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Legal Research: A Guide to Secondary Resources

Books & Binders

In the context of legal research, "books and binders" (monographs and looseleafs) are materials that present a thorough treatment of an area of law or a single topic. They are typically written by subject matter experts, such as law professors or practitioners. Materials in this category include legal treatises; looseleaf services; hornbooks; Nutshells; and popular legal titles, such as the Nolo series.

The print materials listed below link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online resources are provided when available.

Legal treatises are publications that present a highly-organized and detailed explanation of a specific area of law (for example, contract, tort, criminal, or property law). They can cover multiple jurisdictions, or are sometimes specific to either federal or a state's law. Treatises are published as single-volume or multivolume sets. Practitioners sometimes refer to treatises simply by the last name of the original author; for example, "Farnsworth on Contracts" is sometimes colloquially referred to as simply "Farnsworth." Most treatises are updated by the use of supplements or pocket parts.

Because the word "treatise" is generally not part of the title or description of a work, it may be difficult to specifically identify treatises in the catalog. If you are looking for a treatise in a particular area of law, consult an online legal research guide on your topic.

Legal Treatises in Print (examples)

Looseleaf services are similar to treatises, in that they are in-depth treatments of an area of law, but are published in binders so they can be quickly updated by inserting new pages and/or by removing some of the existing pages. Looseleaf services are useful tools for keeping current with rapidly changing laws, regulations, and rulings. These publications generally include regulation-intensive subjects such as banking, tax, Medicare, or securities. All of these areas of law and corresponding regulations change frequently. Many looseleaf services that were historically available in print are migrating to online access via subscription databases.

Looseleaf Services in Print (examples)

Electronic Databases

The subscription resources marked with a padlock  are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress.  If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

Hornbooks are a type of treatise that provide the basics of a given legal topic. They are usually single-volume books on subjects covered in law school courses and often geared towards law students.

Thomson West Co. produces a "Hornbook Series" and many contemporary hornbooks are part of this series. Researchers can often identify a hornbook on a particular topic by searching the catalog for the topic and the word "hornbook".  Alternatively, if you are looking for a hornbook in a particular area of law, consult an online legal research guide on your topic.

Hornbooks in Print (examples)

The Thomson/West multivolume Nutshell Series provides an overview of substantive areas of law, legal and legislative processes, legal research and writing, and other law-related matters. The depth of analysis and explanation in a Nutshell is considerably more concise as compared to a treatise or hornbook, but Nutshells serve as a good introduction to an unfamiliar area of law. Books in the Nutshell Series are printed in paperback.

Researchers can identify titles in the Nutshell Series by searching the catalog for the topic of law plus the word "nutshell".

Nutshells in Print (examples)

Popular books on legal topics are typically written with the layperson in mind, although practitioners and students who need a general overview in an unfamiliar area of law may find these materials helpful. Two common series of popular legal titles are the Nolo and "For Dummies" series.

Researches can identify popular books on legal topics by searching the catalog for the phrase "popular works" and the area of law.

Popular Legal Titles in Print (examples)