A legal encyclopedia is a comprehensive set of brief articles on legal topics. It is arranged similarly to a general encyclopedia, such as Encyclopedia Britannica, with topical articles arranged in alphabetical order. In the final volume(s) of most legal encyclopedias is an index. The two most popular general legal encyclopedias are Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.), and American Jurisprudence, 2d (Am. Jur. 2d). In addition, there are numerous state legal encyclopedias, as well as encyclopedias with a more narrow focus, such as American Jurisprudence Trials.
There are two primary uses for legal encyclopedias.
First, the articles can be quite useful as a general introduction to an area of law which is new to you. They provide more in-depth information than a legal dictionary, while being nearly as accessible and easy to use.
Second, encyclopedias are a way to find citations to cases and other useful materials on a particular issue. These two uses make the encyclopedias a very good place to begin major research, whether for an academic paper or a legal memorandum. However, the legal encyclopedias are not intended to be used as authoritative sources on the law in any area, and thus are not cited in briefs, memoranda, or scholarly papers.
Am. Jur. Features
American Jurisprudence's methodology is selective, in contrast to C.J.S.'s comprehensiveness. This means that Am. Jur. provides citations only to the cases the editors consider the best or most important. This results in shorter footnotes, adding to the readability of Am. Jur.'s articles. In addition, this set of encyclopedias is more likely to cover important federal statutory material.
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Articles in Corpus Juris Secundum tend to be longer and more detailed than American Jurisprudence articles. Because C.J.S.'s goal is to provide the researcher with every relevant citation, you will see some pages which have more footnotes than actual text. Second, C.J.S. will tend to give you citations to mostly cases, and fewer statutes. If there is an appropriate topic and key number for your subject, C.J.S. will also provide these. Thus, C.J.S. will be helpful in getting you ready to use the various West digests. (See Digests, Headnotes, and Key Numbers on the Case Law Research Guide for more on using digests.)
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Running time: 3:16 minutes
Created/updated: August 2023
Last reviewed: August 2023