« Obergefell and the Interests of Children | Main | Mootness spreads »

Thursday, July 09, 2015

What to read the summer before law school?

Michael Krauss (George Mason) has some suggestions in the WaPo, here.  (I was happy to see the shout-out for my former colleague Pat Schiltz's article on "being a happy member of an unhappy profession.)  A while back, when I was an associate dean, I put together a similar list for our incoming first years at Notre Dame.  (My list, like Krauss's, included The Bramble Bush, but I couldn't resist adding John Noonan's Persons and the Masks of the Law.).  

What would be on your list?   

Posted by Rick Garnett on July 9, 2015 at 03:08 PM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


Paul Carrington, Stewards of Democracy: Law as Public Profession.

Dense but thought-provoking.

Posted by: anon | Jul 18, 2015 10:49:25 AM

DOG TRAINING 101: A Must Have Step by Step Guide That Makes Owning A Dog or Puppy An Amazing Success


Posted by: Doug Litowitz | Jul 15, 2015 12:45:46 AM

If you are actually looking for a book that will help you understand the arguments that are getting made in law school, I would second Glenn Cohen's recommendation -- The Legal Analyst, by Ward Farnsworth.

Posted by: Joey | Jul 11, 2015 10:52:20 PM

I didn't love (or even like) being a litigator, but I like novels or stories with realistic characterizations of trials.

Along those lines:

Robert Traver (actually John Voelker, a former Michigan Supreme Court Justice), Anatomy of a Murder
Most of the Scott Turow novels - don't read One L.
Inherit the Wind (dramatization of the Scopes trial - much of it taken from the trial transcriptsl)
Meyer Levin, Compulsion (fictionalization of the Leopold-Loeb case)
Richard Kluger, Members of the Tribe (fictionalization of the Leo Frank case)

Movies - My Cousin Vinny, of course, but if you want to see my favorite scene in any movie involving a lawyer, see Absence of Malice (Paul Newman, Sally Field), and wait for Wilford Brimley to show up.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jul 11, 2015 3:08:57 PM


The opposite argument could be made about To Kill a Mockingbird. If you go into law school with a very romantic view of what being a lawyer is like, you could end up even more crushed by the reality.

I wonder if the romanticized vision of law is partly to blame for the high depression rate in law school. There are plenty of studies showing that happiness is very much tied to our expectations (this is why losses hurt so much more than never getting something in the first place). You go in thinking it'll be full of lively, intellectual discussions, only to discover that it's 90% sitting in a room by yourself reading, punctuated with classroom hours that are less than inspiring.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Jul 11, 2015 7:44:21 AM

To Kill a Mockingbird. Just in case you...um...get disillusioned during your 1L year. It's nice to be reminded that being a lawyer can be a wonderful thing.

Posted by: anon | Jul 11, 2015 12:03:12 AM

Here are a few that haven't been mentioned:
Simple Rules for a Complex World by Richard Epstein;
any of PG Wodehouse's major works (reading Wodehouse will make almost anyone a better writer-at his best,he always uses exactly the right word and conveys the right nuance),
Confessions of an English Opium Eater-DeQuincey;
Witness-Whittaker Chambers (it will help the student make sense of the 50's First Amendment cases);
Moldbuggery.blogspot.com,(The Collected Writings of Mencius Moldbug (pseudonym))--(read at least enough to understand Moldbug's concept of the "Cathedral"--the connection between the media, academia and politics),
any collection of the forensic speeches of Cicero and/or the parliamentary speeches of Thomas Macaulay (most of the ones I've read are brilliant)

Posted by: AYY | Jul 10, 2015 11:49:53 PM

Justin Long: "... even those about the practice or economics of the profession, because we give them plenty of that when they arrive and they should come eager, not pre-burned out. "

How much does your school teach about either the practice of law, or the economics?

For example, how are your job statistics?

Posted by: Barry | Jul 10, 2015 9:26:51 PM

In my view, incoming 1Ls should avoid reading direct legal materials, even those about the practice or economics of the profession, because we give them plenty of that when they arrive and they should come eager, not pre-burned out. They need to preserve their creative, non-linear thinking before we start shaving off the non-logical parts of their minds. I have found that reading poetry encourages students to pay attention to precise language, to appreciate ambiguity in linguistic meaning, to search for and recognize symbols and metaphors, and to begin to see the nearly limitless possibilities for creative expression that can flourish even within very rigorous formal constraints. These are all incredibly useful skills to bring to the study of cases and statutes.

Posted by: Justin Long | Jul 10, 2015 2:56:15 PM

And if you want to read some gentle (or not so gentle) ribbing of the list, I wrote it up over at ATL: http://abovethelaw.com/2015/07/a-reading-list-for-0ls-to-ruin-your-summer-vacation/

Posted by: Joe Patrice | Jul 10, 2015 2:48:27 PM

If the idea is to show up with some vague idea of what law school is, then I second the MacKinnon reading. Best to be prepared for a sex negative environment.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Jul 10, 2015 12:42:09 PM

Jacob, good question. I think that for some students, reading a little bit about law before 1L year is a way to be less stressed instead of more stressed. A student who shows up on their first day totally cold might be overwhelmed by the immersion approach of law school. On the other hand, a student who shows up with some vague idea of what law school is, and what studying law is, might be able to deal better with that stress. All depends on the person, I think.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 10, 2015 11:41:14 AM

Jacob: "I find it baffling that we want to encourage students to read about law when they're about to spend three very intensive years reading (frankly probably more than they need to know) about law."

Note that most of the books recommended (on the list mentioned in the original post, and alternative list to which I links) are not about 'law' as law schools think that it is, but about the practice and profession of law.

Posted by: Barry | Jul 10, 2015 11:40:43 AM

There is a list at:


I second reading 'Inside the Law School Scam', and add 'Don't Go to Law School (Unless...)' and 'Con Law'.

For the overwhelming majority of law students, law school is a bad choice. The best time to seriously (re)consider it is before one starts, when one is only down a few thousand $$$.

Posted by: Barry | Jul 10, 2015 11:39:43 AM

I find it baffling that we want to encourage students to read about law when they're about to spend three very intensive years reading (frankly probably more than they need to know) about law. Why not encourage them to relax over the summer, and perhaps read some novels that have nothing to do with law? There's plenty of time to learn about law -- in law school and for the rest of their lives. Suggesting readings, even optional ones, seems like a way to encourage unnecessary added stress. Just because law professors spend our summers reading about law doesn't mean incoming students should.

"Yet I am confident that your summer is much better spent exercising your intellect rather than mapping the minutiae of law school culture." -> from the Wapo article. This is a false choice. Maybe their summer is better spent relaxing, resting their brains, and enjoying life.

Posted by: Jacob | Jul 10, 2015 11:12:52 AM

Fashionable Nonsense by Sokal and Bricmont serves as a nice reminder that when an argument is difficult to wrap your head around, it's not necessarily a problem with you. Sometimes the author (despite a wealth of academic credentials) is just writing nonsense.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Jul 10, 2015 9:12:54 AM

Do people really still read "The Bramble Bush," or is it recommended just because it's been recommended for so long and its author remains a major figure?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 9, 2015 11:38:15 PM

Every single post on inside the law school scam.

Posted by: joe | Jul 9, 2015 10:00:12 PM

The 1999 article by Patrick Schiltz justifiably drew lots of attention when it came out, and in some years I assigned portions of it to my students. But at roughly 78 pages and 38,000 words, it's rather wordy. (Why did Professor Krauss call it “succinct”?) It lacks balance, such as was provided by Mary McLaughlin’s response piece. His article works mostly as a sustained attack on biglaw lawyering—he advises, for example, “Avoid Working in Large Law Firms”—so it just isn’t relevant to most law students today, given that a large majority of them won’t be getting an offer to work there anyway. One of the article’s strengths was its public exposition of the economics of biglaw, which wasn’t widely discussed outside the firms in the 1990’s. But that part of the article is rather dated and today’s applicants, admits, and enrollees have far better ways to learn the current state of play.

I’d recommend that students ensure that they understand the economics of their decision to forego three years of working and instead pay or take on debt for three years of law school. After they’ve done that reading, for students inclined toward practical knowledge, they might benefit from some good accounts of what real lawyering is like. Delsohn’s “The Prosecutors” (prosecutors) and Hume’s “No Matter How Loud I Shout” (juvenile court defenders) are both good. If students want to understand the economics and ethics of biglaw, Mitt Regan’s “Eat What You Kill” or his more recent book, co-written with Tanina Rostain, “Confidence Games,” will shed light on that.

For students inclined toward theoretical approaches, they could do worse than working through the 70 entries in Larry Solum’s Legal Theory Lexicon. To cover the ethics issues from the more theoretical approach, they might try the volume edited by Leslie Lavin and Lynn Matter, “Lawyers in Practice: Ethical Decision Making in Context,” which has chapters on a wide variety of lawyers.

Posted by: John Steele | Jul 9, 2015 8:54:21 PM

It's an age-old topic. 10 years ago, in my early blogging days, I took this on. Prospective law students need not focus only on books about law and justice. See http://madisonian.net/2005/06/23/welcome-to-law-school-part-ii/ and http://madisonian.net/2005/06/24/welcome-to-law-school-part-iii/ and http://madisonian.net/2005/07/12/welcome-to-law-school-part-viii/ (with links to Larry Ribstein's posts that, sadly, no longer work).

Posted by: Mike Madison | Jul 9, 2015 6:26:37 PM

I would add the Legal Analyst's Toolkit by Farnsworth

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Jul 9, 2015 5:02:20 PM

The Alchemy of Race and Rights by Patricia Williams; Faces at the Bottom of the Well, by Derrick Bell; Feminism Unmodified by Catharine MacKinnon all provide critical perspectives and much food for thought.

Posted by: Bridget Crawford | Jul 9, 2015 4:34:27 PM

Post a comment