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Legal Methods

The basic techniques of legal analysis, writing and research.

Most Useful Sources: Legal Encyclopedias

American Jurisprudence 

This set provides an unparalled breadth of coverage of all fields of American law—state and federal, civil and criminal, substantive and procedural. The articles collect, examine, and summarize the broad principles of American law and, at the same time, provide direct leads to supporting cases, related annotations, forms, proofs, and trial techniques. Alphabetically arranged in more than 400 topics or chapters.

Corpus Juris Secundum

Cited and quoted as authority in courtrooms across the country, this national legal encyclopedia covers all state and federal legal topics. General rules of law are summarized in "Black Letter" headings and expanded upon in the text. Also provides the limitations and exceptions to the rules where appropriate. Since the citations and the supporting cases involve both state and federal courts, the user gets a full perspective of the law in a local jurisdiction as well as across the country.

Most Useful Sources: American Law Reports

Every article is a complete research brief summarizing all case law relevant to a specific legal point. Articles analyze distinctions among cases to give an objective analysis of both sides of an issue. Go right to local authority, as cited cases are listed by jurisdiction. Research references and sources guide you to material found in Am Jur 2d, Am Jur Legal Forms, Am Jur Pleading and Practice Forms, and other West® publications. Features include the prefatory statement, which describes the case addressed in the article, cross-references to the West Key Number System®, jurisdictions, and table of cited statutes and cases. 

Most Useful Sources: Restatements

  • Agency
  • Conflicts of Laws
  • Contracts
  • Foreign Relations Law of the United States
  • Judgments
  • Law Governing Lawyers
  • Property 
  • Restitution
  • Security
  • Suretyship and Guaranty
  • Torts
  • Trusts
  • Unfair Competition

Restatements are a set of treatises that seek to "restate" the legal rules that constitute the common law in a particular area.  They are written by the American Law Institute (ALI), a prestigious legal organization composed of noted professors, judges and lawyers. There have been three series of Restatements to date. 

Most Useful Sources: Uniform Laws Annotated

Provides an extensive reference to the text of uniform laws, prepared under the sponsorship of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Law Institute. Examines acts recommended for adoption in all states, as well as pinpoints state variations. Includes annotations to cases decided in adopting jurisdictions. Discusses, among others, commercial codes, nonprofit organizations, business and financial laws, estate, probate and related laws, matrimonial, family, and health laws, model sentencing and corrections, remedial laws, evidence, arbitration, common interest ownership, and civil and criminal procedure.


  • Allows fast, easy, and on-point research
  • Covers the Arbitration Act and uniform and model acts relating to business and financial laws
  • Examines acts recommended for adoption in all states and annotations to cases decided in adopting jurisdictions
  • Extensive reference to the texts of uniform laws
  • Includes the Common Interest Ownership Act (1994)
  • Sponsored by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Law Institute

Most Useful Sources: Treatises

Treatises have a narrower focus than legal encyclopedias and provide in-depth treatment of a single subject.  A treatise may consist of a single volume or multiple volumes.  They provide an overview and analysis or commentary.  They also contain citations to primary and other secondary authorities.  If a treatise is widely respected and considered a definitive source in an area of law, you can cite the treatise in a brief or memorandum.  Most treatises will be used for research purposes only.

Most Useful Sources: Legal Periodicals

Articles in legal periodicals are written by professors, lawyers, lawmakers, and law students.  They not only describe the current state of the law but also generally explore underlying policies, critique current legal rules, and advocate law reform.

The term "legal periodical" includes several different types of publications:

  1. Law reviews typically publish several types of articles.  Long pieces with extensive citations are called "articles."  Shorter pieces with fewer footnotes are called "essays."
  2. Special interest legal periodicals focus on a specific area of law.
  3. Bar association journals - national, local, and other lawyer organizations.
  4. Commercial legal newspapers - reporting on new court decisions and other important changes in the law.
  5. Newsletters on specific legal topics, published by commercial publishers and public-interest organizations. 

Most Useful Sources: Law Review / Law Journal

The primary function of a law review is to publish scholarship in the field of law.  Law reviews publish lengthy, comprehensive treatments of subjects ("articles"), generally written by law professors, judges, or legal practitioners, as well as shorter pieces, commonly called "notes" and "comments," written by law student "members" of the law review.  Law reviews should not be confused with non-scholarly publications such as the New York Law Journal or The American Lawyer, which are independent, professional newspapers and news-magazines that cover the daily practice of law.