Skip to Main Content

Northern Illinois University
College of Law
David C. Shapiro Memorial Law Library

Secondary Sources: Treatises

This Guide will provide a more in-depth explanation about finding, identifying, and using Treatises in legal research

Treatise Definition

Treatise: A type of secondary authority that extensively covers one topic.  Treatises are available in print and electronic formats.  The size of a treatise may vary from one single volume set to a large multi-volume set. 

How Do Different Resources Define a Treatise?

"The goal of a treatise is to address in a systematic fashion all of the major topics within a subject area.... To provide a comprehensive treatment of the subject's major topics, a treatise will explain the legal rules in the subject area, analyze major cases and statuttes, and address policy issues underlying the rules." 

Citation: Amy E. Sloan, Basic Legal Research: Tools and Strategies 45-46 (5th ed. 2012). 

Call Number: LAW KF 240 .S45 2012


"Texts written by legal scholars that focus on one topic of the law are referred to as treatises.  Treatises comment on and analyze an area of the law.... A treatise may be a one-volume work on a fairly narrow topic or a multi-volume work on a broader topic."

Common Features of Treatises

  • Format = expert opinions on one topic in narrative form.  Footnotes direct readers to primary law
  • Index = alphabetically organized subject list, located at end of Treatise or in separate volume.
  • Table of Contents = overview of discussion organization located at front of treatise.
  • Tables of Cases and Statutes = alphabetical list of cited cases and statutes cited in the entire treatise.
  • Appendices = entire text of statutes and regulations in separate appendix volumes.
  • Updating = Bound treatises are updated through an annual supplement (freestanding or pocketpart); looseleaf binders update particular pages with the update information to be filed in the front of the first volume.

CitationDeborah E. Bouchoux, Concise Guide to Legal Research and Writing 133-136 (2011).

Call Number: LAW KF 240 .B678 2011


"[Treatises] analyze the changing common law and also influence its development."

"While there is no clear demarcation between different types of texts, they can be grouped into several general categories"

  • Scholarly Treatises = exhausted coverage of a legal topic, usually (but not necessarily) multivolume.  Traditional treatises were analyzed broad legal topics while modern treatises are more focused.
  • Hornbooks = written primarily for law students defining the overview of the legal topic.  No clear line distinguishing hornbooks from treatises.
  • Practitioners' Handbooks and Manuals = written primarily for practicing attorneys aimed at simplifying routine aspects of legal practice.
  • Scholarly Monographs = narrow focus covering the historical and policy background of a legal topic.
  • Self-help publications = primarily aimed at non-lawyers where the legal topic must be over simplified.

CitationMorris L. Cohen & Kent G. Olsen, Legal Research in a Nutshell 36-38 (11th ed. 2013).

See Also: Appendix B: Major Treatises and Services by Subject

Call Number: LAW KF 240 .C54 2013 (Law Reserve - 24 Hours)

© 2024 Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University. All rights reserved.