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Legal research and writing

About legal encyclopedias and digests

Legal encyclopedias and case law digests are often considered finding tools and therefore are categorized as secondary sources.

They are organized according to a topical classification and can help direct researchers to legal principles, key statutes and cases. Their classification structure and summaries of legal points can help researchers understand the framework of the law.

Legal encyclopedias

Legal encyclopedias contain brief narrative summaries on particular topics. These can help give a quick overview of basic legal principles and issues. They also suggest relevant legislation and cases, but are not a comprehensive list of cases on a topic.

Legal encyclopedias are not considered an authority and should not be cited. Instead, you can follow the cases, treatises and legislation an encyclopedia cites. Encyclopedias are not updated as quickly as the law can develop.

The hierarchical classification structures of legal encyclopedias are useful. They give researchers an overview of the key elements in a given area of law.

The CED (Canadian Encyclopedic Digest) is one well known legal encyclopedia of Canadian law, others are listed below.

Case law digests

Case law digests are collections of case summaries organized with a hierarchical subject classification.  Their structure offers a comprehensive overview of the principles in different legal subjects, like the legal elements of a contract or a criminal offence.

Case law digests do not usually contain all of the cases on a given topic. As with encyclopedias, digest cannot keep pace with the release of new decisions. Digests do offer a useful starting point and highlight most significant cases or statutes.

A well-known and comprehensive case law digest is the Canadian Abridgment; others are listed below.

Legal encyclopedias

Dig-Can KE180 C36 2008
Dig-Can KE180 H34


Halsbury's laws of England. 5th. Dig-Eng KD310 H34 2008



Case law digests

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