Section 1.3.1: Traditional Law Libraries

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

Law libraries, home to many volumes of legal materials, have traditionally been a cornerstone of every law firm. These libraries range from small collections of essential reference books to expansive assortments of legal texts. Paper publications, while more physically substantial, offered focused information for specific legal research purposes, making them incredibly useful tools.

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Despite the growing trend to digitize and condense physical collections, understanding these traditional materials remains vital. Firstly, because some superior resources may only be available in paper form, and secondly, their specificity lends itself to detailed, in-depth research. Comprehending these materials can thus significantly enhance your legal research and strategy formulation skills.  Perhaps the most important reason is that digital services have duplicated these traditional resources, so you can’t understand what’s going on without understanding where all of this stuff came from in the first place.

The Role of Digital Resources

It is undeniable that the legal industry is gradually moving toward digital resources. Digital libraries are becoming the go-to source for most attorneys due to their ease of access, searchability, and lower maintenance costs compared to their physical counterparts. While this shift is evident, it does not negate the importance and potential value of traditional law libraries.

Common Materials in Traditional Law Libraries

Case Reporters and Code Books

Case reporters and code books are two quintessential resources in any law library. Case reporters are voluminous sets of books containing judges’ written decisions from state and federal courts, forming the cornerstone of precedent-based legal systems. Code books, on the other hand, contain statutory legal materials organized by subject, making them a handy tool for understanding specific laws and regulations.

Legal Encyclopedias and Digests

Legal encyclopedias provide a broad explanation of the law in general, serving as a starting point for research. Digests, meanwhile, act as subject indexes for court cases, streamlining the process of finding case law on a particular topic.

Legal Periodicals, Treatises, and Looseleaf Services

Legal periodicals include newspapers, magazines, and journals for the legal profession, including scholarly law review articles often published by law schools. Treatises offer in-depth information on a specific legal topic, and looseleaf services provide frequently updated descriptions of various law subject areas. These services use ring binders to replace outdated information with current updates, ensuring the material remains current.

Accessibility of Law Libraries

While most public libraries won’t match a law library’s comprehensiveness, many carry a decent legal section. Furthermore, university libraries often participate in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), a government initiative to provide public access to U.S. federal government publications at no cost. As official versions of United States Reports and the United States Code are government documents, they can be found in these libraries. Today, most of these resources are also available online for free, offering accessible legal research materials to a broad audience.

US Law Guide

My United States Law Guide provides links to cases and codes freely available online.

There is also an Arkansas Law Guide.


Traditional law libraries, with their wide-ranging physical collections, still hold immense value despite the legal industry’s gradual shift toward digital resources. From case reporters and code books to legal encyclopedias, digests, legal periodicals, treatises, and looseleaf services, each material offers unique insights and aids in formulating a well-rounded research strategy. Understanding these resources is key to excelling in legal research. Furthermore, with many public and university libraries offering legal resources and the advent of digital libraries, these resources have become increasingly accessible to a broad audience, ensuring everyone has access to these invaluable tools.


Modification History

File Created:  08/07/2018

Last Modified:  06/29/2023

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