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Legal encyclopedias contain brief, broad summaries of legal topics, providing introductions to legal topics and explaining relevant terms of art. They also provide citations to relevant primary law and sometimes give citations to relevant major law review articles.
There are two main legal encyclopedias in the United States: American Jurisprudence (AmJur) and Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS). Each is national in scope. They are useful, but not well-suited for jurisdiction specific research.
State legal encyclopedias provide background and explanations of state legal topics. Not every state has a legal encyclopedia. Depth of coverage and quality vary. State encyclopedia articles are updated irregularly. Texas has a legal encyclopedia entitled Texas Jurisprudence (TexJur).
Electronic versions of the encyclopedias are updated directly. If using a print encyclopedia, always remember to check the pocket parts for any updates.
(http://guides.library.harvard.edu/content.php?pid=103327&sid=1036366, permission granted for reproduction)
Here is an example of what you would find in a legal encyclopedia, using American Jurisprudence 2d (AmJur):
- Topic Heading: The topic heading is broad, covering many different specific areas within a single broad topic.
- The outline provides the basic structure of articles within the broad topic, listing the title for each section in outline format.
- This short section of text provides a broad overview of what will be covered in the topic, to let researchers know whether their specific legal question is likely to be addressed within the topic.
- : This section mentions any federal statutes or regulations that will be addressed in the topic.
- This is a list of sections in other topics that might overlap with specific areas of law contained in the topic.
- This is a list of other resources, including primary authority, treatises, and Key Numbers that may also be of interest to those researching this topic.
- Individual Sections: Each individual section is very specific and covers only a small portion of law within the topic.
- : Similar to the broad Research References, this provides a list of Key Numbers and other resources which pertain to the specific area of law covered by the section.
- This is the actual article on the area of law, providing a general summary of the law governing that area.
- Typically, footnotes refer to case law in the area, providing citations to cases on point. Occasionally, footnotes will also provide references to other encyclopedia sections that can augment a researcher’s understanding of that area of law.
- General Index
- : This table lists all the topic abbreviations, since all General Index citations refer to each topic by abbreviation only.
- The primary substance of the General Index is an alphabetized subject matter index, allowing researchers to find citations to all the articles on a specific area of law.