Flat textbook writing at its most mind-numbing. Don't be fooled by those who say you "must" read it before law school. If you're starting law school i...moreFlat textbook writing at its most mind-numbing. Don't be fooled by those who say you "must" read it before law school. If you're starting law school in the fall and want a head start, get John Delaney's Learning Legal Reasoning.(less)
Most lists of "What to Read the Summer Before Law School" are bullshit. One's concerns the first year are overwhelming practical -- Am I cut out for t...moreMost lists of "What to Read the Summer Before Law School" are bullshit. One's concerns the first year are overwhelming practical -- Am I cut out for this job? What should I learn from these cases? What should I take away from the class discussion? How can I tell a good outline from a poor one? How should I prepare for tests? -- yet the books suggested to incoming 1Ls offer little or no answers to these questions.
Here's the nonsense they usually recommend: 1. Broad "theory" books Examples include Holmes's "The Common Law", Posner's "Economic Analysis of the Law", and Epstein's "Simple Rules for a Complex World" or Rawls's "A Theory of Justice". These books may be wonderful (not Holmes -- he's a shitty writer), but they are unhelpful when it comes to navigating your first year. They are better left to 2nd and 3rd year classes on legal theory or jurisprudence. (BTW, completely avoid Levi's "An Introduction to Legal Reasoning". It's horribly written and fit only for making paper airplanes.)
2. Legal history Examples include Friedman's "A History of American Law" and usually some work on the history of the Supreme Court. If you're interested in this field take an elective on legal history your 2nd or 3rd year. If your school doesn't offer a class on legal history (as mine sadly doesn't), save it for sometime after your first year. By then you'll know something about, say, estates in land and it'll make a helluva lot more sense.
3. Accounts of landmark legal cases, Supreme Court justice memoirs, and other general-audience legal nonfiction Examples include Harr's "A Civil Action", Turow's "One L", Lewis's "Gideon's Trumpet", and Sterns's "The Buffalo Creek Disaster". Again, some of these books are really excellent, but they will NOT help prepare you for your first year. They may be great stories, they may reassure you about your chosen profession -- so what? You need books that will help you make sense of the cases you'll be reading and concepts you'll be learning. In that regard these books are worthless.
4. Great literature Examples include almost anything on Western Literature Hits List, but ones that seem to pop up repeatedly include "Crime and Punishment", "The Brother Karamozov", and "Bleak House". Anyone who includes a novel on their list is not to be trusted because they are not serious about helping, you, the new law student.
So, now that I've told you what to avoid, what books should the eager-to-succeed 1L seek out the summer before he/she starts?
1. Any one of the "how to succeed" in law school books Currently, the most popular seems to be Miller's "Law School Confidential" but I found Greene's "Law School for Dummies" to be just as helpful and there are many more like Deaver's "The Complete Law School Companion", Noyes's "Acing Your First Year of Law School", and Hricik's "Law School Basics". It's probably a good idea to read any two of these to compare the similarities and differences of approach.
2. John Delaney's "Learning Legal Reasoning" Yes, briefing is a pain in the ass, but it's important and Delaney teaches you WHY and exactly HOW to do it. Law schools should automatically send copies of this book to all incoming 1Ls.
3. A book on test-taking Fischl and Paul's "Getting to Maybe" is highly regarded by many but I haven't read it so I can't vouch. I have read John Delaney's "How To Do Your Best on Law School Exams" and can recommend it. For those with a little extra money, I would also get Wentworth Miller's 8-CD & Workbook "Legal Essay Exam Writing System" aka LEEWS.
4. The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law I've only read the first three chapters of this books but it's already clear this belongs on the shortlist of indispensable books to read before starting law school. At first blush, it looks like one of the "theory" books said to avoid in the first list. And, yes, the book is heavy on theory. The difference is this book is not about one overarching theory but many different ones, some of which you will see invoked repeatedly as rationales in judicial opinions and during class discussion. Understanding the difference between the ex post and ex ante perspectives or the idea of efficiency will put you WAY AHEAD of the other students in class. It's one thing to be able to read a case and extract the rule. It's a whole different, deeper and subtler level of comprehension to be able to understand the reasoning behind the rule and point out alternatives the judge failed to take into account. This book will help you do that.(less)