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Circuit Riders: Legal Dictionaries & Encyclopedias

Basic Legal Research Training

Black's Law Dictionary

As you conduct your research, you may come across an unfamiliar term or phrase.

Black's Law Dictionary

Black's Law Dictionary

 

Black's Law Dictionary is a useful tool for learning the meaning of unfamiliar legal terms.  Definition entries in Black's often include alternate terms that help you conduct later research for primary resources, as well as cross-references to other dictionary entries that may be relevant. However, the definitions in Black's Law Dictionary are not law and should not be cited as legal authority. Black's Law Dictionary is available in print and on Westlaw.

For example, while researching an employment law issue, you read that South Carolina is an employment at-will state. You look that phrase up in Black's law Dictionary and learn that employment at will means that if an employee does not have a contract, that employee may be terminated by her employer without cause.

Free Online Legal Dictionaries

Online

Legal dictionaries and glossaries are also available on the Internet for free. Examples include Nolo’s Free Dictionary of Terms and Legal Definitions and LAW.COM.  See our page on Legal Research Terms for a glossary of legal research terms and links to other online legal dictionaries.Image of Nolo's Free Dictionary of Terms and Legal Definitions for the term "At-Will Employment"

Image of LAW.COM's free legal dictionary for the term "At-Will Employment"

Legal Dictionaries Using Subscription Databases

Certain legal dictionaries are available online via subscription to databases such as Westlaw and Lexis Advance. South Carolina colleges and universities and public libraries may provide access to popular legal dictionaries via subscription to public access versions of Westlaw or NexisUni.

Legal Encyclopedias

The two legal encyclopedias most widely used by lawyers are American Jurisprudence (Am. Jur.) and Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.). State-specific legal encyclopedias such as South Carolina Jurisprudence explain the law by topic as applied in that state. These legal encyclopedias are usually found in law libraries. They contain extensive footnotes to the law and secondary sources and are updated annually by pocket parts.

American Jurisprudence               Corpus Juris Secundum            South Carolina Jurisprudence

Legal encyclopedias written for non-lawyers, such as West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, Gale Encyclopedia of Everyday Law, and Nolo’s Encyclopedia of Everyday Law are available in public and academic libraries, as well as law libraries.                                  

Free Online Legal Encyclopedias

Legal encyclopedias are also available on the Internet for free. For example, Wex is a popular legal dictionary and encyclopedia maintained by Cornell Law School's Legal Information institute. 

Image of Wex online legal encyclopedia; entry for "Employment-at-will Doctrine"

Legal Encyclopedias Using Subscription Databases

Certain legal encyclopedias are available online via subscription to databases such as Westlaw and Lexis Advance. South Carolina colleges and universities and public libraries may provide access to national and state legal encyclopedias via subscription to public access versions of Westlaw or NexisUni.