What Book Should I Read Before Going to Law School?

Lots of people ask me this question, and I don't have many good answers. (I have one, but I'll post it separately.) Can any of you suggest something that you think helped you, or helped friends or students of yours?

Joe Henchman (mail):
I always recommend "Law School Confidential" by Robert H. Miller to friends who ask me that. It's easy to find, inexpensive (about $12 on Amazon), and is pretty comprehensive about the whole experience with real-world examples and tips. I've heard that people who've read that book (myself included) ended up being a bit overprepared, which I don't think is too bad.

I also tell folks to stay far away from Turow's 1L.
6.1.2007 2:46pm
Cornellian (mail):
"Law School Confidential" - it's a complete work, right from the start "should I go to law school" all the way up to getting summer associate / new associate positions. Highly recommended and just the sort of plain English realism that a potential law student needs to read.
6.1.2007 2:48pm
Bleak House
6.1.2007 2:48pm
Gary Imhoff (mail) (www):
Inferno, Dante Alighieri.
6.1.2007 2:57pm
lszabo (mail):
1st choice: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Mntc., I'm not kidding. Whereas every other book will likely freak out the student about law school (and it's really no more horrible of an experience than any other graduate/professional education), this is very likely to be a good introduction to critical analysis (e.g,. Poincare's conventionalism is really helpful in learning the rules/rationale of the law, and one doesn't actively think that "I'm using Poincare's Conventionalism to learn law", instead the focus is on looking at one issue from many angles. Top choice.

2nd choice, but really close to the 1st: Introduction to the Study and Practice of Law in a Nutshell by Kenney F. Hegland. Yeah, it's a Nutshell book, but it's really good b/c it's brief, and tells the student 1) not to freak out; and 2) places a lot of emphasis on learning by applying and playing out opposites, as well as briefing, etc. It's an easy read, gives sound advice (not just about learning the law, but also about what the experience will be like).

3rd choice: An Introduction to Legal Reasoning by Edward H. Levi. Yeah, it's old, but it gives a great and short discussion of legal reasoning. I don't recommend this as an intro to preparing for law school in terms of how to brief, etc., but instead something that helped me much more: how to think so that I can find out the rule(s) from the cases quicker and to think about the procedural consequence of that rule.

I believe that learning how to brief, etc. will come w/ being in school anyway (and each class will likely be briefed differently), and so learning how to think like a good law student is much more important, and should be done way sooner than something mechanical as briefing.
6.1.2007 2:57pm
Bobbie (mail):
I always give the same advice I received when I asked the same question: "You're going to have three years of reading books about the law. Take the summer off and read some Nietzsche. It'll be way more interesting."
6.1.2007 2:57pm
Rather than read a book I would urge them to go work at a law firm, even if it's only for a week. I've seen too many people graduate and be shocked by what the real practice of law looks like.
6.1.2007 3:00pm
Add my vote to the group that denies the premise of the question.
6.1.2007 3:09pm
Andy Treese:
First - read any book of a genre you truly enjoy. You won't get another chance for a while.

On the academic side, I recommend "Getting to Maybe," by Fischl and Paul. The book provides study and analysis tips which are quite helpful.
6.1.2007 3:15pm
I found Judge Aldisert's book, Logic for Lawyers, very useful, but I didn't discover it until after I was out of law school.
6.1.2007 3:17pm
Witness (mail):
I agree with those who recommend reading nothing. And I actually advise future law students to avoid reading "Law School Confidential." It's an unrealistic portrayal of what it takes to succeed in law school. I think most people come away from it thinking that they have to study all the time (using ridiculously inefficient methods) to make good grades, which simply is not the case.
6.1.2007 3:20pm
Alan Gunn:
The trouble with many books about law is that they miss its most important feature, at least from a career-choice standpoint: Law is often hilarious. I'd recommend some of the classic English barrister comedies by people like Henry Cecil and John Mortimer. Best of all are A.P. Herbert's "Misleading Cases in the Common Law." American writers don't do this stuff well. (A journalist named Martin Mayer once wrote a book about lawyers in which he mistook one of Herbert's "misleading cases" for the real thing.)

In case anyone cares, my favorite serious book about a lawyer is James Gould Cozzens' "The Just and the Unjust," which I'm rereading for maybe the fifth time. It's a wonderful portrait of small-town life in America in 1939, and it has some perceptive things to say about law schools, juries, and the like. I wouldn't recommend it as pre-law reading, as things are too different today. One could also make a case for Cozzens' "Guard of Honor," in which one of the principal characters, an Army Air Force colonel who was a judge in civilian life, does what lawyers mostly do: tries to keep the people he works for out of trouble.
6.1.2007 3:25pm
Fire Marshall Bill (mail):
Brush with the Law.

Also, any book your career services office puts out on debt forgiveness management.
6.1.2007 3:35pm
I second lszabo's Robert Pirsig recommendation. I just reread it for the first time in years; it was intellectually reinvigorating, a badly-needed boost near the end of my 1L year, but it would be a fantastic read right before starting school.

I also recommend Deborah Schneider's Should I Really Be a Lawyer? to induce some soul-searching about why you're going to law school and what's in store for you after you graduate. Going along with that, check out Po Bronson's hit book of a few years ago, What Should I Do with My Life? Both of these recommendations sound like they're intended to drive a rising 1L away from law school, but it is not a bad thing to question whether law school is really the right decision for you.

Myself, I read Infinite Jest in the month before I started school. It's a mega-novel, so I knew I wouldn't have the time to read it during the year. (My goal this summer is to get all the way through Ulysses.) And goddamnit, keep reading books for pleasure (and going outside every once in a while) during the school year, too. I started reading terrible fluff paperbacks instead of David Foster Wallace, just to get a mental break from all that caselaw, but at least it's something.
6.1.2007 3:40pm
You can always spot the Law School Confidential folk in the library using their five different colors of highlighter for the first half of the semester before they stop reading the textbook.
6.1.2007 3:41pm
Ella (www):
As someone who just graduated, I have to repeat the advice to read something OTHER than books about law. Full time traditional students will have little time for outside reading during law school and students with outside obligations will have almost none. Good novels (I second Bleak House) or good history books would be my choice. Not only will this be enjoyable, but it will help prepare you for law school - reading good writing is the second best way to learn how to write well, after all.

(I hate Law School Confidential, myself, but that's probably because it's so clearly aimed at 22 year olds who have never lived in the real world and whose sole goal is to practice law in a Big Firm.)
6.1.2007 3:44pm
david niehaus (mail):
The Caine Mutiny. Read the entire book but note especially Tom Keefer's description of the Navy early on: a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots (not exact) - this is still the best characterization of law that I have run across
6.1.2007 3:44pm
Drew C:
Read the Constitution of the United States. Too many people enter law school without knowing what it says, yet they want to argue about what it means.
6.1.2007 3:52pm
A.W. (mail):
I recommend Richard Kluger's Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality. I read it during the summer before law school and found it fascinating. It also made civil procedure slightly more understandable. Because I'm a law librarian, I can't resist a plug for Cohen and Olson's Legal Research in a Nutshell. Don't read it before law school, but by all means get a copy and take it with you when you start your first internship or summer associate position!
6.1.2007 3:52pm
I read Peter Irons' A People's History of of the Supreme Court.

Reading style manuals like Strunk &White or Texas Law Review's MoUS couldn't hurt.
6.1.2007 4:09pm
Observer (mail):
I think it's a mistake to try to prepare substantively for law school by reading about the law. But it's not a bad idea to read a few biographies of lawyers and judges to try to get some sense of what their lives are like (as opposed to what you see on TV or in the movies). Actually, it would probably be an even better idea to do that before applying to law school.
6.1.2007 4:12pm
U.Va. 2L:
I spent the summer before law school deliberately avoiding law-related books. I read a whole lot of Asimov and David Foster Wallace's Broom of the System.

(I will say, though, that when it came time for our law review write-on competition in the spring of 1L, I bought and read Prof. Volokh's Academic Legal Writing, and it definitely played a large role in my writing on. Thanks for that!)
6.1.2007 4:14pm
Thief (mail) (www):
I'm actually going to law school this fall. The only specific thing I've read is Prof. Volokh's book, which was quite interesting, and (I hope!) helpful.

So I will be reading this post closely...
6.1.2007 4:24pm
Minnesota Reader:
Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Although I'd read it before law school, it was the primary text for my criminal law class. Many of the questions raised by the book will appear throughout law school -- but one gets to enjoy a great work of fiction.
6.1.2007 4:29pm
Still paying 'em off:
Take Control of Your Student Loan Debt, Leonard & Loonin, Nolo Press. If you're not wealthy or hoping to get a high-paying job, you'll need it.
6.1.2007 4:36pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
My suggestion is: How to Win Friends and Influence People, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, and The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking, plus, most importantly, the Dale Carnegie Course that often comes with them.

Part of the problem that 1Ls face is that of intimidation by profs, esp. as to classroom participation. However, after surviving Dale Carnegie twice a year or so before I started law school (once as a student and once as a "graduate"), I very quickly found myself comfortable being grilled by the LS profs in class.

One thing that I learned in Dale Carnegie was that almost everyone is petrified of public speaking, and this translates into getting up in class before a hostile questioner. This is easy to forget when you are on the hot seat. But I, at least, found LS law school class participation no more stressful than public speaking, and I knew within a month that almost all the other students were far more stressed than I was about it. And that reduced stress let me concentrate on other aspects of law school.

I would agree that either a lot of experience in debate or in a Toastmaster's club would probably be better. But Dale Carnegie is more like boot camp, more intense and concentrated.
6.1.2007 4:51pm
Whadonna More:
One L by Turow. Especially if the student is the excitable type.
6.1.2007 5:17pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
Subscribe to the Economist, which is a weekly publication and read it from cover to cover. You want to come across as a well-rounded, informed, and interesting person when you start interviewing for clerkship positions at law firms (if that is the route you choose).
6.1.2007 5:23pm
Rick Wilcox (www):
Maligned as they at times are, I recommend Who Moved My Cheese?, Raving Fans, and The One-Minute Manager. The principles in all three are encapsulated common sense (which seems to be all too uncommon) that can be applied outside of each respective domain to practically everything.

I'd recommend What is the Name of this Book?, but I'm not sure it's still in print.
6.1.2007 5:31pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
The BIBLE, you unwashed heathen enemies of the white, Christian, male power structure!

--Seriously, it depends where you're going to law school, doesn't it? I wouldn't read Nietzsche the semester before going to Regent.

(Well, actually *I* would, but that is just another reason why I would not go to Regent.)
6.1.2007 5:33pm
The Brethren
6.1.2007 5:42pm
What book should a budding lawyer read? Well, the answer is obvious, as any non-lawyer who's ever had to regularly deal with lawyers will surely tell you!
6.1.2007 5:53pm
Lighten up and laugh a little, counselors!
6.1.2007 5:54pm
Public_Defender (mail):
For anyone interested in criminal defense work, I strongly, strongly recommend two books. First, To Kill a Mockingbird. I didn't read it until I was in practice for some time, but it reminds me of why I do what I do.

Second, Thurgood Marshall, American Revolutionary, by Juan Williams. Don't read the Marshall book for what he did as a justice, read it for what he did as a lawyer--going into towns where he literally had to fear for his life, practicing in front of openly racist judges, and making well-prepared and always civil arguments. When I practice in front of a hopelessly biased judge, I remember Marshall's example.

More generally, just read good fiction in whatever genre you like. But pay attention to the story telling and wordsmithing. You will read a lot of very bad writing in law school. You need to inoculate yourself.

Take a poetry analysis class. You will use the same skills to derive the meaning of statutes.

Finally, read blogs and opinion pieces written by people you frequently disagree with. See what makes you stop reading in disgust and what makes you want to keep reading. Remember that when you are writing persuasively.
6.1.2007 5:57pm
Stu (mail):
Readable legal thrillers or any other fiction - whatever turns you on. As someone else wrote, something you won't have time for while in school.

I enjoyed (before and during law school): Laughing Whitefish and Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (watch the movie of the latter); Burden of Proof and Presumed Innocent by Turow. I also enjoyed nonfiction - reversal of fortune by Dershowitz and A Civil Action by Harr.
6.1.2007 6:11pm
Patrick Wright (mail):
A second vote for Simple Justice, particularly if the would be lawyer has any interest in public policy law.
6.1.2007 6:16pm
I have been keeping track of this list at Lists of Bests:

Lists of Bests
6.1.2007 6:20pm
BobH (mail):
Catch-22. Because it tells you everything you need to know about everything.
6.1.2007 6:21pm
adam (mail) (www):
Getting to Maybe is critical to read early in the semester, I think. Can't be emphasized enough. Avoid books like 1L and Law School Confidential, I think.

The summer before?
1. The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law by Mark Herrmann -- it's short and funny, and it'll give you the appropriate attitude going in.
2. Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer -- one of the best history books ever written, and it will give you a sense of the nobility and sacrifice of the Founders. (Assuming you're in the U.S., of course)

During the semester, I'd keep a copy of Borges' Collected Fictions around -- not only is it some of the best fiction ever written, it's all short stories. So it's easily digestible and won't interrupt your workflow.
6.1.2007 6:30pm
The River Temoc (mail):
You want to come across as a well-rounded, informed, and interesting person when you start interviewing for clerkship positions at law firms...

Um, law firms are primarily interested in people who are intensely focused on the practice of law, not "interesting people," who almost uniformly leave prematurely.
6.1.2007 6:31pm
Adam B. (www):
Kim Roosevelt's IN THE SHADOW OF THE LAW, to remind the student-to-be that the post-3L path with the brightest lights may not be the best fit.
6.1.2007 6:36pm
ALB (mail):
1) The chapters in Posner's Economic Analysis of Law on courses you will take your first year; then, re-read the chapters as you take the relevant courses.

2) Anonymous Lawyer, by Jeremy Blachman

3) The Law Review, by Scott Gaille (a somewhat amusing and disturbing look at what might be going on in your classmate's private fantasy)

Also: no matter what you do, you should always read The Economist. Even if you decide law school's not for you. It's always good.
6.1.2007 6:42pm
Thanks Marina:
Marina: Thanks for preparing and maintaining the list!
6.1.2007 8:41pm
theobromophile (www):
Presumably, anyone who is asking what to read before law school is the type who would only become stressed out by not reading law-related material. If "relax and watch TV" isn't in your vocabulary, you're going to want guidance.

I recommend "Law School Confidential" to anyone who is considering applying to law school. While Mr. Miller's schedule may seem excessive, anyone who gets scared of it shouldn't really go to law school anyway.

I read "One L" before law school and found Mr. Turow to be entirely neurotic.

Rising 1Ls can also meander over to their local bookstore and browse the legal section (or the history section, for classical and English legal writings) for anything that looks like fun reading. If nothing looks interesting, perhaps law school isn't a good idea.
6.1.2007 8:47pm
I'd second the commenters who recommended "Getting to Maybe."

Also, while it's not nearly as practical as a "how-to" law school book, I'd recommend "A Matter of Interpretation," regardless of your political leanings. I read it before 1L year and found it immensely helpful for Con Law. Even though my prof was 180 degrees ideologically opposite from Scalia, having read that book gave me a leg up on my classmates when it came to understanding constitutional interpretation generally and orginalism specifically.
6.1.2007 9:44pm
3rd year lawyer:
For those who have no experience working in a legal environment before law school, I would recommend "Double Billing: A Young Lawyer's Tale Of Greed, Sex, Lies, And The Pursuit Of A Swivel Chair" by Cameron Stracher.

Stracher's tale of working 20-hour days and receiving absolutely no instruction on what to do at a huge NY firm is extreme, but the book will make potential law students think about things like billable hours and quality of life, as well as ethical issues.
6.1.2007 9:55pm
pre-3L (mail):
I think asking what book you "should" read before law school is indicative of precisely the kind of thinking that will get you in to trouble, viz., most pre-L's think that they can "get ahead" of their classmates before they even start law school. This is not the case. People may stress themselves out before law school, or even give themselves something approaching a nervous breakdown, but no one is definitively more advantaged at things pertaining to law school because no one has (unless they dropped out previously) has ever been to law school. My advice is to go in with some common sense, and to think about what made you a good student before going to law school. That is the best advice that I received, and I haven't forgotten it.

I'd also like to give another vote for Getting to Maybe if you want something that will really give you a sense of what exams are like and the kind of teaching you'll get in class.
6.1.2007 11:01pm
Tracy Coyle (mail) (www):
From a slightly different perspective: I have spent 8 years working for a sole practioner. I considered law school for a long time. I took the LSATs two years ago - did poorly. But while waiting for the results, my partner/boss gave me 1L. She knew the Turow family back in the 60's.

Before I got the results, I knew I would never attend law school. First, you all are nuts. But second, judges...let us just say that Clinton's "it depends on what the definition of is, is" is (!) child's play in comparison to the rulings and opinions I have seen come off the bench.

Learning law requires you change the way you think. I did that once many years ago when I learned how to program computers in the mid-70's. I am not interested in doing it again. I like the way I think.

The law is not about law school. Hell, the law isn't even about the law. I agree with those that suggest anything but books about law school however. If you have your mind set on becoming a lawyer, worry about the process when you can actually do something about it.
6.1.2007 11:50pm
Favorite passage from "White Noise":

"Have you ever had a woman peel flaking skin off your back after a couple days at the beach?"
"Cocoa Beach, Florida. It was very tremendous. One of the two or three best experiences of my life."
"Was she naked?"
"To the waist."
"From which end?"
6.1.2007 11:51pm
Jerry F:
I would recommend Bork's The Tempting of America. I see it as a vaccine against 1L year more than anything else. Anyone who reads this book will not only gain a perspective on the law that no professor would ever teach, but also will be immune against the sort of (for lack of a better word) "brainwashing" that goes on in American law schools. (Try to explain the distinction between one's policy preferences and what the Constitution says to a liberal lawyer who is already convinced that his policy preferences have to be reflected in the Court's interpretation of the Constitution -- it will be too late by then). In my experience, I have found that law students who read The Tempting of America early on are almost always unconvinced by ideological professors.
6.2.2007 1:16am
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Adam, "In The Shadow" is a fun-enough read, but Roosevelt seriously overstates many of the problems he sees in biglaw practice. The book is downright hateful at times, not to mention self-aggrandizing, (through the Yale kid).
6.2.2007 1:26am
Mark in Spokane (mail):
Basat's great (short!) book The Law would be my first choice of a book to read before law school. Alongside it would be The Treatise on Law by St. Thomas Aquinas. Basat's book is a fantastic introduction to libertarian legal theory, and Thomas's book sets out the traditional natural law view of the relationship of human law and moral principle. Both of these perspectives are sadly neglected at most law schools nowadays...
6.2.2007 2:15am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Good answers already. King of Torts (Grisham) and anything by Gerry Spence. Maybe something by the Princeton Review if you don't already know how to game the LSAT.
6.2.2007 2:48am
Harry Eagar (mail):
I've never been near a law school, but as a newspaperman who has to write about law and lawyers, I sure am glad I read S. B. Chrimes 'English Constitutional History' early.

It's a little text in the Open University, and from it I learned that law is a commodity like any other.

That's been useful to know.
6.2.2007 3:32am
Am I A Pundit Now? (mail) (www):
Instead of reading, I would recommend that the would-be 1L do some writing. Find someone who knows how to wield a red pen, and get them to help you.

Strunk &White, recommended by someone previously, is not a bad start either.
6.2.2007 7:15am
Claire Hill (mail):
For anyone potentially interested in being a corporate lawyer, I'd recommend Anatomy of a Merger by James Freund. The book was written in the mid 1970s, but is still astonishingly timely. It's also quite accessible, even for someone who has never been to law school.
6.2.2007 10:42am
Sam Kaywood (mail):
I have practiced law for 21 years and teach a tax course in law school as an adjunct. Without a doubt, the best book to read and study is Strunk &White's "Elements of Style." In getting through law school, practicing law or venturing into other areas after law school, there is no substitute for clear, concise and impactful writing. "Elements of Style" is short and easy to read. One of my partners reads it every year as a discipline. The other books recommended provide interesting insight to practicing law, but this book will actually help you do it.
6.2.2007 2:18pm
R. G. Newbury (mail):
If you want to learn something about what it feels like to go to law school, rent (or buy) the DVD of "The Paper Chase" (1973).
John Houseman won an Oscar for playing the role of Professor Kingsfield. The stress, paranoia and joy of law school are all laid technicolor so to speak.
I saw it while a 2L at a special late night showing, along with about 90% of the law school and 75% of the profs. For those who have seen the movie, you can easily imagine how that event came off more like a Halloween showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

For those with a more historical bent, who wish to understand how the Anglosphere came to achieve and keep democratic principles, buy a copy of Maitland's Constitutional History of England. Read it quickly, like a novel, the first time to get an understanding of the structure of the fighting which went on for the power of the purse and control of religion and control of government. Then read the US Constitution, and for compare/contrast the British North America Act 1867 (Canada's Constitution), and the Australia Act (1904??).

What have these to do with law school? Not a hell of a lot!
6.2.2007 3:15pm
David Krinsky (mail):
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Seriously: the premise that you can or should prepare for law school by worrying about what you read before you start is deeply flawed.
6.2.2007 6:15pm
Adam B. (www):
Mike, Kim's book barely felt like fiction to me, and I've spent ten years across three BigLaw firms, each a little smaller than the last.
6.3.2007 1:54am
Todd Jones (mail):
THE SUPREME COURT by Chief Justice Rehnquist. And, if you can, avoid A CIVIL ACTION. One was fascinating and the other a bit tedious.
6.3.2007 11:07pm
Paul Karl Lukacs (mail) (www):
I agree with the recommendation that future law students invest a few months working in a law firm so they have some idea of the reality of legal practice.

But, since most won't, they should at least read A Civil Action for a taste of litigation's flavor. In addition to its descriptions of procedural wrangling and settlement dynamics, the book punctures the myth of the heroic "public interest lawyer."

By the end of the book, I was convinced that Jan Schlichtmann acted like a self-destructive, egotistical fool who, fawning press notwithstanding, almost ruined himself and his career -- and did his clients few favors -- by arrogantly taking a case he was not prepared to handle.
6.4.2007 7:14am
former law student (mail):
I read Law School Confidential before I began law school. It was very helpful (although unnecessarily intimidating), but my big mistake was not putting more of the suggestions into practice, especially: Use commercial outlines, and incorporate them into your own.
I ruined my 1L grades by focusing far more on reading than on learning the law and how to apply it. Yes, it's good to stay on top of your class reading, but that won't do much for your final exam grade if you can't quote the law and apply it to a fact pattern. Commercial outlines help you do that (and usually include some sample problems).
I know professors hate them, but when I started using them in my 2L year, my grades went up dramatically because my studying was no longer so complicated.
6.5.2007 10:11pm