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Researching for a MLS Capstone/Seminar Paper or Project

A guide to help you get started on your big paper/project

Journal Articles

Resources for searching for law journal articles are either index or full-text databases.  

Indexes search basic information about articles, such as the titles, authors, subjects, and abstracts. Searching an index is a good starting point because it will help you quickly and efficiently identify articles that are focused on your topic. You'll get just the articles that include your search terms in the title, subject, keywords, or abstract and not those that mention them once in passing in a footnote. 

Some useful index databases for law journal articles are:

In contrast to indexes, full-text databases search the entire texts of articles. You'll find more articles than you would find in an index and are likely to find relevant articles that aren't specifically focused on your topic but discuss it in a few paragraphs or a page or two. However, some of the articles you find may only mention your search terms very briefly, in a footnote or a few passing sentences, so you'll need to spend more time sorting through your results to find what's actually relevant. 

Popular full text legal databases include:

Many students choose to write papers that are interdisciplinary and incorporate insights from other academic fields, such as business, political science, and ethnic studies. 

Generally, your best starting point for finding non-legal scholarly articles is a database specific to the subject you are researching. The main UCLA library maintains a helpful guide to non-law databases by subject.  For each subject, the guide lists the most significant database and links to more detailed guides created by subject specialist librarians.

There are also several general databases that include scholarly articles on multiple subjects, including:

Among UCLA's specialty databases, some of the resources most often used by law students include:

Several websites allow authors to share draft articles before publication. Searching these websites is important for preemption checking. Additionally, checking for forthcoming articles helps you address the most recent, cutting edge developments on your topic. 

Here are some sources for searching for forthcoming articles:

When researching for journal articles it is likely that you will see relevant articles identified but without a (good) link to the full text.  When you have citation information and need the full text, follow these steps:

  1. Either from on-campus or off campus with the VPN enabled, search for the article title in Google Scholar.  Look to the right of each search result for links to the article, including "Get it at UC" links, which will take you to UC Search, which you can use to see access options.
  2. Use UCLA's Find by citation (citation linker) interface.
  3. Use UC Library Search to search for the article itself or the journal in which the article appears.
  4. Explore the website of the journal in which the article appears.  Sometime journal articles are publicly available via the publication website.
  5. Request assistance from the reference team.  The reference librarians may be able to offer assistance with locating the article.
  6. If the article is not available at UCLA, you may be able to obtain it via interlibrary loan (ILL).


There are several good options for accessing print and e-books:

To find books available at UCLA on any topic, conduct a UC Library Search. Enable your VPN to access e-books and articles.  For books not available at UCLA, either in print or electronically, you can request them via inter-library loan (ILL):

  • If you find a catalog record for the book through your UC Library Search, log into your UCLA account to request an interlibrary loan.
  • If you do not find a record for the book through your UC Library Search, ask a librarian for help or click the ... at the top of the page and then select "Blank ILL Request."

The UC Library catalog includes catalog records for all types of library resources and also includes records for some individual book chapters (particularly for more recent books).  After conducting a UC Library Search, you can use the filtering options on the left side of the screen to narrow your results to just books, book chapters, or other types of library resources.  

If you would like to see what libraries in the U.S. or worldwide own a particular book, you can conduct a search on the Worldcat catalog, which contains holdings information for thousands of libraries worldwide. Access WorldCat from the A-Z Databases page (search for “worldcat” and select “WorldCat (OCLC FirstSearch)”).

The catalogs listed above are indexes- i.e. they search only the titles, authors, subjects, and (for some books) tables of contents and brief descriptions. 

To search within the full text of books and locate books that mention a topic in passing, try:

Legal encyclopedias provide an overview of the "the law."  Legal encyclopedias typically have a wonderful breadth of coverage, giving background information on a wide range of legal topics and areas of the law.  They are often a great starting point for your research.

Legal encyclopedias may be state specific or more general.  The most common general legal encyclopedias are:

There is also a legal encyclopedia that focuses on California law:

  • California Jurisprudence (3rd ed.), available in the Law Library at KFC65 .C33 and in Westlaw and Lexis.

Other useful sources that provide an overview of different aspects of California law are the Witkin treatises.  The main Witkin treatise, covering many substantive, civil law topics is:

More information about legal encyclopedias and the Witkin treatises can be found on the home page of the Law Library's Secondary & Practice Guides Research Guide in the section General Encyclopedias & Guides.  

Treatises and practice guides are books that go in depth on a particular area of the law.  Treatises tend to be more scholarly in nature while practice guides are geared more towards attorneys, but both treatises and practice guides tend to be more detailed than legal encyclopedias.  Accordingly, while legal encyclopedias will provide a good starting point to get oriented to an area of law and to identify the legal issues, treatises and practice guides will assist you in developing a more comprehensive understanding of the topic and should provide even more references to cases and other primary authority.

The Law Library's Secondary & Practice Guides Research Guide identifies hundreds of treatises and practice guides on nearly a hundred different legal topics.  All of the treatises and practice guides identified in that research guide are available at UCLA in print, electronically, or both.  That guide also discusses other useful tools for finding treatises and practice guides.

Legal treatises and practice guides available on Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, and other legal research platforms can also be located by searching or browsing the secondary source content pages of those platforms.

It should be noted that, in California, one of the most popular series of practice guides are those published by the Rutter Group, commonly referred to as Rutter Guides.  Rutter truly does set the standard for California practice guides, and if you are researching California law, it is always a good idea to see if there is a Rutter Guide on your topic.  The home page for the Secondary & Practice Guides Research Guide includes a list of all the Rutter Guides available at UCLA.  The Rutter Guides are also available in Westlaw (expand the "Publication Series" menu at the left and select "Rutter Group").

Other Useful Secondary Sources

American Law Reports (ALR) annotations provide articles on a huge array of very specific legal topics.  Each article not only discusses the topic but also includes one of the most comprehensive collections of primary source citations available.  If you can find an ALR article on your topic, it truly can be the keys to the research kingdom.  

ALR includes seven general ALR series (ALR 1st through 7th), covering topics that tend to come up at the state level, and three federal ALR series (ALR Fed. 1st through 3rd), covering federal law topics.  ALRs are available in Westlaw and Lexis.  Westlaw's coverage is a bit more comprehensive, as Lexis does not include the ALR 1st series.

When working with ALRs, it is easy to get carried away, reviewing ALR articles on topics related to your topic but not directly on point, in the hopes of finding just what you need.  To avoid falling down the "rabbit-hole" of ALR research, you may find it useful to set a time limit to work with this resource -- maybe an hour give or take.

Federal and state government materials can be a rich source of information.  Highlighted below are a sample of useful resources.

CRS Reports:

One fantastic resource is Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports.  CRS is part of the Library of Congress and provides research to congressional committees and Members of Congress.  The most recent reports are available directly from the CRS website.  One good way to search that site is the click on search without entering in any search terms.  You can use the filters at the left to select the topics of interest.  Older CRS reports are available from:

Agency Websites:

Federal and state agency websites are another terrific source of information.  Typically, agency websites will have a wide array of guidance documents, reports, and other information.  Agency websites also often identify the statutes and regulations that the agency enforces.  Accordingly, when researching for your capstone paper or project, be sure to review the websites for the relevant federal and state agencies.

Searching for Government Materials:

Google Advanced Search can be used to search for web materials with a .gov domain, which include many, if not most, U.S. federal materials and materials from many states.  Simply go to Google Advanced Search and enter ".gov" into the field to narrow by "site or domain" and use the fields at the top to enter your search, or add site:gov as the last term in your big box search.

An increasing number of law review articles involve statistical analysis or incorporate statistics into their arguments. 

UCLA librarians with expertise in statistics have created several guides to help you locate relevant statistics:

UCLA librarians have also created a variety of subject specific guides, many of which includes pages on statistics. Try browsing for a relevant guide on your subject and then checking for a statistics page, using the UCLA Library's research guides by subject list.