Beyond the Bar: 15 Must-Read Books for Future Lawyers

16 May, 2024 | Blog Articles, Get the Edge, Law Articles

Reading within and around your subject, widely and in depth, is one of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for a future in Law. So, we’ve put together a list of essential books to include on your reading list as a prospective or current Law student. 

If you have career or academic aspirations in the legal field, you might want to also check out our residential Law course!

Why Reading is Crucial for Aspiring Lawyers

Reading is crucial for any aspiring lawyer. It’s the best way to enhance your legal and general knowledge, and prepare you for a career in law

Reading is a great tool for fostering the critical thinking, analytical skills and deep understanding of legal principles that will help you thrive in the legal field, both academically and in your future career.

What to Look for in a Law Book

However, not all law books are created equal! In preparation for your legal studies, you’ll want to tailor your reading and choose books strategically. Consider the following factors when making your selection in order to get the most out of your supra-curricular reading.

I. Relevance to legal field

Firstly, ensure your material is relevant to the legal field. Sometimes, the legal themes of a book can be subtle and indirect, found in fiction as well as non-fiction. Books that cover foundational legal concepts, case studies and contemporary legal issues are just as relevant as those that discuss broad topics, such as the idea of fairness.

II. Accessibility and clarity

Next, stick to books that are accessible and clear. This is a common issue in the legal field; overly wordy and ‘high-brow’ material often does more harm than good to legal students. You’ll get a lot more out of a book that’s easy to digest, yet covers complex concepts in depth – substance over form! 

Reading this type of material should also help shape your own writing style as a future Law student. Clear, concise writing is essential when drawing together a legal essay, and is the best route to effective learning.

III. Diversity of topics

Finally, explore a diverse range of legal topics by trying out different genres of books. Don’t just stick to the classic titles you may have heard of – be bold with your reading choices! This will help you gain a broad understanding of law, and in turn, you may discover your own niche interests in various specialisations and practice areas.

The 15 Best Books for Future Lawyers

Now, let’s dive into our recommended reading list for aspiring lawyers and Law students. This selection has been compiled with the above factors in mind, so it’s a great starting point for those of you looking for ideas. 

They’ve also been grouped into categories, so if you already have an idea of your reading goals, feel free to use them to guide your browsing. Let’s get into it!

Small statue of a man thinking

Best for legal theory and philosophy

1. The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham

‘In a world divided by differences of nationality, race, colour, religion and wealth, [the rule of law] is one of the greatest unifying factors, perhaps the greatest, the nearest we are likely to approach to a universal secular religion.’

Tom Bingham’s The Rule of Law is an essential for any budding lawyer. It provides an interesting, easy to digest explanation of the principle of the rule of law, which is a theoretical legal term that’s often misunderstood. 

By exploring cases and legal history, Bingham tackles this complex area of legal theory in accessible terms, and gives the reader a unique appreciation of the value of the rule of law. This book is particularly helpful to refer back to as a Law student when studying constitutional law and jurisprudence modules.

2. Great Debates in Criminal Law by Jonathan Herring

This title is, in my opinion, the ultimate field guide to the study of criminal law. Targeted at first year Law students, Great Debates in Criminal Law provides clear overviews of the current areas of theoretical contention in the field. 

From outlining various theories on what the precise ‘wrong’ of rape is – the violence of the act, or the assault on the victim’s autonomy? – to questions surrounding the principle of mens rea, this book dedicates each chapter to a key question in a particular area of criminal law. 

Reading this book gives prospective Law students the advantage of building their critical thinking skills in a way that’s tailored to the analysis of criminal law.

3. Is Eating People Wrong? by Allan C Hutchinson

Get to know ‘the ordinary people whose stories influenced and shaped the law, as well as the characters and institutions (lawyers, judges and courts) that did much of the heavy lifting.’

This book is at once an excellent way of exploring the significance of landmark cases in the development of common law systems, and a whirlwind tour of some truly fascinating cases in the legal history of the UK, US and Australia. Hutchinson focuses each chapter on one of these landmark cases in order to highlight an interesting facet of the common law. 

Is Eating People Wrong? will help you understand the nature and institutional structure of the common law, and give you an appreciation of how social circumstances shape case outcomes and impact the development of our law.

4. Great Debates in Jurisprudence by Sandy Steel and Nicholas McBride

This book is another classic from the ‘Great Debates’ series. Perhaps I’m a little biassed in this recommendation, as I was lucky enough to be taught by Professor Sandy Steel while studying Law at Oxford University, but the book truly speaks for itself as a clear, engaging and comprehensive guide to jurisprudential theory. 

Jurisprudence is a particularly tricky topic for Law students, because the reading material and dense theoretical works can be hard to digest – highly academic to the point of incomprehensibility. Great Debates in Jurisprudence demystifies the topic, and reading this before beginning your Law degree will make legal theory and philosophy much more accessible to you.

Rows of books on shelves, with bust statues nearby

Best for legal history

5. An Introduction to Roman Law by Barry Nicholas

For those of you interested in legal history, I strongly recommend An Introduction to Roman Law by Barry Nicholas. 

When thinking about legal history, we often focus on the relatively more recent legal landmarks of the past few centuries, but the Roman Empire’s societies and structures have a lot to teach us about law and legal theory. They inspired many modern private law systems, and familiarising yourself with Roman law can help you understand the origins of seemingly nonsensical legal rules in today’s world. 

Barry Nicholas’ text provides an in depth introduction to Roman private law, and at the same time provides a fascinating insight into Roman society and culture.  

6. Lions Under the Throne by Stephen Sedley

‘From Magna Carta to Anisminic by way of Entick v. Carrington, the common law and the constitutional culture of which it forms part have adopted not the letter of the law but the meanings which it has become appropriate to find in it.’

Lions Under the Throne sets out the centuries-old history of tension between the UK’s parliamentary, executive and judiciary powers in fascinating detail and clarity. For prospective Law students and future lawyers with a public law penchant, kick off your background reading with this classic title. 

Stephen Sedley, in a collection of legal-historical essays, draws out the unique nature of the UK’s constitution and common law system as it has developed over time. Add this to your reading list, and give yourself the boost of a deeper understanding of English constitutional history.  

7. Spider Woman by Lady Brenda Hale

Reading Spider Woman will give you an insight into the inspiring tale of one woman who made a significant impact on the UK’s legal history. Lady Hale’s Spider Woman details her glass-ceiling-smashing career path to the presidency of the UK Supreme Court. 

If the name ‘Lady Hale’ isn’t familiar to you, it certainly will be by the end of your legal studies at university. Lady Hale’s role on the UK Supreme Court directly led to reform in the law surrounding domestic violence, divorce, mental health and equality, but she’s particularly famous for her landmark ruling that Boris Johnson’s 2019 prorogation of parliament was unlawful. 

As well as taking you on an inspiringly personal tour of the UK’s more recent legal history, this title is useful preparation for studying the law at UK universities. UK-based Law courses focus on case law, and individual judgments are likely to feature prominently on your reading lists. In order to engage critically with these judgments, you might want to get to know the ‘styles’ of prominent judges on the UK Supreme Court, as their rulings sometimes follow a pattern. For example, some judges are known to be more subversive, or to prioritise certain considerations above others. 

Reading Spider Woman will acquaint you with Lady Hale, a Supreme Court Justice whose words have been iconic, daring and trailblazing.

8. My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a US Supreme Court Justice from 1993 until her death, collects a selection of her speeches and writing from various points in her career in My Own Words

Reading about Bader Ginsburg’s career provides a niche lens through which to view recent US legal history, with a focus on developments in law and women’s rights. The book is also a great starting point for those of you interested in the US constitution and its operation and interpretation, as Bader Ginsburg devoted a lot of attention to this in her career. 

This title is a sure way of diversifying your legal reading list.

Statue of Lady Justice

Best for legal ethics and professional responsibility

9. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J Sandel

In Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, Michael Sandel uses case studies like national service, physician-assisted suicide, and affirmative action to explore the relationship between law and morality. 

This book is a great choice for aspiring Law students. By relating complex ethical questions to real-life examples, Sandel helps his readers to digest seemingly abstract philosophical questions. If you’re particularly interested in the line between public and private when it comes to the law, and where moral obligations kick in at a state level, this text is a great choice for you.

10. The Trial by Franz Kafka

This fictional novel by Franz Kafka can be read as a cautionary tale on state authorities not restricted by the rule of law. In this story, a man is suddenly arrested by a faceless organisation, given no information on the nature of his alleged crime, and told to await a trial. We see the struggles and injustice faced by the protagonist while he attempts to navigate a totally non-transparent legal system, with seemingly no rights. 

Reading this novel may help you to understand and articulate the necessity of the rule of law, and other rights and regulations surrounding the legal process. It paints a bleak picture of systems where state authority reigns unchecked.

11. Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister

‘Our unfamiliarity (with the law) is dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to media spin, political lies, and the kind of misinformation that frequently comes from loud-mouthed amateurs and those with vested interests.’

This title is an interesting exploration of the ways in which the public perception of the law can be manipulated and weaponised to suit various political agendas. Ultimately, it’s a defence of the law, and a call for a better understanding of it. 

If you’re interested in law from a somewhat sociological perspective, as well as the ethical implications of law’s tight interplay with politics, why not pick up this book? Fake Law also unpicks demonstrative cases in the fields of criminal law, family law, personal injury, employment law, human rights and the constitution, so this well-rounded title will expose you to a range of legal areas, and hopefully pique your interest in a few!

12. L’Etranger by Albert Camus

L’Etranger by Albert Camus is another fictional work, but it has been considered a philosophical critique of the criminal justice system, colonialism, and a study in existential dread. 

In this story, a series of unexpected events leads the main character (Meursault) to shoot a man, for purposefully unclear reasons. A large portion of the novel focuses on the resulting murder trial, and Meursault’s emotionally-bland personality is taken as evidence of psychopathy and unfitness for society. Camus has his main character condemned not for murder, but for other flaws which cause him to be perceived as an outsider. 

This book makes this list of recommendations because of the interesting perspective it uses to explore the apparent absurdity of the criminal justice system. Give it a read, and see whether it shifts any of your preconceptions about criminals, criminality and justice.

Display case of books

Best for legal study

13. Learning the Law by Glanville Williams

This title is the starting point for new and prospective Law students. Learning the Law is designed to equip its readers with the skills necessary for legal study, as well as take them through an overview of the English legal system. 

Both of these are highly valuable things to get to grips with early on in, or before you start, your legal studies. It’s unlikely you’ll come across a lecture series mapping out the English legal system, and no one will sit you down and give you the tools you need to thrive as a Law student. 

UK Law courses tend to approach the degree topic by topic, in depth rather than in breadth, so reading a title like Learning the Law, which helps you understand the big picture, will make everything that follows a lot easier to tackle.

14. Letters to a Law Student by Nicholas McBride

Letters to a Law Student is another book aimed at new and future Law students, covering foundational skills to help you thrive in the legal academic environment. 

This title is particularly useful if you’re looking to improve your legal literacy. It will introduce you to the concepts of statutory law, case law and common law doctrines, and teach you how to interpret and analyse these. 

McBride also provides examination guidance and essay-writing tips in this helpful text, so make sure this is on your reading list!

15. The Bramble Bush: On Our Law and Its Study by Karl Llewellyn

Like the previous two titles, The Bramble Bush is a classic in legal study guides. Reading this book will certainly help you on your journey to thinking like a lawyer. 

Karl Llewellyn combines introductory Law lectures with advice on essay writing, exam taking, case analysis and statute interpretation into a work which could be your personal field guide to studying Law. 

I recommend choosing one of these three ‘legal study guides’, and keeping it close at hand as you begin your journey as a future lawyer!

Hopefully, this recommended list of 15 titles for future Law students will kickstart your preparation for your legal studies. Have a browse, and select a few that resonate with you. It’s unrealistic to read all of these, so be intentional with your choices, and don’t pressure yourself to commit to an entire book – a few targeted chapters are equally valuable. 

Reading is a long-term investment in your legal education. Have a go at some of these titles, and begin your journey towards becoming a lawyer!

Lisa

By Lisa Muttonen

Lisa Muttonen worked as a Head of House at Oxford Scholastica Academy’s summer school in 2023. She recently completed a BA in Jurisprudence and French Law at the University of Oxford. Her interests lie in feminist legal theory, particularly in the international law context, and she hopes to pursue a career applying her skills and education to the international women’s aid effort. Lisa currently lives and works in Copenhagen, Denmark, with a view to undertaking a Master’s there in International Relations.

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