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Secondary Sources

This guide will help explain why you should generally start your legal research with secondary resources, which to use for your research task, and how to use them effectively.

What are Legal Encyclopedias

  • Legal encyclopedias provide a brief statement of the law.
  • They pull together an enormous body of legal literature, definitions, rules and practice points derived mainly from case law.
  • Indexes and cross-references are provided.
  • The sections may be written by experts or by editorial staff who are not themselves legal scholars.
  • The information contained in the encyclopedias are more generally more descriptive than analytical.
  • The most widely used legal encyclopedias are American Jurisprudence 2d and Corpus Juris Secundum.

When to use Legal Encyclopedias?

  • Encyclopedias tend to be most useful at the beginning of a research project.
    • They provide an overview of specific topics.
    • They help one outline issues that may be involved.
    • They are a decent finding tool as occassionaly they will point you in the direction of leading relevant cases.
  • They can also be helpful at the close of your research as a check to make sure that all issues have been considered.
  • Some cautionary advice should be considered when you are using legal encyclopedias.
    • The articles are often oversimplified.
    • The article is only as good as its author/editor.
    • Encyclopedias should never be cited as authority.
    • While they do a decent job with case law, they generally do a poor job with statutory or administrative law subjects.

Resources for Using Legal Encyclopedias

A Tutorial on how to use Legal Encyclopedias prepared by the Warren E. Burger Law Library:

American Jurisprudence and Corpus Juris Secundum

State Legal Enyclopedias

  • There are also state enyclopedias. In Georgia we have Georgia Jurisprudence.
    • Georgia Jurisprudence (Ga. Jur.), a West publication, is Georgia’s state-specific encyclopedia. 
    • Unlike most other encyclopedias, the topics in Ga. Jur. are not arranged alphabetically. Instead, each topic has its own volume; several of the topics take up more than one volume.  
    • Within the commentary of each topic, Ga. Jur. includes statutory, regulatory, and case law. Ample footnotes guide you to the primary sources.  
    • For this reason, finding your issue addressed in Ga. Jur. gives you a big step forward in your research.

Georgia Jurisprudence

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the State of Georgia, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. Georgia State University College of Law and the authors of the works contained on this website do not assume or accept any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, currentness, or comprehensiveness of the content on this website. The content on this website does not in any manner constitute the issuance of legal advice or counsel. The information on this website is intended to provide resources that may aid the research of the topics presented, and are in no way a comprehensive list of sources one should consult on the topics presented. Please note that case law, statutory law, and administrative law may be modified and/or overturned. Additionally, because the laws vary between jurisdictions, the laws referred to herein may or may not be applicable to the law within the reader’s jurisdiction.