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What are the American Law Reports?

Charity Delich
Charity Delich

The American Law Reports (ALR) are a set of books used by lawyers, paralegals, and other law professionals to conduct legal research on cases from all of the state and federal courts in the United States. In addition to including case law from all United States jurisdictions, the American Law Reports also contain articles, called annotations, which address specific points of law, legal rules, doctrines, and principles. The annotations are authored by lawyers, and they include cases dating back as far as 1919.

A typical American Law Reports annotation contains a complete illustrative case, along with a thorough summary of the case at the beginning of the annotation. Additionally, it includes a summary of any cases that are pertinent to the particular legal issue at hand. The annotation generally notes any differences among the outcomes of the cited cases, and it usually also directs the researcher to any similar topics. Ordinarily, an annotation includes references to any statutes, rules, and regulations which relate to the subject matter being reviewed.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

An American Law Reports annotation usually includes practical information for lawyers, called practice pointers. In addition, it normally includes a reference that allows a lawyer to determine whether a particular case is still valid or whether it has been overturned by another ruling. Most annotations also contain a summary of other references that a lawyer can look at in researching the subject matter under consideration. For instance, an article may include a listing of footnotes, law review articles, digests, and treatises on the topic at issue. In addition, a reference to the briefs, pleadings, and motions that support the cases discussed in a particular annotation may be included.

If a lawyer is looking for a case in a particular jurisdiction, he or she can refer to the American Law Reports table of jurisdictions. This table contains a complete listing of court decisions from specific states. If the researcher determines that the annotation he or she is reviewing is not on point, the researcher can check for corollary references in the annotation. These references point to cases, statutes, and secondary research sources that address similar or related topics.

The American Law Reports are updated on a regular basis. As a result, legal researchers must ensure the annotations that they are reviewing are current. This can be done by examining supplements in the back of each volume or by reviewing a history table contained in index section of the book.

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