If you are writing on a topic with which you are not familiar, legal periodicals are a great resource for background reading. You will also need to search for articles as part of your preemption check, so an article search is a great first step in your research process.
As you are reading the text of the articles, don't skip the footnotes! Seeing what other authors are citing is a great way to find additional resources that cover your topic.
It is a good idea to start your search in the Index to Legal Periodicals (ILP). All articles in ILP are assigned subject classifications which can be extremely useful in finding articles on your topic. Unlike in Lexis or Westlaw where a search is looking through the full-text of the article, you can use these subject classifications for a more exact search. This means that you can find articles that contain in-depth discussions of your topic instead of just referencing your keywords in a footnote. Using the subject classifications is also beneficial given the prevalence of creative and pun-filled titles in journal articles.
It is easiest to start with a broad search and later refine your search depending on how many results you get. On the results page, you will see a number of recommended subject headings. Clicking on these subject headings will show you all of the articles on that subject. Another tip for locating articles is to take one good article that you have already found and see what subject headings have been assigned to it.
ILP has the text of some articles, but not every article that is indexed. It is an index that is primarily designed as a finding tool to help you find citations to relevant articles. You may need to take the citation that you find in ILP and pull up the text of the article in a full text database.
Full Text Databases
If you have a citation and are looking for the text of the article, HeinOnline contains almost all law journals going back to their first issue and provides access to the articles in pdf format. Lexis and Westlaw provide coverage of law journals dating back to the 1980s.
In addition to searching in ILP, you should search for articles in full text databases such as Lexis, Westlaw, HeinOnline and GoogleScholar. Using the same keywords you used in ILP may turn up different articles in a full text search that can lead you to new resources.
Given the interdisciplinary nature of the law you may find that your topic is covered in non-law publications, such as journals covering business, economics, history, political science, pyschology, or social work.
The best place to begin searching for non-law articles is EBSCOhost. Like Lexis or Westlaw, EBSCOhost contains a number of searchable databases. Academic Search Complete is a great database to begin your search because it contains the full text of over 7,000 journals and indexing for almost 12,000 journals in a wide variety of fields. If you are researching a topic related to business, try searching in Business Source Complete.
Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is a repository of scholarship in the social sciences, including law. It contains journal articles as well as working papers and drafts making it a great place to search for resources on hot topics that may not have been covered in traditional publications yet.