Generally, other search methods are more effective to obtain a quick overview of US law. The encyclopedias tend to be general, while the West Key Number Digest approach is quite specific.
There are two leading American legal encyclopedias, but they are often too general to be very satisfactory to a Canadian lawyer researching the American application of a specific problem. They are useful, however, for a general and elementary statement of law, for the citations to leading cases, and for the cross-references to other research tools. They are also necessary to consult if you cannot find material on point using other sources.
The two current general legal encyclopedias are put out by competing law book publishers and each is geared to that specific publishers' system of legal research.
Published by West, and linked to West's Key Number System used in the National Reporter System and the American Digest System, this encyclopedia summarizes general rules of law in "Black Letter" headings and are then expanded upon in the text. It also sets out the limitations and exceptions to the rules where appropriate. The legal analysis is accompanied by case citations, and the encyclopedia makes an effort to cite as many states and federal cases as possible, thus providing an overview of the law in a local jurisdiction as well as across the country. The encyclopedia contains hundreds of separate titles on a broad range of legal topics. Documents available for each topic may include a summary, topic contents, individual sections of text, and a table of parallel references. It is available online on law students' individual WestlawNext Canada accounts.
This encyclopedia tends to be a statement of modern authorities. The footnotes refer only to selected reported decisions. This source is available in the Reference section of the Law Library. It is available on law students' individual LexisNexis Quicklaw and WestlawNext Canada accounts. On WestlawNext Canada: