Print volumes of both major sets of encyclopedias are shelved in the Law Library's reference section on the 3rd floor: AmJur can be found at KF 154 .A49 and CJS at KF 154 .C57 (note that our print CJS set is no longer updated).
Legal encyclopedias are secondary sources that provide a general overview of almost every legal subject. The two major sets of U.S. legal encyclopedias are American Jurisprudence 2d (a/k/a AmJur) and Corpus Juris Secundum (a/k/a CJS). Both sets contain over one hundred volumes, arranged alphabetically by topic. Both also include a general index (comprising several volumes) that is shelved after the last volume of the main set. As with other secondary sources, legal encyclopedias summarize the law rather than provide the law itself.
Legal encyclopedia articles can be extremely useful if you are beginning to research an unfamiliar area of the law. Specifically, they are a great source for finding a brief review and some of the key terminology in the area; the latter can help you create better online keyword searches. In addition, like any other secondary source, they contain copious references and citations to primary source materials. However, legal encyclopedias are not intended to be authoritative sources of the law, and they should generally not be cited in court documents or in scholarly articles.
When using a print legal encyclopedia, it is best to start by searching for your terms in the index volumes (at the end of the set) rather than in the main volumes. This is an important step because the main volumes are arranged alphabetically by major topic (e.g., in both AmJur and CJS, the subject "Miranda Warnings" is covered under the topic "Criminal Law"). You should also be prepared to think of alternate terms (e.g., "physicians" instead of "doctors"). Once you find the topic in the index, it will refer you to a topic and section number where you can find the text of the article (e.g., CrimLaw § 914).
Next, look on the spines of the volumes to see which one contains the section you are looking for. Keep in mind that Westlaw provides an online index for both AmJur and CJS (located at the right side of the screen under "Tools and Resources"), which means you are not limited to keyword searching in the online versions.
Once you find the volume that contains your article, note that it includes a brief explanatory paragraph summarizing the law with footnotes that cite to primary sources (mostly cases) that support the statements of law. Also, note that at the beginning of each major topic (before the text of the articles), you will find a complete outline of the topic; sometimes it helps to browse this outline to find the most helpful article and to place your subtopic within a broader context. The outline also provides the scope of the topic (i.e., what the topic covers and doesn't cover) and subjects that are treated elsewhere (i.e., cross-references to related topics not included in the scope of the selected topic).
After reading the article, it is important that you update your research. Usually, the main volume will contain a pocket part (a pamphlet inserted into a pocket in the back of the volume). Consult this pocket part to find the newest materials related to your topic, using the same topic and section number you searched in the main volume; note that 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, you will find updates 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 the encyclopedia in Lexis or Westlaw to ensure that your updating is complete.
The two major legal encyclopedia sets are substantially similar. They are organized in essentially the same format, and since both are published by Thomson Reuters (West), they include references to Topics and Key Numbers from the West American Digest System. In addition, both contain references to relevant American Law Reports annotations and to other secondary sources. A couple of points of comparison:
1. CJS claims to be comprehensive in its case citations, while AmJur only cites selected cases.
2. AmJur emphasizes federal statutory citations more than CJS. However, each volume in both sets includes a "Table of Laws and Rules" that lists citations to articles discussing U.S. statutory and constitutional sections, federal regulations, and model rules.
As part of its LibTour podcast series, CALI created these brief introductions to AmJur and CJS. Follow the links below to the podcasts.
While you generally will not cite to a legal encyclopedia, rule B15.1 (Bluepages) of The Bluebook (21st edition) is the relevant rule for non-academic legal documents. The following examples are included in this rule (see p. 23):
88 C.J.S. Trial § 192 (1955).
17 Am. Jur. 2d Contracts § 74 (1964).
The components of the citation are, in order: volume number, publication title, main subject, section number, publication year.
The Bluebook notes that the Bluepages retain the tradition of underlining certain text, although italics are considered to be the equivalent (see p. 6). For further guidance on citing to books and other non-periodic material, see rule 15 (Whitepages). When citing to encyclopedias in academic works, The Bluebook provides these examples (see p. 153):
88 C.J.S. Trial § 192 (1955).
17 AM. JUR. 2D Contracts § 74 (1964).