The legal system is notoriously complex and, for many, intimidating. And law school is no different. If you're not coming from a long line of attorneys, law school might seem a bit mystifying. You've heard it's difficult, to be sure, but what should you expect?
If you're planning to attend law school, you'll soon have more reading than you can handle. But doing some reading before starting law school can help you prepare for your education and learn more about the profession. The following is a list of some of the best books for pre-law students.
Books about the Law School Experience
Many books have been written about the trials and tribulations of legal education. Some books about law school are autobiographical, such as “One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School" by Scott Turow. Turow is well known for his legal thrillers, and he illustrates the euphoric highs and crushing lows of law school with the dramatic tension that makes his fictional works so popular.
You can return to Harvard for the fictional account of another first-year law student in “The Paper Chase" by John Jay Osborn, Jr. The story depicts a law school whose students battle with each other and a demanding contracts professor. The book was also made into a 1973 film that remains a law school favorite.
However, unless you've built a time machine, you won't attend Harvard in the 1970s (the setting of these two previous books). For a more modern take, you could try “Law School Confidential" by Robert H. Miller, a 2011 compilation of advice and observations from a panel of law school graduates across the country. The book contains a wealth of practical advice about admissions, financial aid, choosing classes, study and test strategy, and finding a job after graduation.
Having learned more about the law school experience, you may be interested in developing some legal skills. The books discussed below will make great additions to your summer reading before your first semester of law school.
Books about Legal Skills
Reading and interpreting legal texts requires an approach that differs from other courses of study. While Antonin Scalia's political positions are highly polarizing, even his most strident detractors must admit that his skill and sophistication in constitutional law are virtually unparalleled. The late Supreme Court Justice was also a prolific author, and “Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts" is a valuable resource whether you intend to fight or support Scalia's legal positions later in your career.
Another complex but influential figure is found in Alan Dershowitz. He was the youngest full professor in Harvard's history and has been involved in the defense of various notorious celebrities such as Mike Tyson, Patty Hearst, and O.J. Simpson. Dershowitz's book, “Letters to a Young Lawyer," is an extended rumination on his fascinating legal career. He outlines the temptations of power, money, and fame, along with their pitfalls.
Award-winning law professor Andrew J. McClurg's book “1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor's Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School" provides study techniques, sample case briefs, and advice compiled from hundreds of real law students.
Ward Farnsworth's “The Socratic Method" offers an in-depth look into the education method found in most law schools and might even bring you around to the idea that it's more helpful than terrifying.
If it's exams you're worried about, “Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams" by Jeremy Paul and Richard Michael Fischl may be just the ticket. This book introduces students to the culture of legal education, where students are rewarded for nuanced analysis rather than finding the “right" answer.
Jasper Kim's “American Law 101: An Easy Primer on the U.S. Legal System" can be a very helpful read for prospective law students who are less familiar with the American legal system.
Books about Other Important Skills
Apart from a knowledge of laws and procedures, there are some basic skills that helped you get to law school and will serve you throughout your career. These books can help pre-law students sharpen these skills in preparation for school.
Effective writing is, in many ways, the cornerstone of a lawyer's success. While many of the specifics of the classic book “Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White have fallen out of fashion, it remains an important text about clear and effective writing.
On the other hand, “Legal Writing in Plain English" by Bryan A. Garner predicts the future. Garner argues for plain, direct speech in legal argument, and your law school professors will appreciate it when you don't succumb to the first-year law student temptation to pack essays with unnecessary jargon.
If you want to improve your interpersonal skills, “Getting to Yes" by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton will help lawyers involved in business transactions, seeking settlement agreements, negotiating contracts, and other situations where an agreement between parties is necessary. The book's popularity isn't limited to the legal profession and can be very helpful for those expecting to work in a business environment.
To prepare your brain for analyzing cases in your first year, try Colin Seale's “Thinking Like a Lawyer." This book is unique in its breadth, offering critical thinking tools and frameworks for teachers and students alike. But its chapters on nuance and evidence-based analysis can be especially helpful for students taking their first stab at legal reasoning.
Finding Additional Resources
If you are looking for more books for pre-law students or other resources to prepare yourself, FindLaw is ready to help. Our Law Students section contains materials and links to additional content to help you make the most of your law school experience.