The Traditional Library

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

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Among lawyers, it is traditional for each firm to maintain a “law library.”  These collections can range from a few important reference texts to an extensive array of legal materials.  The trend among most attorneys is to reduce the expensive collection of printed materials and rely more and more heavily on digital resources.  It is still beneficial to be familiar with what types of traditional paper publications are available. One reason for this is that they are still in use; you may have access to better materials in a paper form that you cannot access online.  Another reason is that paper publications tended to be more specific. That is, they served a single research purpose and performed that particular job extremely well. Understanding some of these resources, then, can aid immeasurably in learning to conduct legal research and formulating a research strategy.

The following is a brief overview of the types of materials that are commonly found in a traditional law library:

Case Reporters.  These are large sets of books that hold the written decisions of judges from both state and federal courts.

Code Books.  These are large sets of books that hold statutory legal materials organized by subject.

Encyclopedias.  These are sets of books that explain the law in general.

Digests.  These are large sets of books that act as subject indexes for court cases.

Legal Periodicals.  These serve as an index for newspapers, magazines, and journals published for the legal profession.  Included are law review articles, usually published by law schools.

Treatises.  A book published on a specific legal topic.

Looseleaf services.  These are frequently updated descriptions of subject areas of law.  The pages are kept in ring binders, and old ones are discarded when the material is updated.         

Many good libraries have a legal section that will contain many of these materials.  They will not, however, be as comprehensive as a law library. Many university libraries are part of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), which is a government program created to make U.S. federal government publications available to the public at no cost.  As of June 2008, there were 1,252 depository libraries in the United States and its territories. Because the official versions of United States Reports and the United States Code are government documents, they can be found in these libraries. Of course, most of these documents are also available for free online.

Modification History

File Created:  08/07/2018

Last Modified:  08/10/2018

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License



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