Treatises are books written by well-established members of the legal academe. Treatises are used when (1) the research fits within a traditional area of legal doctrine, and (2) the researcher is not comfortable with a specific legal area. Treatises have the advantage of explaining issues in a larger context. For example, if you are interested in nuisance start with a treatise. Start with a treatise on torts, such as Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts, if your interest is common law nuisance, because this treatise will briefly but comprehensively explain the different types of nuisance. If you are interested in environmental law nuisance, you will find it easier by starting with an environmental law treatise, such as Grad’s Treatise on Environmental Law. You will be exposed to public nuisance as an environmental tort.

Treatises are extremely useful because they summarize court decisions, and give you an insightful view of the development of our common law system based on a complex interplay of court decisions, statutes, and administrative regulations. While all treatises are useful, those usually identified as “hornbooks” are of special value because they are written for students, albeit law students, and not legal practitioners. Like Prosser’s Law of Torts, they are more likely to give an overview of the area in a more comprehensive way. Similarly useful, for those who need to learn fast about a legal subject, are those treatises published by West is its nutshell series. For example, if you are interested in a quick and reliable overview of the U.S. patent system, Miller and Davis’s Intellectual Property: Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright in a Nutshell (5th ed, 2012) will be the right place to start your search.

Aside from its practicality, the mere reference to a well-known treatise will lend professional prestige to any legal papers. For example, mentioning Nimmer on Copyright signals knowledge and sophistication in copyright issues.
As the trend towards digitization continues, more and more secondary sources are available through Lexis and Westlaw. For example, if Nimmer on Copyright is available from Lexis, other copyright secondary sources are available from Westlaw. Also, do not forget the Bloomberglaw is continually adding secondary sources to their database. Similarly, more and more treatises are available through Google Books. Even if most of goolge books textbooks will be outdated, some, such as Stephen M. McJohn’s Copyright: Examples and Explanations, are quite recent. Although at first brush, they may not be available in their entirety, once learn how to manipulate their content, you can read every useful part you are interested in free-of charge. Thus, make sure you include a Google Books search in your research.