What Are Hornbooks?
Undergraduate students may think of a Hornbook as similar to regular college textbook. A hornbook explains the legal doctrine subject by subject, which is different from law school casebooks that explain the law by presenting cases that deal with each topic.
Are Hornbooks Like Study Aids?
In a way, hornbooks are like Emanuel or Gilbert study aids, which also explain legal doctrine subject by subject. However, Emanuel or Gilbert study aids give a shorter, summarized version.
The shortness of an Emanuel or Gilbert study aid is appreciated by many law students because law students already have too much to read.
However, the depth of a hornbook is appreciated when a law student seeks to understand a finer point in the law, and the hornbook will provide citations to cases on that point.
Are Hornbooks Useful for Take-Home Exams?
Many students like hornbooks for take-home exams. But although hornbooks are written by reputable authors, keep in mind they still may express different views of the law than that of your professor or course textbook. This means a hornbook is useful for understanding the finer points of the law, but you should verify that the points align with your textbook before relying on them for an exam.
Should I Buy Hornbooks?
To see examples of hornbooks, Amazon.com has them here. However, many law school libraries have hornbooks available, so you probably don’t need to buy them. Also, most law students are so busy with the casebook readings, they don’t have time for additional reading.
If Hornbooks Are Easier to Understand Than Casebooks, Why Not Just Read Hornbooks?
Some students read hornbooks rather than their course casebook. I’ve never done this because most classes discuss the cases, and if you don’t read the casebook, you won’t know the cases.
It is true that a hornbook can be a great way to learn the law in an organized way. And yes, we all know cases in casebooks are often not the easiest methods of learning legal doctrine. But for most students, reading the casebook is best because the casebook is sure to present the material your professor will have on the final exam. If you can make extra time, supplement reading your casebook with reviewing a study aid. A study aid will help you understand how each case, and the important points in each case, connect to all the other legal topics. In other words, a study aid helps you see the big picture, so you don’t get lost in a sea of cases and lose track of where you are going. Hornbooks are too detailed for this—Hornbooks are best when you need to know a fine point in the law and your casebook isn’t clear on it.
This is my opinion. If you have a different opinion, please leave a comment here. If you have found a beneficial use for hornbooks not mentioned here, please add a comment here about it.