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Research Tips: ALR (American Law Reports)

When beginning your research about a topic, especially one that you are unfamiliar with, start with secondary sources to learn more information instead of immediately turning to primary sources such as cases. ALR is a secondary source comprised of annotations written by legal practitioners, and each annotation discusses a particular legal topic in depth. Unlike legal encyclopedias, ALR’s annotations are organized chronologically. ALR (currently in its sixth series) covers all jurisdictions, while ALR Fed concentrates on federal issues. Individual volumes are updated by pocket parts.

An annotation generally includes:

  • A brief introduction of the topic
  • Table of Contents
  • Research References (citations to other secondary sources, also key numbers for West digests)
  • Index
  • Table of Cases, Laws, and Rules (organized by jurisdiction)
  • Listing of cases, classified by different aspects of the overall topic. Keep in mind that this is not designed to be a fully comprehensive list.

ALR also has finding aids to help in locating relevant annotations. The ALR Index covers all of the ALR system, including ALR Fed. The Index also contains a history table that indicates which annotations have been superseded or supplemented by later ones. West’s ALR Digest is organized alphabetically according to the West Key Number digest system. In addition, each ALR series also has its own Table of Cases shelved with it.

If you have any questions about using ALR or any other library materials, always feel free to ask a reference librarian!


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