally do a poor job with statutory or administrative law subjects.

There are two popular national legal encyclopedias.

Corpus Juris Secundum or C.J.S. is published by West and gives far more case citations than American Jurisprudence. Attention is paid to providing citations that highlight jurisdictional differences. C.J.S. gives cross-references to other West publications and to West topic and key numbers. The print version is updated annually by pocket parts, and a new general index is published annually. This index is very general indeed, often pointing the researcher only to the volume. Check the volume specific index for more detailed references. The index provides access by person, place, thing, facts, and legal topic. It is important to note that while C.J.S. is published by West and uses a system of topics (alphabetically arranged) and section numbers, its topic and section number system is not the same as the Topic and Key Number system used in West digests.

American Jurisprudence 2d or Am. Jur. 2d is also now published by West and is a very practice oriented encyclopedia that is less comprehensive than C.J.S. but, as a result, is sometimes easier to use. It is designed to complement the annotations in American Law Reports. The general index is more detailed than that of C.J.S., but often the researcher will need to search the volume specific index in addition to the general index. Am. Jur. has a table of Statutes and Regulations, and gives more emphasis to non-case law than C.J.S. The print version is updated annually by pocket parts, and a new general index is published annually. Both C.J.S. and Am. Jur. are available on Westlaw Next. Lexis Advance also provides online access to Am. Jur.

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