In a lot of ways, divorce attorneys are like reference librarians: we know where to find things. And you have to know where to find things, because, unless you have an eidetic memory, you can’t possibly recall all the statutes, rules, cases, ordinances, etc. we have to know. This is why any good attorney worth his or her salt has a set of reference books at the ready. I wanted to talk about the most useful Utah divorce and family law books we have in the office, as well as one to avoid. (Note: These are not academic books. These are books for Utah family law practitioners. No ivory tower stuff here.)
Family Law in Utah, Fourth Edition. This is the go-to reference book for Utah divorce and family law. It has its issues (e.g., incorrectly cited cases, duplicative citations) but it is by far the most useful reference book on the market. It’s laid out like you would expect — topically — , and it has all the case, statute, rule citations you want and need. Its topical guides and case synopses are well written and informative. In the office, we refer to Utah Family Law as “the books,” as in, “I don’t know the answer to that question, have you looked in the books yet?” At around $400, the fourth edition isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny. Buy it. Now.
Utah Legal Services Family Law Handbook. This isn’t the exact title, but it’s Utah Legal Services family law practice guide. It’s chock full of information and legal forms from some very good practitioners. The online edition is particularly easy to use, although the links to forms are often broken or non-existent. This volume is written in a very easy-to-read style and is perfect for the beginner or the seasoned family law pro. You can find physical copies in the U and BYU law libraries.
The Blue Book, Twentieth Edition. Yes, I know: you hate this damn book. Hell, we all hate this damn book. That doesn’t change the fact it’s the gold standard in legal citation. Nor does it change the fact if you don’t know how to cite cases, statutes, or rules correctly, judges will think less of you (and they will) and you will be less persuasive in court. Embrace the blue.
West’s Utah Court Rules Annotated. The 2015 edition consists of two thick volumes. (Inserts contain the recently modified Utah Rules of Civil Procedure.) It’s that big because it covers a lot of ground, and the notes on each Rule are extensive. How many times have you had a question about what “mistake” actually means in Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1)? There’s a note for that. What is a “material fact” in Rule 56(a)? There’s a note for that too. Family law attorneys have never been accused of knowing the rules too well. This volume can change that.
Mangrum and Benson on Utah Evidence, 2015-16 Edition. Like Family Law in Utah is the go-to divorce and family law reference book, Mangrum and Benson on Utah Evidence is the go-to reference for evidence questions. It addresses each article of the Utah Rules of Evidence, using Utah-specific case law. Volumes like this are invaluable when preparing for trial or a big evidentiary hearing.
Black’s Law Dictionary, Tenth Edition. Nothing beats Black’s Law for law-specific definitions and terms of art. Exhaustive and readable, it proves Bryan Garner is a genius whose touch turns things to gold.
While I said I wouldn’t include academic books, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest owning Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, by Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner. This is the single best book I’ve read on textual and statutory analysis, and we turn to it when we need to really parse a statute or rule.
Utah Family Law, 2015-16 Edition. When I arrived in Utah, this was the first family law practice reference book I purchased. Beginner’s mistake. This book is neither good nor helpful. It’s primarily a cut-and-paste compilation of rules and statutes that might have something to do with family law — or not. There is actually quite little by way of good commentary or helpful notes. It’s a poorly thought out and poorly executed book.
Final Word: If I Could Buy Only Three
If I were starting a Utah family law legal library, and I could buy only three books, I would buy (in order of importance):
- Family Law in Utah
- The Blue Book
- Mangrum and Benson on Utah Evidence