© Copyright 1999 by Suzanne Ehrenberg and Susan Valentine

Location: 9th Floor Stacks and
10th Floor Reserve Room

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What are Treatises and How are They Useful in Legal Research?

If you know the substantive area of law under which your legal issue arises and want a more in-depth analysis of the issue than what you might find in an encyclopedia, a treatise may be the best place to begin your research.  A treatise is a textbook on a given legal subject matter written by an expert in the field.  It may comprise multiple volumes or it may be only a single volume. A single-volume treatise is often referred to as a hornbook.  In fact, you may already be familiar with hornbooks because they are commonly used by law students as study aids, especially in first-year courses. Some treatises cover a broad topic and some cover only a very narrow topic.  Like other types of secondary sources, treatises can provide both background information and citations to relevant authority, but their coverage is both narrower and deeper than that of an encyclopedia.

Some treatises are merely expository, that is they do nothing more than state what the law is.  Other treatises provide an in-depth analysis of the law and include the author's personal insights.  Such a treatise may examine questions like whether the law makes sense, whether the law is just, or whether the law is outdated and ought to be changed.  In the hierarchy of secondary authority, treatises rank very high - particularly if they are interpretive or critical.  They can be cited freely in memos and brief and can be very effective in bolstering a legal argument.

How Do I Locate a Relevant Treatise?

Most of the treatises in our library are found in the stacks on the 9th floor.  Some treatises may also be found on open reserve on the 10th floor or on Faculty Reserve behind the 9th floor services desk.   To locate a specific treatise in the library, you must not only have the correct title of the book, you must also have its library call number.  The call number can be found on CLARK, the Chicago-Kent library's on-line catalogue.  You may access CLARK on either of the two dedicated computer terminals located on either end of the 9th floor library services desk. Near the terminals you will find a green bookmark called "Guide to CLARK," which gives you step-by-step instructions for using CLARK to search for materials by title, by author, by subject or by words contained in the title.  Locating a treatise on CLARK by its title or its author is quite simple.  Once you have pulled up the catalogue entry for the treatise, you should note both its call number and its location in the library (that is whether it is in the stacks, on open reserve, or on faculty reserve)  A reference librarian can then assist you in identifying the specific stacks in which books with  that call number are shelved.  For example, Samuel Williston's Treatise on the Law of Contracts, which has a call number of KF 801 is located in Stack 929. Books within each call number are organized alphabetically by author, so we would find Williston's treatise under the W's.

In most research situations, you will not know the specific title or even the author of a relevant treatise.  Rather, you will be looking for all treatises dealing with a particular area of law. For example, if you are researching the issue of whether punitive damages are available for breach of contract you might want to consult a treatise dealing with the subject of contracts.  You could perform a subject search or a word search on CLARK using the term "contracts," but those searches would identify well over 300 works dealing with some aspect of the law of contracts and you would have no way of knowing which of them was going to be most useful to you in researching your contract damages issue.

The more efficient approach is to ask a reference librarian to direct you to the stacks that contain works dealing with the general subject of contracts and browse through the books in those stacks.   There are also signs on the ends of the stacks on the 9th floor which indicate the subject areas covered in those stacks.

How Do I Update My Treatise Research?

The first thing you must do to insure that your treatise research is up-to-date is to make sure that you are using the most recent edition of the treatise available.  The library often keeps multiple editions of the same treatise on the shelf.  Unless you are doing research on the historical development of the law, you will want to consult the most recent edition of a treatise.  If you find a treatise that looks as though it might be useful but it has a copyright date that is more than 10 years old,  or if you see a slot for a pocket part at the back of the book with no pocket part in it, check on CLARK.   There may be a more recent edition that has been published and is being kept elsewhere in the library, for example in the 10th floor reserve room.

After you have determined that you have the most recent edition available, check to see if there is a pocket part.  Many treatises are updated by means of a pocket part, but beware.  Some pocket part supplements are 3, 4 or even 10 years old.  And some treatises provide no supplements at all.  Always check the copyright date of the treatise and its most recent supplement.  If the work has not been updated within the past year, you can  not rely on it to provide you with citations to the most recent cases.  Moreover, a treatise written more than several years ago with no supplement may not contain an accurate statement of the law.  So if you are using such a treatise, make sure that you verify the validity of the legal principles stated there by consulting a more recent authority.

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