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Legal research and writing

About books: legal textbooks and treatises

Books, in print or electronic format, are important secondary legal materials. They may be on broad topics such as constitutional law, contracts, torts, or they may be on narrower subjects such as environmental remedies or international human rights.

Books may either be called treatises or textbooks. Both are academic, scholarly works that offer contextual discussion of the law on a particular topic. They offer analysis and interpretation assistance and point to useful case authorities.


Treatises are thorough expositions of an area of law and often have gone through numerous editions. They are heavily footnoted with leading cases and other scholarly works.

Consult a research checklist for key legal treatises on your topic.  Look up the treaties by title and / or author in the Library Catalogue.  Treatises and books are shelved by Library of Congress call number on the 2nd floor of the Law Library, unless on Reserve.  Treatises and books acquired prior to 1998 may be shelved in the KF modified classification scheme.

Sample checklists: 


Textbooks are also scholarly but are often offer a less in-depth discussion with fewer footnotes. They also may be in an early edition, so their authoritativeness is not yet established.

Authoritative value

Although the line between the two is blurred, treatises are considered to have more authoritative value than textbooks.

Neither can be relied on as a definitive authority. Only appropriate court decisions and statutes can bind a court or government. Even treatises should be cited only sparingly in court documents or major research papers.

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