Book Review: Landman’s Legal Handbook

Landman's Legal HandbookOver the past several weeks I’ve had the opportunity to read the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation’s newest edition of the Landman’s Legal Handbook. If there is one word to sum up this book, it is “encyclopedic”.

I’ve had the opportunity to read and review several books that are targeted to landmen, title attorneys and other land professionals — and typically they all contain approximately the same information conveyed in different ways. I have to say that the Landman’s Legal Handbook contains information that I haven’t read in any other books, and the depth in which the material is reviewed is fabulous.

If you’d like to see the Table of Contents for the 450 page paper-bound volume, you can check it out here.

This newly-updated fifth edition of the Handbook was first published in 1957 and last updated in 1982.  The preface, by Kent S. Davis, CPL, Chair of the Handbook Revision Committee, discusses the books background and the impetus behind updating it at this point.  One reason pointed out by Davis is that “The recent addition of young, highly skilled but inexperienced landmen and lawyers to the industry led the [RMMLF] to decide that an update of the Handbook was required.”  This edition brings several new chapters as well, such as a discussion of new developments brought about by unconventional plays.  Chapters on split estates and NEPA planning have been added as well.

Do you need this book?  I think Davis lays out the target audience for this book quite well:

“The intent of the Handbook is to give guidance to younger landmen on the intricacy of the rules, regulations, procedures, and contracts relating to the exploration and production of oil, gas and other minerals.”

The material covered in the book is contributed by authors too numerous to mention, but they are all given due credit in the book.  I am continually amazed by the time that our industry professionals donate to organizations like the RMMLF to create content and materials to teach the upcoming leaders of the industry.  These individuals don’t receive enough credit for the work they do on behalf of these organizations.

I won’t go into a regurgitation of what topics are covered in the book, as you can simply read the Table of Contents on  your own, but I do want to take the time to elucidate how detailed the book is.  As I was reading through the Handbook I started highlighting interesting facts that I didn’t know, or that I thought many people wouldn’t know.  So below I’m going to outline a ‘Quiz’ of sorts — if you can answer all the questions — maybe you should write your own book!  If you can’t answer more than half the questions, this book is probably a great buy for you.


  1. There are four laws commonly involved in the leasing of federal oil and gas rights.  Can you name them?
  2. What is the difference between a competitive and a non-competitive federal lease?
  3. What is the difference between Indian Tribal Lands and Indian Allotted Lands?
  4. Can you explain the risks of leasing an unpatented oil shale mining claim?
  5. What is the process to obtain a patent on an unpatented mining claim?
  6. When can intestate succession apply to an estate when a valid will exists?
  7. Typically, what length of time is allowed after death to probate a will?
  8. Is Alaska a community property state?
  9. What is the difference between Unitization and a Cooperative Agreement?
  10. What lease provisions are typically altered by unitization?
  11. Is private mineral ownership in the United States intentional or accidental?
  12. Do you know ANYTHING about NEPA?
  13. Does ownership of hard minerals (e.g. coal) give ownership of Coal Bed Methane (CBM)?
  14. When amending an old lease to allow for horizontal development, what provision must be altered?

Wow, those are a lot of questions!  Write me a note in the comments section with any questions you want to discuss the answers to.  Needless to say, this is only a sampling of the material covered.

While the Handbook contains a significant amount of information applicable to many states, it is focused on Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.  However, I think the Handbook will be useful learning for any landman or title attorney who doesn’t have 10 or more years of experience.  For those of you who are over that level of experience, I still think it is a very useful reference book.

Speaking to it’s value as a reference volume, the book includes a pretty lengthy Appendix and Forms section.  With 16 appendices covering topics such as notary block requirements by state, oil and gas lease checklists and land measurement units and conversions.  The conversions appendix had something in it that I’ve never seen before, and that will be useful for me.  It has diagrams of how to calculate acreage on different types of shapes.  If you are like me, you can pretty easily calculate acreage on a rectangle or square, but you might be a bit lost on triangles or funny shaped polygons.  Below is an admittedly complex example:

Triange Calculation
The forms section of the book contains 32 forms that landmen use on a regular basis.  There are six different types of affidavits, multiple subordination documents, releases, and other templates one might need.  My only complaint with this, is the same one I’ve had with previous reference books, they don’t provide any of this information digitally.  The forms are great, but it would be more useful if the book included a CD with these documents in an editable format.  Still, the forms are very useful and I’m happy to have them available to check against if I have to draft a document.

The Landman’s Legal Handbook can be purchased as a paperback volume or in an eBook format.  Both options are the same price of $145, members of RMMLF can receive discount pricing as well as orders of 10 books or more.  I also want to take time to point out that RMMLF is a 60 year old educational  non-profit organization that supports our industry by providing educational opportunities, publications, grants to law schools, and scholarships to law students.  By purchasing this book you are supporting this organization and the great educational resources they provide.

In conclusion — if you can’t already tell, I heartily recommend you purchase this book.  You can do so by visiting the RMMLF Bookstore.

Randy Young

Randy Young

Randy is a land consultant with experience in field and in-house land work, land administration, and software consulting with systems used in the land management business. He is an active member of the AAPL, HAPL, and NHAPL and is a regular attendee of industry functions. Randy's latest projects have included land data systems integrations, with a focus on Quorum Land System.

  • Mary Walton says:


    I work primarily in WV and Ohio. My company has so much work in WV, I do not anticipate leaving the state for work in the foreseeable future. I have been in the business for over 10 years but I still find new things every day that I have not run into before. Do you know of a book or website that would be more appropriate to this part of the country? From my experience with working with different landmen from Texas, Louisiana etc., I know title can be a lot different in WV.

    Thanks for your time and attention,

    Mary Walton

    • Randy Young Randy Young says:

      Mary, I put all the books I find and review in the “Landman Books” section at the top of the page. I don’t think you should read books to learn about state specific title, because it changes as the law evolves — and your book is not new (or it won’t be for long). Use books to learn about title, and how to find out about changes over time, and how to spot issues — I think that serves one better.

      This book (Landman’s Legal Handbook) and Oil & Gas Title Examination are both great reference books that I think experienced professionals will get value from.

  • Brian Mahn says:

    Did Austin Brister write this book in his spare time? 🙂 I’m sure he answered most of the 14 questions correctly… for me, let’s just say I got less than half 🙁 I’ll have to put this book on my reading wish list. Thanks for the review and recommendation Randy!!!

    • Randy Young Randy Young says:

      Haha, thanks Brian. I haven’t heard from Austin on that particular issue — I think they have been making him work for actual money lately.

      The book really is written in a way that would be easy for lay people to understand — not that you are ‘lay people’.

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