Print volumes of ALR are shelved on the 5th floor of the Law Library at KF 132; print volumes of ALR Federal are shelved on the 4th floor of the Law Library at KF 105 .A54. The Law Library is no longer updating its print ALR sets.
American Law Reports (a/k/a ALR) is a secondary source that combines elements of legal encyclopedias with elements of case reporters. ALR contains articles (called annotations) that look similar to articles in legal encyclopedias. However, where legal encyclopedias provide brief coverage of almost every legal topic, ALR annotations cover much more specific and narrow topics that are presented in more depth and with greater detail than an encyclopedia article. Unlike legal encyclopedias, ALR does not attempt to provide comprehensive coverage of every topic.
ALR annotations include citations to primary source materials (just like any secondary source), but they also include citations to law review articles and other related ALR annotations. Annotations often focus on areas in which not all jurisdictions are in agreement. If an annotation has been written on a topic you are researching (not a guarantee), it can be a great source for providing an overview of the current state of the law and for comparing the law in multiple jurisdictions. ALR annotations are not intended to be authoritative sources of the law; therefore, they generally should not be cited in court documents or in scholarly articles.
In print, ALR is organized into two parts: six "series" that cover state law topics (ALR, ALR 2d, ALR 3d, ALR 4th, ALR 5th, and ALR 6th), and two "series" that cover federal law topics (ALR Fed, ALR Fed 2d). Because of the various series, only some of which are updated, it is often easier to use ALR in Lexis or Westlaw. Remember that if you are using ALR in Westlaw, you have access to the ALR Index (see below), as well as the ability to search by keyword.
To search by subject in the print ALR sets, you'll have to start in the index volumes. The ALR Index is a multivolume index that covers all of the ALR series--both state and federal. Unfortunately, while both state and federal topics are indexed in the same volumes (shelved at the end of the state series), the state and federal sets themselves are not shelved together. There is, however, a "Quick Index" for each set, which is a one-volume softbound index that covers the most recent series in each set (3rd through 6th for state, both series for federal). As with other indexes, be prepared to think of alternate search terms (e.g., "physicians" instead of "doctors"). Once you find the topic in the index, it will refer you to a volume and page number within the series where the annotation begins (e.g., 17 A.L.R. 6th 453 means that you would go to volume 17 of the ALR 6th series, then page 453 to find the text of the annotation).
Once you locate the annotation, you will see that it starts with an overview of the topic and a key primary source citation, which is reprinted in full at the end of the annotation (see below for an example). The annotation itself is indexed and includes a list of the jurisdictions whose primary authority is cited within. The annotation then explains the law on the topic, summarizing key primary source materials along the way and providing additional citations. ALR is published by Thomson Reuters (West) and therefore includes references to the Topics and Key Numbers in the West American Digest System.
After reading the annotation and consulting the referenced primary sources, it is important to update your research. In print, you will find that the main volume usually contains a pocket part (a pamphlet inserted into a pocket in the back of the volume). Consult this pocket part to locate the newest materials related to your topic, using the same topic and section number you searched in the main volume; if your section number is not listed, there are no updates. Occasionally, there is too much material for a pocket part to fit inside the main volume. In that instance, updates are found in a softbound supplement shelved next to the main volume, but the technique for finding updates is the same. You can also use the online versions of ALR to ensure that your updating is complete.
As part of its LibTour podcast series, CALI created this brief introduction to ALR. Follow the link below to the podcast.
While you generally will not cite to an ALR annotation, rule 16.7.6 (Whitepages) of The Bluebook (21st edition) explains how to do so. The following example is included in this rule (see p.166):
Claudia Catalano, Annotation, Unlawful Access Under Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C.A. § 2701 et seq., 1 A.L.R. Fed. 3d § 1 (2015).
The components of the citation are, in order: author's name, the word "Annotation," title of the annotation, volume number, A.L.R. series, section number, original publication date.