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Legal research and writing

This guide provides an introduction to legal research and writing for law students.

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 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, review the cases, treatises and legislation cited by the encyclopedia. Encyclopedias are not updated as quickly as the law develops.

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

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

Canada                                   
 

UK

US

Case law digests

Canada

UK

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