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Finding General Legal Explanations and Definitions: Legal Encyclopedias


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Finding Legal Encyclopedias in the Eckstein Law Library

Not sure where to find something in the Eckstein Law Library? AmJur 2d, CJS and the ALRs are on the First Floor and state encyclopedias are on the Third Floor. Visitors to the Law Library may use computers in the Reference area of the Law Library to access LexisNexis Academic.

Eckstein Law Library Map


A legal encyclopedia is one of the best sources to use for an overview of a legal topic. A legal encyclopedia is composed of articles arranged alphabetically by subject. The articles contain explanatory text and may include citations to authority such as case law and statutes. Legal encyclopedias are a good place to begin when you know very little about a subject. They typically provide a general, neutral explanation of the law. Those of a general nature, such as the ones described in this Library Guide, offer basic information on a comprehensive range of topics.

It can be a good idea to start with an index when using legal encyclopedias such as American Jurisprudence or Corpus Juris Secondum because information on a topic may be included in multiple locations. In print, the general index is at the end of each set. In Westlaw, look for the index to Am Jur and CJS in the Tools & Resources box. The index refers the user to the appropriate topic and section of that article. Use the information from the index or from a known citation to find the article within the main volumes of the encyclopedia. The spine of each print volume includes an alphabetic indicator of the topic articles included in that volume. Most articles begin with an outline which is a useful overview of the area of law and the contents covered. If you are sure of the area of law that covers your topic, you may prefer to go straight to the article and find your topic using the outline or, when available, an index at the end of the topic.

Many print encyclopedias include an update service, either in the form of pocket parts at the back of each volume or separate supplements (or both). Be sure to update each print article that you read by checking for any such supplementary material. As with other print sources, you may need to take other steps to further update the material.

National Encyclopedias

American Jurisprudence 2d and Corpus Juris Secundum are the two main national legal encyclopedias of general interest. Though both of these encyclopedias offer an overview of numerous areas of the law, be aware that terminology, coverage and content may differ.  

State Encyclopedias

Many states have legal encyclopedias. Organization is similar to that of the national encyclopedias, though the coverage is limited to one - or two - jurisdictions. Lexis and Westlaw provide access to many state legal encyclopedias. The Eckstein Law Library has the following print state encyclopedias, all on the Third Floor:

  • California Jurisprudence, 3d (KFC64.C35; Lexis and Westlaw) (print updated through March 2010)
  • Florida Jurisprudence, 2d (KFF80.F56; Lexis and Westlaw) (print updated through March 2010)
  • Georgia Jurisprudence (KFG80.G45; Westlaw) (print updated through September 2013)
  • Illinois Law and Practice (KFI1265.I45; Westlaw)
  • Illinois Jurisprudence (KFI1280.I38; Lexis)
  • West's Indiana Law Encyclopedia (KFI3065.W44; Westlaw) (print updated through August 2016)
  • West's Maryland Law Encyclopedia (KFM1265.W47; Westlaw) (print updated through December 2013)
  • Michigan Civil Jurisprudence (KFM4280.M53; Lexis and Westlaw) (print updated through June 2014)
  • Dunnell Minnesota Digest (KFM5457 .D86; Lexis and LexisNexis Academic) (print updated through October 2015)
  • New York Jurisprudence, 2d (KFN5065.N48; Lexis and Westlaw) (print updated through July 2014) 
  • Strong's North Carolina Index 4th (KFN7445.6 .S82; Westlaw) (print updated through November 2013)
  • Ohio Jurisprudence, 3d (KF065.O35; Lexis and Westlaw) (print updated through June 2013)
  • Pennsylvania Law Encyclopedia, 2d (KFP65 .P45; Lexis) (print updated through February 2014)
  • South Carolina Jurisprudence (KFS1865.S68; Westlaw) (print updated through October 2013)
  • Tennessee Jurisprudence (KFT65.T46; Lexis) (print updated through 2013)
  • Texas Jurisprudence, 3d (KFT1265.T49; Lexis and Westlaw) (print updated through November 2013)
  • Michie's Jurisprudence of Virginia and West Virginia (KFV2465.M52; Lexis) (print updated through 2013)

Wisconsin does not have a state legal encyclopedia. The Wisconsin Practice Series (Law Ready Reference KFW 2480.W57 and Westlaw) covers several legal topics in relation to Wisconsin law. Use Westlaw for online access.

A note on ALRs

American Law Reports (ALRs) are another secondary source frequently used in legal research. Located on the first floor of the Eckstein Law Library and also available on Lexis and Westlaw, the American Law Reports series offers articles, known as annotations, written by legal scholars with detailed analysis of specific legal issues. Like legal encyclopedia articles, ALR annotations are great sources for information about a topic and identification of citations to authority. Primary differences between the main national legal encyclopedias and ALR are in breadth and depth of coverage. AmJur and CJS offer general information on a fairly comprehensive range of legal topics; the ALR series is known for in-depth coverage of legal issues addressed, though the range of issues for which there are annotations is not comprehensive. For more information about the ALRs, including how to use them, talk with a Reference Librarian.