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Think of legal encyclopedias as something similar to the Encyclopedia Britannica or any other general encyclopedia you may have used in the past. Legal encyclopedias are large sets containing hundreds of articles that provide a general encyclopedic presentation of the law. These articles discuss the law in an expositive rather than critical manner; thus, they will indicate what the law is rather than what it ought to be or what its defects might be. Legal encyclopedias place heavy emphasis on case law (court decisions) and much less emphasis on relevant statutes.
Because legal encyclopedias provide broad rather than in-depth coverage of most topics, they are an excellent tool for starting one's research, especially if one needs a quick overview of an unfamiliar area. Articles are arranged alphabetically, topic-by-topic, in each set. The text of each article is heavily footnoted with references (in law, called "cites" or "citations") to court decisions, major statutes, and other material relevant to the topic under discussion. Researchers rely upon legal encyclopedias as secondary rather than primary authority; thus, one normally does not rely upon or cite the text from encyclopedias. Instead, one should always locate the primary authorities cited and read them.
Each volume is usually kept up-to-date by a pocket part supplement at the back of the volume. At the end of each set, one will find an index volume or volumes, as well as various other features such as tables, new topic services, etc. There may even be an index in each volume of the set.
CORPUS JURIS SECUNDUM and AMERICAN JURISPRUDENCE, 2d
There are two large legal encyclopedias for the United States as a whole: Corpus Juris Secundum published by West Pub. Co. and American Jurisprudence, 2d series, published by Lawyers' Coop. Pub. Co. The articles are narrative in form and read like the text of a book or article. Footnotes provide cites to court decisions. Although West has changed its editorial policy somewhat in recent years, there has long been an important difference between the two sets. C.J.S. claimed to provide footnotes to ALL relevant cases since 1938. Pre-1938 cases are found in the footnotes of Corpus Juris, the now mostly out-of-date first edition of C.J.S. On the other hand, the articles in Am.Jur.2d cite only the major or landmark supporting cases. If you are using Am.Jur.2d, additional court decisions can be located by using the American Law Reports, another publication of Lawyers' Coop. Pub. Co. (See: Pathfinder Finding Cases through the A.L.Rs.) West encyclopedias also provide cites to Key-Words & Numbers used in West digests. (See: Pathfinder Digests - How to Locate Cases with Digests). Note, however, that C.J.S. chapter-names & section-numbers are not the same as the key-words & key-numbers used in West digests. In contrast, Lawyers' Coop. encyclopedias will refer one to the other units of the Total Client Service Library (such as A.L.Rs, Am.Jur. Legal Forms, Am. Jur. Trials, etc.)
WEST'S GUIDE TO AMERICAN LAW: EVERYONE'S LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIA
West also produces The Guide to American Law: Everyone's Legal Encyclopedia, a research tool intended for the non-lawyer or layman. The set covers the law of the United States in general and states it in non-technical, straight forward language.
LAW ENCYCLOPEDIAS FOR THE FIFTY STATES
Unfortunately, only a small number of states have law encyclopedias. Our library holds most but not all of them. West publishes five of these state encyclopedias:
Lawyers' Coop. publishes encyclopedias for six states:
A few other states have legal encyclopedias put out by several other legal publishers.
METHODS OF ENTRY INTO LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIAS
Indexes: Go to the index volume(s), usually located at the end of the set. Look under various words that appear relevant to your research. For example, your problem might deal with the possible liability of a landlord for injuries to a third party caused by the negligence of one of the landlord's tenants. You might look in the index under LANDLORD AND TENANT, and under that heading you might find the sub-heading SOCIAL GUEST OF TENANT, where you are referred to L & T., section 264. (In the case of abbreviations, there will always be a table, usually at the front of a volume, explaining what the various abbreviations mean.) You will now turn to the article Landlord and Tenant in the main portion of the set, then to section 264 within that article.
Analytical Outlines: Usually, each article in a legal encyclopedia begins with an outline of the topic to be discussed. If you have exhausted the index to no avail, or if you are very familiar with the topic in question, you might go directly to a likely article and check through the outline that appears at the beginning of that article. The various lines of the outline will refer the researcher to specific sections within the article.