Research Guides

TMLL Research Guide - Chapter 3


USING AMERICAN LAW REPORTS


American Law Reports (A.L.R.) is characterized by some researchers as a secondary source and by others as a case-finding tool. In fact, it has elements of both resources and can be extremely useful in both providing a context for a legal issue and providing citations to primary authorities.

The format of A.L.R. is the publication of articles, usually referred to as annotations, written by practicing attorneys on a wide variety of current legal issues. The annotations provide citations to relevant cases. The strength of A.L.R. is its systematic presentation of the "state of the law" across the jurisdictions on a particular issue. It does not focus on legal analysis or discussion of policy issues. It is not considered a scholarly publication and would not be cited in a piece of legal writing.

In A.L.R., topics are usually more specific than those found in sources such as legal encyclopedias, making it an excellent tool for gaining a quick national overview of the law on a particular topic and for getting leads to cases in a particular jurisdiction.  Often, the goal of finding one recent case in any jurisdiction that is on point to identify pertinent West topics and key numbers can be achieved by using A.L.R. There are two divisions of A.L.R., one covering state legal issues (A.L.R.) and the other federal (A.L.R. Federal). Print A.L.R.s are shelved on Level 2 of the Law Library.

Indexing tools available for the print versions include:

  • Quick Index – for the state A.L.R., this is a one-volume paperback covering A.L.R.3d though current
  • Quick Index – for the federal A.L.R., this is a one-volume hardcover index, updated by annual pocket part, plus a four-volume paperback set of tables containing federal cases, statutes and procedural rules that have been cited in A.L.R. annotations
  • A.L.R. Index – a multi-volume hardcover topical index, updated annually by pocket parts, covering both the state (series 2 through 5) and the federal series; shelved at the end of the state series
  • A.L.R. Digest – indexes the annotations by broad subject areas (A.L.R.3d through current and federal); also shelved at the end of the state series.

The state and federal series of A.L.R. are available online through Westlaw (ALR database). Because print indexing is quite good, it may be easier to locate helpful annotations in print than online. Additionally, the online format of A.L.R. can be difficult to browse and this difficulty extends to the version printed from Westlaw. 

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