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Researching Secondary Sources in Law

This guide is designed as an introduction to researching secondary legal sources. Secondary sources are about the law rather than the law itself. They are great research tools that can save you time and money.


Use a legal encyclopedia for background and to help you get a sense of the vocabulary for your issue.  These are an excellent place to start if you do not know much about a topic.  Although great for background material, avoid citing to an encyclopedia as your source of authority for an argument.  Why aren’t they considered very authoritative?  They  don’t supply deep analysis, they are not written by acknowledged experts in the field, and their citations to primary sources are limited.

General Legal Encyclopedias

There are two general legal encyclopedias: American Jurisprudence 2d (Am. Jur.) and Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.).

State Legal Encyclopedias

Many states have legal encyclopedias that focus on state law. Ohio, for example, has Ohio Jurisprudence 3d.

Finding Tools within Encyclopedias


Table of Contents

Table of Cases

Table of Laws & Rules

Desk Book

New Topic Service

Words & Phrases


Print copies of encyclopedias are updated by pocket parts or supplements.

Video Tutorials on Legal Encyclopedias

CALI Lesson on Legal Encyclopedias

CALI LogoAvailable to Law Students only (see a reference librarian if you do not have a CALI activation code).

Citation Format for Encyclopedias


Rule 15.8 and BT.1 of The Bluebook (21st ed. 2020) covers the citation of encyclopedias. 


The citation should include the following:

  • Volume
  • Encyclopedia abbeviation
  • Article title (underlined or italicized)
  • Section
  • Copyright date of the volume (in the parenthetical)


88 C.J.S. Trial § 192 (1955).

17 Am. Jur. 2d Contracts § 74 (1964).

14 Ohio Jur. 3d Civil Rights § 82 (2006).

Encyclopedia on Lexis & Westlaw Example

New for the 21st edition of the Bluebook:

17 Am. Jur. 2d Contracts § 74, Westlaw. (database updated Aug. 2020).

1 Ill. Jur.Criminal Law & Procedure, Lexis (database updated June 2020).


Rule 22.3 of the ALWD Citation Manual (7th ed.) covers the citation of legal encyclopedias.


The citation should include the following:

  • Volume
  • Encyclopedia Abbreviation (see Chart 22.1)
  • Title or Topic (italicize or underline)
  • Section
  • Year (in the parenthetical)
    • When citing an encyclopedic entry in a commercial database, rather than the year in the parenthetical, add the name of the database provider and provide the date through which the database is current.


88 C.J.S. Trial § 192 (1955).

17 Am. Jur. 2d Contracts § 74 (1964).

14 Ohio Jur. 3d Civil Rights § 82 (2006).

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