This brief post is intended to be a primer on secondary sources commonly used as companions to the casebook assigned in 1L courses. These secondary sources are typically referred to as Supplements, and you will hear this word thrown around from the first weeks of class till the end of the semester. The frenzy of supplement-talk will reach its high point right around finals, as students will begin talking about which supplements they are planning to use for finals and why theirs is the best of the lot. I myself got incredibly wrapped up in researching supplements to gain that extra edge against my class mates and even resorted to using 2002 treatise for Con Law that none of my other peers used—I took Con Law in 2014! But this story will be delved into more when I post a more specific article specifically on Con Law supplements. Again, this post is mainly to serve as an introductory guide to supplement-seeking students.
Using supplements is typically not encouraged, as many of my professors told me to stay away (they did this in person, on the syllabus, and over email). But some of professors will even recommend supplements in their syllabus—shout out to my professor Kenneth Manaster who recommended a supplement in my first year Torts class. This recommendation not only saved me from getting a less than stellar grade in the class, but actually helped me earn a CALI ( an award for the highest grade in the class). I finished with a fairly high GPA after my first semester, but this was my only CALI award. I started using a supplement in Torts far earlier than I did in any other class; I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was also my highest grade.
But now for the meat, what are supplements? As mentioned above, they are secondary sources, which are defined by the Harvard Law School Library website as “[S]ources [that] often explain legal principles more thoroughly than a single case or statute, so using them can help you save time.” This definition is fantastic because it harkens on the main point of supplements: they save you time! And as many law students and professors will attest, time is the most valuable commodity as a 1L law student.
The value of supplements is realized because of how incredibly inefficient it is to wade through dense cases to find a single legal principle, especially when the subject matter and nomenclature are very complex and foreign. Note, I do not recommend shying from the reading; instead, I urge you to read supplements first so you know WHAT to look for when reading the case. Not only will this make the reading easier, but it will also make the reading far more interesting and transform your class experience into an engaging one. In other words, supplements help you understand what the hell is going on.
I still have flashbacks to my pre-supplement days and reading Pennoyer v. Neff, a relic of civil procedure jurisprudence that simultaneously left my head in a daze and left me terrified of being cold-called. But since we are on the topic of efficiency, let me not waste any more of your time and introduce the a couple of different types of supplements:
· Crunchtime Series: These are supplements marketed by Emmanuel and give brief outlines of the area of law. They will methodically list concepts, claims, and legal theories and write explanations for each while listing their components element-by-element. They also contain multiple choice questions, essay questions, and exam tips. I found that these supplements are really, but only good to gain big picture ideas of the law, which will largely be echoed in class. When reading them before the reading, you will know the law, but not exactly how to find it. They also don’t develop the nuances as well as some of the other supplements;
· Understanding Series: These are mini-treatises that are often organized extremely succinctly and are written by top educators in the field. They are very student friendly and are written for clarity. These will give you all the background necessary to find the law without bogging you down with footnotes and other extraneous material. Importantly, many of the cases assigned within your casebook will also be in the Understanding series, so you can take a sneak peak into what the case is about. This is one of the best supplement series out there and are highly recommended;
· Hornbooks: This is a term that rings a bell for older lawyers, in fact, law schools used to give hornbooks to students who achieved the highest grade in the class. Hornbooks can be summed up as denser versions of the understanding series. They are extremely comprehensive and contain many more footnotes than an understanding series—indeed, LaFave and Scott’s Hornbook on Criminal Law contained entire pages that were almost comprised of footnotes. But these footnotes are not just clutter—they often provide cases that illustrate the primary proposition they are cited in support of. I remember that the footnotes in LaFave and Scott’s hornbook finally helped me understand some of the nuances of Attempt law.
· Treatises: These treatises, made by companies like Aspen and Foundation Press, are essentially the same as hornbooks for your intents and purposes. They are lengthier than the Understanding series but all are pretty student-friendly as they are designed for students. In picking a certain treatise over a hornbook—for example, Farnsworth on Contract (made by Aspen) vs. Calamari and Perillo on Contracts (hornbook series), read the same section for both and see which writer resonates with you more. This can be done by checking these books out in the library. Many times I turned to a treatise only to find that an analog hornbook just clicked with me more. The time doing this type of research up-front will pay dividends on the back-end of the semester where you are extremely busy with finals.
· Examples and Explanations: Another hallmark supplement of 1L. These supplements provide a brief overview of a topic and then test your knowledge with short answer questions. While these can be good to prepare for finals, I found that the other treatise-formatted supplements with a more explanatory narrative were more effective in teaching you the nuances of the law and give you the extra edge over your classmates. Again, this depends on preference, and if drilling questions works for you better than learning from reading a supplement that provides a book-type narrative, than E and E may be for you.
Supplement tip: See which author writes you casebook and see if that author has a corresponding supplement. Although there may be a lot of overlap, you can find many of the open-ended answers to questions in the casebook answered in the supplement. Additionally, there will be no discrepancies in terms or explanations so you will get a double dose of information provided in the casebook. The best example of this double-dipping was in Criminal law with Dressler’s understanding series. I read this throughout the entire semester and did very well on the exam. I did not find the overlap to be detrimental, as the understanding supplement really just hammered home concepts and explained theories that I did not understanding entirely from extrapolating from the cases.
Well there you have it. Hopefully this brief introduction will be give you a good summation of supplements. More tips, details, and comparisons of supplements will follow in further posts.