Other Controlled-Vocabulary Research Tools

Legal scholarship contains both book- and article-type items. A library catalog search used to cover only book items.
In addition to this search limitation, there are thousands of law review articles published yearly. Unlike authors of treatises who are limited by their small profession, the academe, there is no such limit when it comes to authors of law review articles. They can be members of the academe, practitioners, or even students.
The best approach to a manageable and reliable search of law review articles is by using a legal index because a field-restricted search is always faster than a “full-text” search, of course, if the indexer’s concepts and your research concepts coincide.

The Index to Legal Periodicals and Books, often referred to as ILP or Wilson Web, depending on the access platform used, is the most commonly used legal index. Ebsco has recently purchased it so, ILPis no longer available through the prestigious fee-based electronic databases Lexis and Westlaw. 

The advantage of using an index is that, if lucky, in a limited amount of time, you only obtain results that discuss your issue in depth, as opposed to the results you obtain from a full-text database, which may only mention your research terms in passing in a footnote.

For example, if you search for articles on the “tragedy of commons,” within the “keyword” field you will obtain tens of results that have the advantage of going back in time for almost two decades and cover in-depth treatment of your issue in varied areas: from environmental law to international law and intellectual property. If you were to type the same phrase in the search box within any of the fee-based databases, you may obtain a relatively small number of results, but they may not necessarily be on that topic. If ILP was a great tool in a world without federated search engines, in the new age of library catalogs, ILP lost much of its attraction. Now lilbrary catalogs can provide both book and article results stemming from one search. Its role is thus limited to the speed proficed by a more targeted, field-restricted search, as opposed to a “full-text” type of search.

If you do not have access to the Index to Legal Periodicals, you will need to use full-text searches. First, try to see if a free-of charge search for law review articles is useful for you. Familiarize yourself with various academic commons repositories and Google Scholar. Due to its current partnership with the electronic database, Heinonline, which covers, inter arlia, a large amount of law review articles, though not necessarily the most recent publications, a Google Scholar search can be remarkably relevant.

Finally, try to use the fee-based databases available to you. If you are a college student or a college graduate, your college library will often have access to either LexisNexis Academic Universe, and/or Westlaw Campus, which contain a lesser number of law review articles than their more comprehensive, parent databases, Lexis and Westlaw. In addition to this limited version of the main legal databases, American Universities offer their non-law patrons access to scholarly databases, such as JSTOR or ProQuest, which contain a limited number of law journal articles.

If full-text databases may not be the best first step in your search for law review articles, nevertheless they may be excellent retrieving sites, when you have all the information you need to locate an article. For example, if you look for Dana Neacsu’s article which was published in16 Touro Law Review 25(1999)—going to HeinonLine, Lexis, Westlaw, may be the most efficient way to locate it if you have access to those fee-based databases. In the instance mentioned above, Heinonline may be the better source, because the article was published in a more obscure publication and it is not especially recent. Usually, Heinonline’s licensing agreements involve a “moving wall,” which makes available only law review articles from the first issue prior to a set number of years before the present date.