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Legal Research Basics: Secondary Sources: Legal Encyclopedias

General characteristics of major secondary sources in legal research

Locating Legal Encyclopedias

In print - the Law Library has American Jurisprudence, Corpus Juris Secundum, and the Indiana Law Encyclopedia in print in our US Reference Collection, on the first floor, just beyond the double doors

Electronically - Westlaw and Lexis Advance are the best places to look electronically for legal encyclopedias.  AmJur can be found on both Lexis and Westlaw.  CJS can be found on Westlaw.  Both databases provide access to state encyclopedias, though you may find that different state encyclopedias are available on each.

What is it?

A legal encyclopedia is very similar to a traditional encyclopedia, but focused on legal topics.  Entries will be only a few paragraphs long and tend to contain citations limited to pertinent cases and statutes.  Encyclopedias are a great place to begin research in an unfamiliar area of law, because the citations following the encyclopedia entry will direct you to the seminal law on the subject.

There are both national and state legal encyclopedias.  The most common national encyclopedias used in research are American Jurisprudence (AmJur) and Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS).

Tip: If you are trying to find an encyclopedia for a specific jurisdiction, you may find that the word 'encyclopedia' does not appear in the title!  When looking for legal encyclopedias, look also for the word 'Jurisprudence' or the phrase 'Law and Practice.'


General Characteristics of Legal Encyclopedias

  • Helpful in gaining background information on legal topics
  • Use as a case finder
  • Alphabetically arranged multi-volume subject index
  • Entries cover broad legal topics similar to those found in digests
  • The discussion in the main body of the text is supported by extensive footnotes covering hundreds of citations
  • Written by editorial writers—not independent legal scholars
  • Supplemented with pocket parts and complete index revision annually
  • Lack careful analysis of issues
  • Considered neither authoritative nor scholarly

American Jurisprudence (AmJur)

  • Selective casenotes
  • Desk Book contains information for the practitioner, including financial tables, reprints of historical documents
  • Table of Statutes volume

Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS)

  • Exhaustive casenotes
  • Dictionary-like definitions