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Law Library News for February 12, 2001

Ann Hemmens, editor

Law Library News Archive


Book of the Week: The Living Together Kit

Every few weeks we will highlight a book available in the Library that may be of interest to you in your personal life, legal studies or research. This column is a companion to the Website of the Week,  which highlights entertaining and research-oriented websites (e.g., Mt. Rainer, Refugee Caselaw).

In the spirit of Valentine�s Day, this week�s book is:

The Living Together Kit: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples, 9th edition, by Toni Ihara, Ralph Warner & Frederick Hertz (Nolo Press, 1998)KF538.I35 1998 at Reserve

This book is authored by three attorneys and published by Nolo Press (also known as, which has been publishing self-help law books for many years. The book is clearly aimed at non-legally trained individuals. It provides an overview of the legality of such arrangements and common law marriage and then delves into practical information about the value of written documents such as living together contracts, real property agreements, wills, and durable powers of attorney. Actual forms are included. Specific cases and statutes are cited, but readers are reminded of the importance of consulting an attorney for legal advice. A similar publication from Nolo Press dealing with these issues for homosexual couples is titled: A Legal Guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples, 10th edition, by Hayden Curry et. al. (Nolo Press, 1998). KF538.C87 1998 at Reserve

For other book reviews, visit the Book of the Week Archive.

Uncle John & the Federal Cases

by Paul Holcomb

Uncle John practiced law in southern Indiana long before Westlaw or Lexis came into being. When I was very young, Dad would take me to Uncle John�s law office in early winter after Dad had sold his tobacco crop. The two would talk business and I would mess around in the old legal bookcase. You know the kind of bookcase I am talking about, comes in sections with glass hinged fronts. This memory came back to me recently when a patron came into the Reference Office and asked if the Library had a hard copy of a decision from the mid 1800�s in Pennsylvania. The citation was to Federal Cases.

Gallagher Law Library has the set of Federal Cases (KF105 .F4 at Reference Stacks) and we quickly found the decision. The patron explained that for attorneys who didn�t have access to an online database, this set of 31 books was the only way an individual could find lower court federal cases decided just before 1900.

So, I wondered, why was that? And if that was true, just how did attorneys find the decisions before 1900? I went to the set of Federal Cases and read a bit of the history of the compilation of the decisions in the set. Quite frankly, I was impressed. To the legal profession, the publishing of Federal Cases was probably just as important then as having Westlaw and Lexis is now.

The Background

If you will, bear with me and I will attempt to explain why Uncle John may have had a set of Federal Cases in his legal bookcase. United States Supreme Court opinions have been published since the first term of the Court in 1790. This first term was held in New York City�s old Royal Exchange building. The next year the Court moved to Philadelphia and 10 years later to Washington D.C. From 1790 to 1875, seven �nominative� reporters contained the opinions of the Court. The names of the reporters are on the spine of the first 90 volumes of the United States Reports: Dallas, Cranch, Wheaton, Peters, Howard, Black, and Wallace. In 1875 the United States Reports began publishing the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, placing the seven "nominative" reporters decisions in volumes 1-90 and beginning the official reporter in volume 91.

In 1880 West Publishing Company began publishing all lower federal court opinions in a set called the Federal Reporter. For the first time in American legal history attorneys had access to all federal court decisions. Supreme Court decisions were being published in the United States Reports and all other federal decisions were in the Federal Reporter. Later, in 1932, West would spin off a set called Federal Supplement, taking District Court and other specialized courts out of Federal Reporter so that the Federal Reporter had just decisions from the Courts of Appeal.

The Problem

You don�t have to be a math major to detect a flaw in the above dates; this is where Federal Cases comes into play. The federal court system began in 1790. Lower federal court decisions began being published in an official reporter in 1880. That left 90 years of lower federal court opinions falling through the cracks.

The Federal Reporter was such a success that the legal community asked West to go back in time and publish the missing 90 years of cases. West studied the situation and discovered that during the that time period there were some 18,000 decisions rendered with no rhyme or reason as to where the decision was written or where it might be found. For instance, some cases were written up in newspapers. Some were contained in pamphlets. Some were kept in courthouses and the judges kept others. In short, the decisions were everywhere. Add to that the problems of courthouses being flooded or burned and sometimes moved to other towns, and it is easy to see the difficulties faced by attorneys.

Another problem was that many cases had the same name. This was the time of sailing ships and the ship �Alabama� had more than a few claims that went to federal court. Therefore many cases were titled simply, �Alabama." The cases were in different places and years apart, but all had the same title. Also, sometimes the same case was reported by several different �nominative� reporters, and appeared in different publications.

The Solution

In 1894 West published the initial volume of Federal Cases, a set that would grow to 31 volumes and include federal circuit and district court opinions from 1789-1880. When the set was finished in 1897, the legal community had, for the first time, access to all federal court decisions in the United States. West decided to arrange the decisions in Federal Cases more or less in alphabetical order. The first case was "No.1, Allesund� and the last case was "No.18,222, Zug." When West found a few more cases, they were tacked on to the end of the last volume. The first volume also contains tables of federal judges and statutory provisions creating the circuits. The last volume contains a digest of decisions, a table of citations, and an alphabetical table of cases.

So it is easy to see why Uncle John would have a set of Federal Cases in his bookcase and why we have a set in Gallagher Law Library. By the way, the bookcase is now mine and is in perfect shape, thanks to Uncle John.