Encyclopedia in Law Libraries

The follow definition of Encyclopedia is of use in law library research: A work containing factual articles on subjects in every field of knowledge, usually arranged alphabetically. A subject encyclopedia is a similar work, on a single field of activity or a single subject. An encyclopedia can be one volume or many volumes, depending on the amount of material included.

Legal Materials

The leading English-language encyclopedias are the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Encyclopedia Americana. The Columbia Encyclopedia (Columbia University Press) is an good 1-volume version. You can get entries from any of these at most public libraries and any related document delivery services, such as .

Internet Encyclopedias: Encyclopedia.com hosts several free encyclopedias. Summaries from the Britannica are also available for free.

To get full Britannica entries, you can subscribe by the year. You can also buy an annual subscription to the Encyclopedia Americana, which also gets you access to theGrolier Multimedia Encyclopedia Online. Access to these leading encyclopedias is often provided through academic and public library web sites.

MedLine includes the A.D.A.M. medical encyclopedia. See also “Medical Materials.”

Legal Encyclopedias: The leading U.S. legal encyclopedias are American Jurisprudence 2d (Am Jur) and Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS). They attempt to summarize Federal law and the laws of all states on virtually all significant legal topic. You can get copies from either set from the document delivery service any large law library. Both encyclopedias are available on Westlaw (AMJUR and CJS, respectively). Am Jur 2d is also on Lexis (2NDARY;AMJUR).

To find a U.S. law from the 1914-21 era, look in a set of Ruling Case Law (R.C.L.), the predecessor to Am Jur. R.C.L. is available in many academic law libraries.

State-Specific Legal Encyclopedias: Several publishers have produced legal encyclopedias that attempt to summarize the law of individual states. Most (if not all) of those publications are now published by a Lexis or Westlaw.

West’s “Jurisprudence” series includes California Jurisprudence, Georgia Jurisprudence, Illinois Jurisprudence, Massachusetts Jurisprudence, Michigan Jurisprudence, New York Jurisprudence, Ohio Jurisprudence, Pennsylvania Jurisprudence, South Carolina Jurisprudence and Texas Jurisprudence. Note: “Delaware Jurisprudence” is not part of this series — it is a monthly newsletter publishing summaries of significant Delaware cases.

Other state-specific legal encyclopedias include: the Pennsylvania Law Encyclopedia,Indiana Law Encyclopedia, West’s Maryland Law Encyclopedia, Tennessee Jurisprudence (published by Lexis), and Lexis’s Jurisprudence of Virginia and West Virginia. California has the Witkin series (see the separate entry for “Witkin”). Note:New Jersey does not have a Jurisprudence set, nor any real equivalent. The closest thing I know is the big red New Jersey Practice series by West, which covers litigation-related topics.

To confirm whether a state not mentioned above has a Jurisprudence or other legal encyclopedia, you can (a) search the online catalog of a law library in that state or (b) call or a bar or law school library in that state and ask. If not, case whether there are any other state legal encyclopedias.

To get copies from a Jurisprudence or other legal encyclopedia, your best bet is to call the document delivery service of a law school library in that state. The sets are expensive, so even the largest libraries generally do not have many out-of-state sets.

Alternatively, many state legal encyclopedias are on Lexis and Westlaw. To “Find” a section on Westlaw, use the sample format: 76 NYJUR malpractice 321.

Legal Encyclopedias for Foreign Countries: A legal encyclopedia is one of the best ways to get a handle on the law of a foreign country. Even if the encyclopedia is not locally available, you may be able to find it online. Or you can get the Table of the Contents and order copies of the relevant section from the document delivery service at library that holds the set. Libraries may be able to borrow volumes as inter-library loans.

LexisNexis publishes many foreign law encyclopedias including Halsbury’s Laws of England and the rest of the Halsbury’s series. Many of these are listed in the entries for individual countries in this Guide, and some are available on Lexis.

To find foreign law encyclopedias for other countries, search Worldcat and/or the online catalog for a library with a strong foreign law collection, such as Harvard Law, Columbia Law or the Worldcat Library of Congress. You could also call a foreign law librarian at one of those libraries and ask. If you subscribe, legal encyclopedias are listed in Reynold’s Foreign Law Guide. Westlaw may have some foreign law encyclopedias.

See Also

  • Dictionaries
  • Medical Materials
  • Witkin
  • Encyclopedia of Law and Economics
  • Document Retrieval Services
  • Encyclopedia of Public International Law
  • American Jurisprudence (encyclopedia)
  • World Encyclopedia of Peace
  • Encyclopedia of Education Law
  • Elgar Encyclopedia of Comparative Law
  • Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States
  • Enciclopedia Giuridica


See Also

  • Document
  • Information Science
  • Research
  • Investigation
  • Legal Research
  • Study