July 09, 2005
Recommended Reading for Prospective Law Students: If You Could Choose Only One Book ...
Posted by Gordon Smith

What would it be?

It may surprise you to learn that I was a tremendously geeky prelaw student, and I read more than a handful of the books on this enormous list of suggested books from Harvard Law School. I remember enjoying Lawrence Friedman's History of American Law and not enjoying Karl Llewellyn's Bramble Bush. Others on the list that I remember reading include Anthony Lewis, Gideon's Trumpet; HLA Hart, The Concept of Law; and several of the listed novels (Bleak House, Crime and Punishment, The Forsyte Saga). Plus a number of books not on the list, including the ridiculous One L by Scott Turow.

But one book on Harvard's list stands out above all others in my memory. It is a book about lawyers, legal strategy, and the power of law to change the world. It was recommended to me by a professor at Yale, and if I could choose only one book to recommend to prospective law students, this would be the one: Richard Kluger, Simple Justice.

UPDATE: Larry Ribstein has responded to this post with a flurry of recommendations for entering law students:

    Book: R.H. Coase, The Firm, the Market and the Law (it's a bit short on plot and character development, but otherwise a fine choice)

    Movie: A Man For All Seasons (excellent ... highly recommended)

    Song: I Faught the Law and the Law Won (the version by The Clash)

Larry is good at this. I guess I should have expected that from a guy who has a blog about film.

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Comments (6)

1. Posted by Dave! on July 9, 2005 @ 22:31 | Permalink

I actually would have recommended "One L". It's an exceedingly quick read, and you can take away three valuable lessons from it: students at Harvard read the same cases you do; law school is a lot of work but most of the pressure we put on ourselves; law school often strains personal relationships with family and friends not in law school. Sure, it's hardly great literature, but why do you find it "ridiculous"?

Then again, I might recommend "Love in the Time of Cholera", because I think many law students could really benefit from a dose of magic realism...


2. Posted by Gordon Smith on July 9, 2005 @ 22:38 | Permalink

Dave, I thought One L was ridiculous because Scott Turow seemed to manufacture crises. By the end of the book, I was convinced that he was either making it all up or creating outlandish situations so that he could write about them in his book.


3. Posted by Christine Hurt on July 10, 2005 @ 20:08 | Permalink

I agree with Dave! on both One L and Garcia Marquez. The funny thing about One L is that Turow was so neurotic that everything was a crisis. Oh, no -- moot court! Oh, no -- finals! On, no -- outline swap! But there were people in law school just like that. I remember a woman (sorority girl, er woman) who about Nov. 1 stopped wearing makeup and wore only sweat suits. One week, she repeatedly asked every friend whether they thought she could spare an evening to go to an event. Finally one of her friends pointed out to her that she had spent at least four hours of study time obsessing about this event when she could have just gone.

Neuroses aside, all of the details of Scott Turow's first year were exactly the same as my first year, down to the classes and the topics and the moot court. Funny how law school didn't change much in 20 years. I think now some schools have had curricular changes -- courses don't go the entire year, maybe a first-year elective -- but my year was exactly the same.


4. Posted by Dave! on July 10, 2005 @ 22:00 | Permalink

Yes, I know some people as neurotic as Turrow in One L. My experience has been a little different (although not as much as you might expect) because I'm an evening student. And I have the benefit of having a spouse who is already an attorney, so she can laugh at me frequently and say, "See? I told you so," which helps keep me sane.


5. Posted by Prof. Rick Duncan on July 12, 2005 @ 10:00 | Permalink

Phil Johnson, Reason in the Balance.


6. Posted by Paul Gowder on July 13, 2005 @ 7:50 | Permalink

Are there no other Kafka people here?! I'd absolutely make every law student read The Trial as a cautionary tale both of their expected life in law school and their upcoming role in society.

and "Know Your Rights" is a MUCH better Clash song, both in general and for law students...

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