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Secondary Legal Sources

This guide highlights a variety of secondary sources which are extremely useful in legal research. A go-to list with books organized by topic.

Treatises & Looseleafs

Treatises

These legal books range from hornbooks and nutshells to multi-volume sets. Some treatises are geared for law students while others are more practitioner oriented. Some of the encyclopedic-like treatise sets are considered to be persuasive by the courts. These include 'classic' titles which were originally authored by famous scholars of the day such as:  Wigmore on Evidence, Williston on Contracts, Collier on Bankruptcy. 

You can rely on treatises to succinctly explain the law on a particular topic, to be well indexed, and to provide citations to key cases and statutes.  These publications are regularly updated with pocket parts or supplementation. 

Loose-leaf services

What distinguishes loose-leafs from treatises is that they also compile all the primary sources on a topic (statutes, regulations, cases), provide detailed indexing, editorial analysis, and are updated continually by interfiled pages or published in a newsletter format. Many of these servces are migrating to an electronic platform.

Tips for locating treatises and looseleafs:

1.  Use keywords and subject headings to locate secondary resources in the UW-Madison library catalog.

2.  Ask a research librarian to help you locate relevant treatises and looseleafs on a specific topic or in a specific format.

3.  Consult Fundamentals of Legal Research for a thorough overview.  This book is used to teach legal bibliography and is a law librarian favorite.  Another good source to check is Ken Svengalis' Legal Information Buyer's Guide.  This book lists all authoritative treatise titles by topic, including pricing and publishing information.

4.  Many legal treatises and looseleafs are migrating online, so be sure to check subscriptions to Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Bloomberg Law. Keyword searching, timeliness, and the ability to link directly to other documents are powerful features compared to using the paper counterparts.

5.  And finally, be sure to refer to the Research Guides compiled by the reference librarians which detail all the best resources for specific areas of the law.  The following tabs in this Guide highlight key resources for popular legal topics.