What Are Good Books To Read Before Law School?
The first year of law school is a unique academic experience. First, for many students, the workload is significantly greater than what they encountered in college. Law school is a professional school, and students are expected to treat it like a job. Second, the first year of law school covers subjects and concepts that most students have never studied before. Generally speaking, first-year students will take courses in torts, contracts, property, criminal law, constitutional law, civil procedure, and legal writing. Third and finally, law school introduces students to an entirely different culture. There’s case-briefing, cold-calling, study groups, outlines, issue spotter exams, oral arguments, and several other rites of passage.
What Are Good Books To Read Before Law School?
With all of this in mind, incoming first-year law students often wonder if there are particular books that they should read in the summer before law school. Some law schools have “suggested” reading lists with countless titles, while other schools recommend that students simply enjoy their summer and rest up before classes begin. The correct answer lies somewhere in the middle—you don’t want to burn yourself out obsessively reading everything on a list, but there are definitely a handful of books that are worth reading (or perusing) before you begin your law school journey. In this post, we’ll discuss a few of these books, although this post is by no means exhaustive.
1. 1L of a Ride by Andrew McClung
This may be one of the most helpful and informative introductions to the law school experience available. The author is a law professor who provides his readers with a straightforward guide to the first year of law school. The book answers some of the most common questions that incoming students have about reading and briefing legal opinions, handling the Socratic Method, constructing outlines, and taking issue spotter essay exams. It also touches on many other topics, such as the pros and cons of joining a study group and the spring semester’s oral arguments. The book is especially helpful because the author gives his perspective on each topic from both sides—as a law student and as a law professor. If you’re feeling anxious about the mysterious world of law school, this book will give you some perspective, increase your confidence, and (maybe) get you excited for the first day of class.
2. The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin
In The Nine, Jeffrey Toobin uncovers the “secret world” of the Supreme Court of the United States in the later years of the Rehnquist Court and the early years of the Roberts Court. Toobin is a master of narrative nonfiction, so simply reading his prose is beneficial for law students and laypersons alike. After all, one of the best ways to become a better writer is to read good writing.
However, The Nine also serves as an entertaining and deeply informative introduction to major issues in constitutional law: federalism, separation of powers, the commerce power, the equal protection clause, the due process clause, and several others. Toobin—a Harvard Law graduate and former Assistant United States Attorney—explains the landmark cases that brought these issues to the Supreme Court’s steps. Toobin also explores the Justices’ personal, professional, and ideological backgrounds as he describes how the Justices approach the issues before them. Given that most (if not all) incoming law students will take a constitutional law course in their first year of law school, The Nine is a fun way to get an introduction to the Supreme Court and constitutional law, all while feeling as if you’re reading a novel.
3. The Legal Analyst by Ward Farnsworth
The Legal Analyst introduces readers to how lawyers think. More specifically, the book is about the analytical tools that lawyers use to solve legal problems. Farnsworth, a law professor, explains seemingly technical legal concepts such as “ex ante/ex post” and “acoustic separation” in a conversational style. Further, the book is broken up into numerous chapters. This allows you to pick and choose which chapters you want to read if you don’t want to read the book cover-to-cover. First-year law students will learn a lot of substantive law, but most law professors would likely agree that it is just as important to learn how to “think like a lawyer.” Reading Farnsworth’s book will give incoming law students a jump start on this process.
There are a few other books often suggested to incoming law students. They include:
One L by Scott Turow: This book is essentially Turow’s memoir of his first year at Harvard Law School. This book is a classic, but some students may find the book to be more frightening and stress-inducing than helpful. Also, keep in mind that Turow attended Harvard Law in the 1970s. Times—and pedagogical techniques—have certainly changed since then. If you really want to read Turow’s famous account of his first year, maybe consider picking it up once you’ve made it through the first year successfully.
A Civil Action by Jonathan Carr: This book tells the story of a personal injury attorney who took on a toxic torts case representing families sickened by chemicals from a nearby factory. Carr’s work reads like a novel, and the book is a solid introduction to basic concepts in civil procedure and tort law. If you have some extra time in the summer before law school, you may want to give it a read.
Getting to Maybe: This book was written by two law professors who explain law school exams to anxious law student readers. Some students find this book to be extremely helpful, while other highly successful students may never have read it. If you’re curious, it might be worth checking this book out of the library in the fall of the first year as exams approach.
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