Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Melius Est Petere Fontes Quam Sectari Rivulos Definition:

Latin: it is better to seek the sources than to follow the tributaries.

Also presented as:

"... it is better to begin at the fountain than to wander down the rivulets."

A gentle admonition to those learning or presenting legal arguments to approach it first from the basic law before embarking upon points of exception or of detail.

It is also an apt description of the curriculum of legal education as law students are first brought to basic principles of the law, the fountain as it were, before branching out into specialized "rivulets".

It is often presented as a part of the larger maxim of compendia sunt dispendia, melius est petere fontes quam sectari rivulos: that students of law should avoid shortcuts and study the basic precepts first; as in it is best to discover the source of a river before dallying in its branches.

Melius est petere fontes quam sectari rivulosAs American attorney Adelbert Moot (1854-1929, Buffalo, New York) once wrote:

"The law is founded upon a few fundamental principles well comprehended and worked."

Professor Kimball, in his 2007 article, referred to:

"... the Latin maxim from Sir Edward Coke many times compendia sunt dispendia (shortcuts are a waste of time) and melius est petere fontes quam sectari rivulos (it is better to seek the sources than to follow the tributaries)."


  • Dumont v Williamson, Justice Storer, Superior Court of Cincinnati, published at 14 U. Pa. L. Rev. 330 (1865-1866) at 333
  • Kimball, Bruce A., Langdell on Contracts and Legal Reasoning: Correcting the Holmesian Caricature, 25 Law & Hist. Rev. 345 (2007)
  • Hughes, Wm. T., Melius Est Petere Fontes Quam Sectari Rivulos, 3 St. Louis L. Rev. 85 (1918-1919)

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