How to Locate Legal and Non-Legal Journal Articles

Updated by Fred Dingledy
October 2021


Legal periodical articles are important secondary resources that serve both to explain a particular facet of a topic and to point the researcher to primary sources (such as cases and statutes) and other secondary resources.

Legal periodicals include law reviews, legal newspapers, bar association periodicals, and interdisciplinary journals. They can be general in scope (such as the William and Mary Law Review) or focused on a specific subject (for example, the Santa Clara Computer and High-Technology Law Journal). Many journals are published several times a year, insuring that the articles are current and topical when published. Oftentimes, journal articles will cover a newly developing area of the law before books on the subject are available. Furthermore, they are useful tools for examining present trends and recent changes in the law.

Use the library catalog or ask a reference librarian to find out whether the law library or Swem (William and Mary's main-campus library) has a particular journal title. Current journals are located on the main floor of the law library. Older journals are kept in compact shelving in the basement.

A Word About Searching

There are two methods of searching for legal periodicals: index and full-text searching.

An index search involves looking for an article using the subject, author, keyword, or other field under which it is indexed. For example, to retrieve articles about the right to recover stolen works of art, one might search using the subject heading "art thefts - remedies."

During a full-text search, the researcher looks through the text of the articles themselves for certain words without regard to the particular subjects of the articles. Again as an example, if one were to look for articles about the right to recover stolen works of art, one might search in a full-text database using terms such as "recovery" and "'stolen art.'"

Index searching has a distinct advantage over full-text searching in two important aspects. Searching by the index method ensures that the articles retrieved will be somehow connected to the index term. For instance, a keyword search using the term "stolen art" will yield a list of articles that discuss issues dealing with art theft. A full-text search using the same term will return any article in the database that mentions the words "stolen art," regardless of the topic of the article. In other words, a full-text search may result in a greater number of irrelevant hits than the same index search. The other advantage to index searching is that once a relevant article is identified in an index search, the subject terms by which the article is indexed can be used to find additional relevant articles classified under the same subject.

Full-text searching is advantageous, however, when one wishes to retrieve articles about a narrowly-defined topic. For instance, if the researcher is interested in articles about the rights of descendents of Jewish Holocaust victims to recover family art stolen by Nazi soldiers during World War II, a full-text search might be more effective than an index search by yielding more precise results.

Current Legal Journal Articles - 1980 to present date

To find articles from 1980 to date, the researcher has several options in print and online. (All print indices are located at the Index Table in Reference.)

Full-text searches
In all three law review databases below (both of which are comprised of the texts of hundreds of journals), the researcher enters key terms and can use segment or field restrictions to limit the search to specific dates, authors, or source. A password is required to use either Lexis or Westlaw. The library issues passwords to law students and faculty.

Please note that neither service includes every issue of each journal. Holdings vary, depending on the specific journal. Most of the journal articles in Hein Online's database goes back to the beginning of the journal's existence, but the most recent issue may not be available. Some journals' articles in the Westlaw and Lexis begin with 1980 (such as the Tulane Maritime Law Journal on Lexis), but some were added more recently (for example, the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review on Lexis, which begins with 1993). Therefore, the researcher may miss relevant articles that were published early in a journal's history.

For information about the holdings for a specific journal on either service, please see a reference librarian.

Index searches

The table below illustrates the various options for searching by index term for legal periodical articles.

Table describing indexes and full-text search databases you can use to locate journal articles


Resource Features
Online Legal Resource Index (on Westlaw - password required)

Covers approximately 900 bar journals and law reviews.

Search by keyword (default), subject, title, and/or author. Also limit searches to a particular year.

It is updated irregularly, but at least monthly.
Legal Source

Covers over 1200 bar journals and law reviews, some going back to 1908, and includes the full text of some articles.

Can search by numerous fields in the article description, including author name, article or journal title, and subject. Uses an "Advanced Search" by default that lets you combine several fields at once.

Subjects Legal Source uses to describe the article are located above the article's abstract. Click on a subject to search for other articles on the same subject.

Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals

Indexes articles from non-U.S. law journals. Can search by country subject, topic, author, article title, or publication title. Coverage from 1984-present; refer to the print edition for earlier articles.

In Print
Current Law Index (online version is Legal Resource Index on Westlaw)

Includes a subject index, an author/title index, and case and statute tables. Volumes are published annually and do not cumulate. No longer updated at the law library after 2007.

Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (also available online)

Indexes articles from non-U.S. law journals. Contains a subject index which lists entries by country, a geographical index, and an author index. Annual volumes do not cumulate. No longer updated at the law library after 2010.

Index to Legal Periodicals

Features an integrated subject and author index, as well as case and statute tables. Volumes are published annually and do not cumulate. No longer updated at the law library after 1/2001.

Index to Periodical Articles Related to Law

Covers non-legal periodical sources. Includes articles that do not appear in Current Law Index, Index to Legal Periodicals, or other law journal indices. No longer updated at the law library after 2005.
Historical Legal Journal Articles - before 1980

A full text in Hein Online's Law Journal database is a good way to find many older law review articles, but there are several journal indexes that can prove very useful to the historical researcher. All of the print versions of these resources are located in the Reference section of the library.

Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (see chart above) indexes articles from non-U.S. law journals, beginning with 1960. This is available online through Hein (W&M only).

An Index to Legal Periodical Literature indexes articles from Anglo-American legal and general periodicals from 1770 - 1937. The William & Mary Law Library does not have this in print, but it is available online through Hein (W&M only).

Index to Legal Periodicals also covers Anglo-American law journal articles prior to 1980. This series began in 1886, but indexes articles from well before that date. For information about ILP in print, see the chart above.

Index to Periodical Articles Related to Law (see chart above) indexes literature from non-legal sources, beginning with 1958. Volumes up to 1979 also include legal periodicals which were not covered in the Index to Legal Periodicals. This is available online through Hein (W&M only).

Non-Legal Journal Articles

The practice of law is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary.  As such, the researcher may need to find information about subjects that are not traditionally included in legal studies.

A few databases that one might consult include:

Swem Library at William and Mary maintains a comprehensive list of indices and databases available online, organized alphabetically and  by topic. Most databases are accessible from either on- or (if you are a W&M student or faculty member) off-campus.

If you are not on campus, be sure to use a link through either the law library's or Swem Library's website to access the database. A page will ask you to enter your William & Mary ID and password (this is the same ID and password you use to access e-mail), and you will then be passed through to the database.