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10 books you should read before you start law school

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From legal laughs and history to advice on winning arguments and understanding the City

Feeling prepared to start the LLB, SQE or PGDL?

As law school looms large for many, Legal Cheek shares some law-related literary classics and useful handbooks that will help newbies learn more about the legal sector and being a lawyer.

Letters to a Law Student

Written by Cambridge law professor Nicholas J McBride, this book spills the insider secrets on how to get the best marks in exams and handle with the trials and tribulations of studying law. Law school starters are also given the opportunity to gaze into a crystal ball as the book lays out what you can do with a law degree and how to take your next steps starting out in the legal sector. This appreciative reader gave it this review: “Everything you need to succeed as a law student is all in here.”

The Rule of Laws

Not to be confused with former Law Lord Tom Bingham’s classic ‘The Rule of Law’ (see below), Oxford Uni professor of the anthropology of law Fernanda Pirie’s new book reviews the 4000-year history of law going all the way back to Hammurabi and beyond! The book teases out some fascinating trends in this whistle-stop tour of legal history that takes the reader up to the present day’s proliferation of international law. “A great aid to understanding just how culturally embedded systems of rules and therefore laws and policy are around the globe,” says one reader.

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Justice on Trial

Criminal barrister Chris Daw QC, who is currently in the news for his role as Ryan Giggs’ defence barrister in the ex-footballer’s assault trial, provides a hard-hitting account of some of the problems in the criminal justice system. He goes on to offer some a radical program of reform including abolishing prisons and legalising drugs. This book will challenge any stereotypes you have about criminals with insight from someone who has “looked into the eyes of murderers, acted for notorious criminals, and listened to the tales woven by fraudsters, money launderers and drug barons”. One reader raves: “This book is one I think everyone in society should read.”

Online Courts and the Future of Justice

Whether you have your eyes on a career as a solicitor or at the bar are likely to encounter talk of legal tech. Former Oxford jurisprudence professor Richard Susskind offers a prescient insight which evaluates and promotes many of the tech solutions that were at the heart of justice systems’ responses to the pandemic over the world. The book makes the case for the greater use of online courts exploring the issue not only from a practical perspective, but also the moral and jurisprudential dimensions too. “Although Susskind is a passionate advocate of online courts, his argument is throughout balanced and scholarly. His writing is crystal clear and admirably free of complex, technical detail,” praises one review.

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The Money Machine: How the City Works

For all of you hoping to use your law degree to get a TC at a big corporate law firm, look no further than this classic pocketbook of financial markets fundamentals. The book covers some of the fundamentals of finance, tackling questions such as what causes the pound to rise or interest rates to fall and why is it we need the Money Machine — and what happens when it crashes?

After reading, you should be able to tackle FT articles and avoid any awkward umming and erring when a law firm partner asks you what a bond is in an interview. “Coggan does make a good job at putting it all into context in plain language, making it all quite digestible and relatable via simple examples, short historical backgrounds, explaining the reasons for certain changes and developments and reflecting the 2008 crash. Very good,” writes one fan.

The Secret Barrister

You may well have already received this one for your birthday, Xmas or even as a congratulatory gift for making it to law school! The anonymous blogging barrister is a household name known for cutting through political rhetoric and exposing the current state of the criminal justice system. They have now penned three books on this topic, so if you enjoy the first one then there’s still more to look forward to. “Excellent. An informative, interesting, entertaining, page-turner of a book,” notes one happy bookworm.

The Devil’s Advocate

For those inspired by the above to go and become a criminal barrister, look no further than this book for some first-hand top tips from a QC specialising in both domestic and international criminal law. The book offers an introduction to advocacy exploring its techniques for a killer cross examination, controlling witnesses and putting in a persuasive performance in front of a judge and jury. Although nothing beats the real thing, this book, labelled by aficionados as “the bible for advocacy”, will definitely stand you in good stead before a mooting competition for those so inclined.

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Misjustice: How British Law is Failing Women

Another powerful critique of the justice system can be found in this book by Baroness Helena Kennedy. The Labour peer and criminal QC, who famously acted in the Brighton Bombing Trial, the Guildford Four Appeal and the abduction of Baby Abbie Humphries, forensically examines how the legal system is discriminating against and failing women. “Outstanding book, informative and powerful — a must read for anyone and everyone,” says one reviewer.

Trials of the State: Law and the Decline of Politics

This book expands upon the former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption’s 2019 Reith Lectures, which you can listen to here. Sumption is a rare breed of judge who has been very outspoken with his opinions following his retirement from the UKSC and has set out his thoughts on the constitution, democracy and human rights in this book. In line with his reputation for being a formidably persuasive barrister, his original and thought-provoking yet extremely clear and accessible writings are definitely worth a read. “So well written, so well argued and so interesting that they will also appeal to the lay person for whom they are primarily intended. This is legal writing at its very best,” pens one reader.

The Rule of Law

Another Supreme Court Justice who has written a popular and widely accessible legal text is Lord Bingham. In this foundational work, Bingham tries to pin down exactly what is meant by the elusive term and much bandied-about term ‘the rule of law’. This short book, which has become syllabus material, clearly and concisely lays out the development and key qualities of this important concept that will undoubtedly be of interest to any budding public law students. “Prospective law students should read this in the summer before the first year’s first semester,” recommends one reviewer. We at Legal Cheek certainly agree!

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15 Comments

Non-law History PhD Cantab

Hart’s The Concept of Law is useful too. Not because you need it when you’re a Kirkland NQ telling Clapham Hinge girls about drawing up a contract; rather, it’s a useful book in understanding the ‘rhythm’ of law with all its fundamentals – useful at the bar/City.

(7)(8)

Kirkland NQ

Only book I ever needed was the Lambo brochure, so I could spend my final seat deciding which type of leather trim to have.

(23)(6)

Anna

Don’t read any of this sh*t. Just enjoy your freedom, binge watch your favourite shows, and travel.

(45)(4)

Alan

Negligent advice. Anyone who does this doesn’t deserve to be a lawyer. If you have no passion for your subject at an early stage of your career don’t bother.

(4)(26)

Mike Mason

Grow up

(2)(3)

Fish Oil

Doing Justice by Preet Bharara also… insider’s guide to prosecuting in the US, but also with his thoughts what it means to do the right thing when working as a lawyer.

(2)(2)

Nostalgia

All of these books are a waste of time. You don’t need to read any books. To do well in a law degree, you need the past exam papers. Work out how many questions you have to answer, how many topics there are e.g. 4 questions out of 10, and every one of the questions will come up year after year, then well just learn 60% of the course. Cut off anything boring and relatively stand alone. Minimise the amount of reading so for a week where you have a seminar on the legal application of reverse contractual estoppel as espoused by Proust, don’t bother. Don’t read it. Just read the topic you read the previous week again. And focus on exam technique – i.e. 90% of the problem question’s marks are scooped up on application, not evaluation. Spend your spare time getting ripped and going on dating apps, hooking up with as many people as humanly possible – the dozens of dates you have are just like interviews which will stand in good stead of vac schemes and TC interviews. Getting through elevator pitches and a few canned jokes you’ve delivered a billion times before is helpful.

(41)(8)

Ljn2427

Depends what course you are studying on. If you’re doing the new PgDL or MA conversion course, critical evaluation and analysis are essential for anything above a bare pass level grade as theyre assessed at level 7 and a decent grade won’t be achievable without having completed some wider reading above and beyond basic course materials.

(0)(1)

Anon

If a TC is your goal, you better think strategically. Don’t read none of this stuff. As a fresher, you should be reading around commercial law and doing law firm research for open days and insight schemes. This is one of the key mistakes many students make whilst going into year 2 – they did not seek commercial law experience in year 1 for year 2 vacation scheme applications.

(2)(2)

Fish Oil

Are all TC’s at commercial law firms?

(1)(1)

Interviewer

Dear law students,

Free advice: don’t try to impress at interview with Susskind…

Kind regards,
Actual lawyers

(18)(4)

Kirkland NQ

No, wander in late, tell them it was because you had the GC of KKR on the phone begging to instruct you and whatever firm you go to. In the middle of the interview stop it to take a call from your Lambo dealer and loudly go through the pros and cons of different colours and engine options. Finally when you’re done, toss them a personal business card with the name of your favourite wine bar written on the back, suggesting a quick drink to discuss any questions they may have. They will know you’re a player and offer you a TC on the spot.

(5)(2)

Trainee

Can confirm, I haven’t read one of these.

(1)(1)

Me

I’d genuinely recommend reading The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford if you’re not naturally commercially / economically minded and you’d like to expand your way of thinking about (particularly) the more commercial subjects (contract, land etc) which can otherwise be quite dry. It’s very much entry level “popular” economics, but has all the basics in there.

(3)(0)

Anononynon

Read anything about narcissism and psychopathy and you’ll be fine. Anything by Shahida Arabi, HG Tudor, Ramani Durvasula, Sam Vakin or Natalie Liu. Learning to protect yourself from predatory people could literally save your life.

I wouldn’t read any of the Susskinds’ works if they were given to me for free.

(10)(0)

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