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Researching for a Scholarly Article or Seminar (SAW) Paper: Preemption Check

A guide to help you get started on your big paper.

What is a preemption check?

A preemption check is a search of relevant legal materials to determine if an idea has already been written on and if that article addresses the same topics, in the same manner as you would like to address them. It is very likely that you may find articles similar to the one you would like to write. You must read these articles in their entirety to determine if you can differentiate your idea and conclusions from those presented in the articles.

Why do I need a preemption check?

When seeking publication of your article, law reviews and journals will look to the originality of the work. A preemption check ensures that your article will be original work.

What are the steps?

When performing each step it is important to remember that you are casting a wide net. In other words, you are performing a broad search meant to capture diverse materials on your article idea that will both inform you of the existing literature and help you flesh out your own idea. 

  1. Search for legal articles using an index. 
  2. Search for legal articles using full-text resources.
  3. Search for non-legal articles.
  4. Search for books and book chapters.
  5. Set up alerts in order to be notified of any new articles.

Now that you know the steps we will look at resources for each step.

Where should you look?

Step 1. Search for legal articles using an index.

You might be asking, what is an index? An index of legal articles is a list of published articles searchable by keywords and that may also include an abstract to help you determine if the article is relevant or useful to your search.

Legal Source indexes over 870 journals and 300 law reviews. Includes Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP).

Legal Resource Index (LRI) on Westlaw contains abstracts from journals throughout the world. Coverage begins with 1980. [Currently accessible as of Jan. 2021, however we have been told that this publication will soon be removed from Westlaw.]

Current Index to Legal Periodicals (CILP) on HeinOnline contains indexed articles from more than 300 legal publications. Coverage includes the most recent 8 weeks. Available 4-6 weeks before ILP. c

Step 2. Search for legal articles using full-text resources.

Google Scholar searches journal articles from all over the world including legal articles. If you are connected to the UCLA network, you should see a "UC-eLinks" link to paywall protected articles. 

HeinOnline maintains PDFs of entire runs (all published issues) of many law journals and bar publications. When running a search select the Law Journal Library. 

SSRN maintains the Legal Scholarship Network, one of the largest repositories of legal articles. Authors post full-text articles as well as abstracts. Online repositories are places for authors to store their work and often contain the "author's final version" which is the last draft the author had before giving the journal a copyright license.

bepress Legal Repository offers working papers and pre-prints from law schools throughout the country. 

Westlaw & Lexis both offer searchable full-text legal articles, but much of their journal coverage begins around the 1970s. 

ABA Blawg Directory offers a fairly comprehensive list of law blogs by topic and region. And Justia's BlawgSearch has a great list as well. Legal Blogs are a great source for recent legal events and legal conflicts. They are also searchable on Westlaw and Lexis.

Step 3. Search for non-legal articles. Law articles often touch on non-legal issues and sometimes non-legal articles touch on legal issues. Thus, performing a search of non-legal articles is an important step in a preemption check and in your research. If you are writing an interdisciplinary article it is imperative you look at non-legal articles. 

Google Scholar searches all types of scholarly articles, not just legal articles. If you were writing on an interdisciplinary subject this is an excellent resource.

JSTOR like Google Scholar, JSTOR includes legal and non-legal articles.

Academic Search Complete has over 10,000 sources on all scholarly topics.

Business Source Complete is a comprehensive business article database with over 5,000 scholarly journals and trade publications. A must-use resource for business law related ideas. 

UCLA Library Databases if you believe you need a more specialized topical database, the UCLA Library offers hundreds of databases. Follow this link and you can see a list of databases by subject or listed alphabetically. Or you can simultaneously search hundreds of UCLA's subscribed databases with the resources listed here, including ArticlesPlus.

Step 4. Search for Books and Book Chapters. Books are easy to find using an online catalog; two are listed below. Book chapters are more difficult to locate. For book chapters, we recommend doing a broad search of the catalog and then venturing into the book stacks to review the table of contents of any book you believe may be useful.

UCLA Library Catalog is very easy to use to search for books. While it will not provide book chapters, you may be able to see chapters listed in the catalog record for the book. You can also find a book you feel is relevant and go into the stacks to browse other similar books on the shelves around it. 

Worldcat is a catalog of books at libraries throughout the world. You can search it in much the same way as the UCLA Library Catalog. In the catalog record, Worldcat will also display the closest library that has the book. If UCLA is not listed you can fill out an Inter-library Loans Request (ILL). 

Google Books can be helpful in locating books using keywords. Search results will not be as targeted as a search in one of the library catalogs listed above.

Step 5. Set Up Alerts in Order to be Notified of Any New Articles. To set up alerts, you will most often need to create an individual account within a database. For Westlaw and Lexis, you can set alerts by clicking the little bell icon near the top of your search results, or using the alerts features at the top of their respective home pages. 

Searching Methods

There are many ways to search in each of the databases listed here. Here are a few methods for searching. It is recommended to use more than one method of searching to ensure that your search is broad.

  • Keyword Searches. Take time to develop a list of keywords that encapsulate your topic. Then use one of the two methods of keyword searching:
    • Terms and connectors - AND, OR, NOT, BUT
    • Natural language (you know, a Google search)
  • Subject Searches. Library catalogs and indexes use specific subjects to describe books and other library materials and articles. If you have found or know of an excellent book or article on a subject, review the subjects listed in the catalog or index record and search using those subjects to find more relevant materials.  
  • Known Source Searches. If you have the name of or citation to a case or statute, use a database to search for that case or statute. Both Westlaw and Lexis provide annotations to relevant secondary materials such as journal articles for cases and statutes.