Book Review: Family Law Case Summaries, 6th Ed, ed. Duncan Holmes, 2016

August 11, 2017

“I have a dream, that one day, all textbooks will be created equal”

- Not Martin Luther King


Textbooks are as much a part of student life as being overtired, broke or hung-over (and sometimes all at once). Each semester we can spend an inordinate amount of money in the hopes that somewhere in those books is the key to a high distinction. Sometimes a textbook can be an incredibly useful study aide, sometimes it can help you learn the entire course at the end of the semester. But sometimes they aren’t any help at all and you wish someone else had taken the time to tell sort through it all. Well, have no fear! Behold my (inaugural) book review for Family Law.


What it is…

If Family Law Sixth Edition were a person on Tinder, its bio would read “Smart and concise. Will make a great date to a party and you’ll always have a case handy to wow the crowd” (hey, I don’t judge the kind of parties people go to…). Under 200 pages cover-to-cover, Family Law provides concise summaries of key family law cases, cited alphabetically with an index that makes it easy to find any particular one in a hurry (helpful if you need a quick reference during an open book exam). Each summary includes an outline of the facts, issue and decision and usually take up around half a page.


What works…

Family Law reduces factually complex cases that often have multiple judgements, to easy to read (and remember) principles of law. Some of the summaries include extracts from different judgements, and for especially significant cases, the tests that they developed are acutely recorded in a logical form (Goode v Goode and its articulation of new principles and pathways for parenting cases is a good example). The summaries remove much of the legal ‘jargon’ and convoluted language sometimes seen in court judgements, instead taking a straightforward and simplified approach to decisions.


…and what doesn’t…

For this casebook, simplicity is a double-edged sword. The convenient access to the broad concepts explored in the cases comes at the expense of in-depth analysis and context that is so important – especially in family law cases where the precise facts are often integral to the decisions. It was stressed to me during my course that to understand family law, rather than just be able to recite it, it was necessary to read cases in their entirety. So while the simplicity is nice in theory, Family Law does not provide this comprehensive analysis that you might need if you’re looking for a “deeper understanding” (*cough* higher grade *cough) in a family law course.


Real Talk: Will it help in exams?

This book is dependable. It is clear, well written, and the authorities span from broad to narrow family law principles. If you’ve got a closed book exam, the content will be enough to help you competently work through problem questions. If you’ve got an open book exam, it will highlight the key issues in major cases. But without more, an answer will lack the knowledge to compare, contrast and distinguish different principles. If, like me, you really luck out and get a take home exam, the book will be a useful starting point but is unlikely to help beyond that.


Is the book helpful? Absolutely. Does it replace your textbook? No. Will you, like me, only discover the usefulness of these kinds of resources right at the end of your degree? Probably.


Check out the book here!


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