Treatises are books that thoroughly discuss a specific area or topic of law. Legal treatises do not have a standard length; they can be a short, single volume or an all encompassing multi-volume set.
Treatises have different purposes and are often geared toward different audiences so take a moment before starting your research to decide which treatise is going to be the most appropriate for your research needs. They may be scholarly in nature, like Murray on Contracts, or they may be created to give greater insight to a legal practitioner, such as a manual, handbook, or deskbook.
Legal hornbooks: designed as teaching tools for law students, they provide more detailed treatments of particular areas of law than an encyclopedia or A.L.R. entry. They generally contain summaries of landmark cases and other useful details. The term hornbook is now used to refer specifically to the Hornbook series published by Thompson Reuters.
Nutshells: provide an an overview of a legal topic without the detailed analysis or extensive case referencing found in other treatises
Practitioners’ tools: tend to address realistic legal problems and often provide useful features for practicing lawyers, such as forms and tables; for example, looseleaf services are frequently supplemented treatises--hence the looseleaf binder format that enables single pages to be easily updated without republishing the entire volume--that often contain primary legal sources and finding aids in addition to secondary analytical material
Pro Se books: designed to serve as self-help publications for the public, such as those published by Nolo Press
The best way to find a treatise in the library's collection is to search the catalog. The catalog combines information from the print and electronic collections. If you are having trouble searching the catalog, please speak with a reference librarian.
Select treatises are also available on Lexis and Westlaw. Current students should access these databases through the Law Library Databases page.
The LibGuide linked below provides helpful tips on using the Law Library's catalog.
Using legal treatises is like using any non-law book with a few differences.
First, as with any book, use the table of contents and the index to quickly locate relevant sections.
Second, remember that for a publication to provide reliable coverage of contemporary issues, it must be updated regularly and accurately to reflect any changes in the law. Updating may happen through the addition of pocket parts (which are usually tucked in a pocket in the back cover of a volume), by updated pages in a looseleaf, or periodic republication or an entire volume. Researchers should always make sure they are working with the most current edition of the treatise and be sure to consult pocket parts.
Third, while many treatises are still only available in print, more treatises are becoming available online. For example, major treatises on insurance law are available in both Lexis and Westlaw. Electronic versions of treatises allow for full text searching, which can be valuable for research. For more focused search results, consider narrowing your search to relevant sections, if possible. In many cases, you can still access the tables of contents and indexes to help locate chapters or sections of interest.
Remember that you can (and should!) check to see how current the electronic text is by clicking the "I" link next to the title of the treatise to see how regularly it is updated and when the last update took place.