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Secondary Sources

This guide will provide descriptions of many different kinds of secondary sources as well as tips on how to find and use them.


Treatises provide an in-depth analysis of an area of law. Some treatises are highly detailed, multi-volume explorations of the law, intended to serve as authoritative reference to practitioners and scholars, while others are designed to help law students and practitioners from other fields learn a subject.
Treatises are often a good first source, particularly if you already know a little about the area you’re searching in and are looking for detailed analysis, or if your goal is to understand a new field well. Treatises generally excel at describing the law clearly and thoroughly.  Most will include citations to the major statutes and judicial decisions in the field, and some have detailed and annotated citations to help you find primary law for more specific legal questions.
Many treatises are updated frequently, with new materials included in pocket parts in print editions, and incorporated into the text of online editions.

Regardless of what kind of treatise you are using or whether you’re using a print or online version, the index or table of contents are generally the best tools to find the specific topic you’re searching for.


Many major treatises can be accessed online through subscription databases. The advantage of using treatises online is that they may be easier to search, and the online editions may receive updates more promptly than the print editions. It is also helpful that updates are incorporated directly into the text, whereas in the print edition, you would need to check for updates in the pocket part at the end of the volume.

On the other hand, some researchers find online editions to be more difficult to read at length or browse through, and many treatises are only available in print.

You can access Westlaw’s collection of treatises by browsing to “Secondary Sources” > “Texts and Treatises”. You can either select the topic area you want to explore, or navigate to Westlaw’s collection of Colorado specific treatises.  

In Lexis, you can find treatise titles by exploring under the Content tab, and selecting "Treatises and Guides" under Secondary Sources.  Searching by Practice Area will help you locate treatises on your topic of research, while selecting National, Federal, or a state will help you find information, practice guides, and forms that are relevant for practitioners in a particular jurisdiction.

In Print

Treatises for Laypeople

Nolo Press publishes legal books for people who have no experience with the law.

You can browse the Nolo Press books in our collection here or you can search our catalog with the search terms “Nolo” and the topic you wish to know more about, such as “bankruptcy” or “custody”. Make sure you are searching for keywords rather than authors or titles for the best results.

Laypeople may also find treatises written for law students helpful, because while they tend to be more technical than Nolo publications, they are intended to be read by students who start out knowing nothing about the law.

Treatises for Law Students

Law students will generally need treatises that are detailed enough to help them understand the nuances of the areas of law they are studying in their classes, but not so comprehensive that they will be unwieldy to use. There are many treatises that are designed to fit this role, and many of them can be found in our guide to 1L Subject Study Guides or Study Guides for 2L Year and Beyond

Sometimes law students will need to research a topic in more depth than is needed for their doctrinal classes, such as when doing research for a legal writing assignment, for clinical work or while working as a summer associate. In these cases, they will find it useful to refer to practitioner or academic treatises.

Treatises for Academics

The treatises most useful to academics are generally the multi-volume, authoritative texts that cover an area of law in exhaustive detail and are frequently updated. The latest edition of a major treatise is often kept on reserve behind the circulation desk. Please feel free to ask a librarian for advice in selecting one.

Treatises for Practitioners
Practitioners will often want to consult state-specific treatises or looseleaf services, since they will most often be looking for laws and rules particular to the jurisdiction in which they practice.

Looseleaf services will generally include information about common or realistic legal problems, and forms that are useful in the field. They are also updated frequently, with pages being replaced and inserted as needed.

Examples include:
The Practitioner's Guide to Colorado Business Organizations

Colorado Workers' Compensation Practice and Procedure

Colorado Family Law and Practice Handbook

Colorado specific materials are kept in shelves across from the reference desk. The fastest way to find what you want is often to come over to the reference area and browse for what you need.
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