In the early history of the law in the United States, the treatise was a critically important part of law. Over time, it failed to evolve as other legal publications changed around it. Some of these changes also lessened the importance of many of its once prime features. Further, attitudes shifted about the prestige of the treatise in the scholarly world of post-realism, and the importance of the treatise in an increasingly online world.
Treatises remain vital. Though legal research has greatly changed, the treatise remains a useful and important tool. It is still the best way to get a deep understanding of a broad legal topic. Treatises are still lauded by legal research experts, consistently cited by courts, and surveyed as useful by practitioners.
Treatises critically need to evolve. Without treatises, the world of legal research, and law itself, would suffer. More than any other source, a treatise offers a practitioner a clear understanding of a topic of law across legal subjects. Currently, the treatise needs evolution in its online form, both in discovery and display. It also needs some assistance to set right the shifted attitudes about the treatise both in legal scholarship and education. Though it may at first seem challenging for these evolutions to occur, the answers are potentially simple. Changes must be made both in the world of legal research by librarians and publishers, as well as in the world of legal scholarship and teaching in law schools.
Watson, Amanda, ‘The Report of my Death Was an Exaggeration’ – The Legal Treatise (March 1, 2021). The Journal of Law and Education (forthcoming, 2021) Winner of the 2021 AALL/LexisNexis Call for Papers, Open Division.