Law Library Stacks


The materials used for legal research are generally divided into two broad categories: primary sources and secondary sources.  Primary sources are statements of the law from a governmental entity such as a court, legislature, executive agency, president, or governor.  Secondary sources offer an analysis, commentary or a restatement of primary law.  Secondary sources are used to help locate and explain primary sources of law.  These sources may influence a legal decision but they do not have the controlling or binding authority like the primary sources of law.

There are a variety of secondary sources, including:

  • Legal Dictionaries
  • Words & Phrases
  • Legal Encyclopedias
  • Annotated Law Reports
  • Legal Periodicals
  • Legal Treatises, Hornbooks and Nutshells
  • Restatements
  • Loose Leaf Services
  • Legal Directories.

The Library has an extensive collection of legal treatises and other commentaries.  To locate items of interest to you, start with an online catalog search, available at:  If you have any questions, ask for assistance at the reference desk (202) 707-5079.

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Legal Dictionaries

Legal dictionaries provide definitions of words in their legal sense or use.  These publications provide a short definition for foreign and Latin legal words and phrases, refer to cases and other legal sources for authority, and may give examples of the use in various legal situations.  They also include tables defining legal abbreviations and acronyms.  The leading legal dictionary in the U.S. is:

Black's Law Dictionary, 8th ed., St. Paul, MN: Thompson/West, 2004.
(CALL NO. KF156 .B53 2004, LLRR Desk)

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Words & Phrases

Words & Phrases are research tools, which are similar to legal dictionaries.  Both include legal definitions of words but Words & Phrases also include multiple entries of how the term or the word has been defined by the courts.  The Words & Phrases dictionary is a multi-volume set by West Publishing:

Words and Phrases, St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1940-.  Kept current with pocket parts and supplements.  (CALL NO. KF156. W6712, Row 88).

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Legal Encyclopedias

Legal Encyclopedias offer broad and general commentary on a full range of federal and state law. These are useful as a starting point for researching unfamiliar areas of law.  Most of the articles in the encyclopedias focus primarily on case law and do not contain extensive citations to statutes or other secondary sources.

The two major national legal encyclopedias are:

American Jurisprudence 2d (Am Jur), St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1962-   .  Kept current with pocket parts and supplements. Available through WestLaw (external link) (subscription required)
(CALL NO. KF154 .A42, Row 27(A))

Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS), St. Paul, MN: Thompson/West, 1936 -   .  Kept current with pocket parts and supplements. Available through WestLaw (external link) (subscription required)
(CALL NO. KF154 .C56, Row 27(A))

Many (but not all) states have an encyclopedia focusing exclusively on the laws of that state.  The following are some examples of state encyclopedias:

West'sMarylandLawEncyclopedia, St. Paul, MN: West Group, 1960-   . Kept up to date by pocket parts and revised volumes. Available through WestLaw (external link) (subscription required)
(CALL NO. KFM1265 .W4 , Row 51)

Michie's Jurisprudence of Virginia and West Virginia, Charlottesville, VA: LEXIS Law Pub. 1948- . Kept up to date by pocket parts and revised volumes. Available through Lexis (external link)/a> (subscription required)
(CALL NO. KFV2465 .M52, Row 62) 

New Jersey Practice, St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1949-   . Kept up to date by pocket parts and revised volumes. Available through WestLaw (external link) (subscription required)
(CALL NO. KFN1880 .N4, Row 54).

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Annotated Law Reports

Annotated law reports provide essays that analyze and discuss particular points of law.  They focus on narrow legal issues rather than general points of law.  The articles analyze and describe cases from every jurisdiction that have taken a position on the topic covered.  Along with critical case citations, the articles provide references to the statutes, digests, texts, treatises, law reviews and legal encyclopedias.  The American Law Reports (ALR) series by Thompson/West is the most comprehensive set of annotated law reports. There are seven series of ALRs: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th 6th and Federal (ALR Federal).

American Law Reports, St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 1919 -    . (CALL NO. KF132 .A56 - (ALR 6th); 1st-2nd in LLRR Stacks, 3rd-6th and Federal in Row 33)

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Legal Periodicals

Legal periodicals are very helpful in locating cases and statutes in a particular subject area.  Periodicals are important because they are an excellent method of locating current information.  Subjects that are new or too specialized to be covered in books can often be found in periodicals.  Articles in current periodicals describe, analyze and comment on the current state of law.  There are numerous types of legal periodicals available, including law school journals and/or law reviews, bar association periodicals, legal newspapers and newsletters.

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Legal Treatises, Hornbooks and Nutshells

Legal treatises are publications that present a highly organized, detailed explanation of a specific area of law (sample topics include contracts, torts, criminal law and property).  Treatises are published as single-volume or multi-volume sets.  Most treatises are updated by the use of supplements or pocket parts.  Following are examples of treatises:

Farnsworth on Contracts, 3rd ed., E. Allan Farnsworth, NY: Aspen Publishers, 2004. (CALL NO. KF801 . F367 2004, Row 19)

Federal Practice and Procedure, Charles Alan Wright and Arthur R. Miller, St. Paul, MN: West Group, 1969-   . (CALL NO. KF8840 .W68, Row 27)

The New Wigmore: a Treatise on Evidence, NY: Aspen Law & Business, 2002 (CALL NO. KF8935 .A1 N49 2002, Row 27).

Hornbooks are a type of treatise written for law students.  They are usually one volume publications related to subjects covered in law school courses.  The following publication is an example of a hornbook:

Criminal Law, 4th ed., Wayne R. LaFave, St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2003. (CALL NO. KF9219 .L38 2003, LLRR Desk).

Nutshells provide an overview of a specific area of law.  The depth of analysis and explanation in a nutshell is considerably more concise as compared to a treatise or hornbook, but they serve as a good introduction to an unfamiliar area of law.  The following is an example of a nutshell:

Civil Procedure in a Nutshell, 5th ed., Mary K. Kane, St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2003 (CALL NO. KF8841 .K36 2003, Row 27).

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Restatements organize and "codify" the common law of the United States.  They are written by the American Law Institute (ALI), which is a legal organization composed of noted professors, judges and lawyers. Restatements are divided broadly into chapters and subdivided into narrow titles and then into sections. Each section begins with a (bold face) restatement of the law, followed by hypothetical illustrations.  Restatements often influence court decisions.  ALI has completed Restatements in 15 areas. The following are select examples of Restatements:

  • Agency (CALL NO. KF1345 .A764, 1958, Row 20)
  • Conflict of Laws (CALL NO. KF411 .R47, 1971, Row 18)
  • Contracts (CALL NO. KF801 .R47, 1981, Row 19)
  • Foreign Relations Law of the United States (CALL NO. KF4651 .R47, 1987, LLRR Desk)
  • Judgments (CALL NO. KF8990 .R48, 1982, Row 27)
  • Law Governing Lawyers (CALL NO. KF300 .R469 2000,  Row 18)
  • Restitution (CALL NO. KF1244 .R46 1937, Row 20)
  • Torts (CALL NO. KF1249 .A4 R47, Row 20).

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Loose-Leaf Services

Loose-leafs are useful tools for rapidly changing laws, regulations and rulings.   These publications generally include regulation intensive subjects such as banking, tax, medicare, or securities.  All these areas of laws and regulations change very frequently and the loose-leaf format allows current information to be easily added to the existing materials by inserting new pages and/or by removing some of the existing pages. These publications are printed in special binders.  The followings are examples of loose-leafs:

Standard Federal Tax Reporter, Chicago: Commerce Clearing House, 1945 -    . (CALL NO. KF6285 .C67, Row 26)

Immigration Law and Procedure Reporter, New York: LEXIS Publishing, 1985-   . (CALL NO. KF4815 .I46 1985, Row 25).

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Legal Directories

Legal directories are heavily used locators for legal and government information.  There are a variety of resources that provide directory and biographical information about attorneys, law firms, legal experts, professors, government officers, corporate legal departments, legal aid organizations, and elected officials.  For example, the Federal Regulatory Directory is a comprehensive guide to federal regulatory agencies. It includes citations to laws under which agencies derive their regulatory responsibilities.  The United States Government Manual is a directory of federal agencies.  Entries include a short description of responsibilities of the agency, contacts, and references to legislation which established the agency.  It is available on the Web at:  The following are examples of legal directories:

Federal Regulatory Directory, Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1979/80 -   . (CALL NO. KF5406 .A15 F4, LLRR Desk)

United States Government Manual, Washington, DC: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives, 1973 - .  (CALL NO. JK421 .A3, LLRR Desk - current edition only).

The most popular legal directory is the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory.  Martindale-Hubbell provides a listing of attorneys and law firms by state and other countries. Martindale-Hubbell is available in print and also on the Web at: (external link).  This Web site allows you to search by lawyer or location. 

Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, NY: Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, Inc., 1931 -   . (CALL NO. KF190 .H813, Row 6)

Some directories include information about lawyers practicing in a specific area of law and/or in specific jurisdictions. They are called specialty directories. The following are examples of such publications:

The American Bar, Minneapolis, MN: J.C. Fields Co., 1918-   . (CALL NO. KF190 .I5, LLRR Desk)

Directory of Corporate Counsel, NY: Aspen Law & Business Publishers, 1980/81 -   . (CALL NO. KF195 .C6 D57, LLRR Desk)

The Bar Directory,London: General Council of the Bar, 1991-   . (CALL NO. KD336 .G46, LLRR Desk).

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Last Updated: 02/28/2014