10 Famous Law Books to Read Before University
Applying to study Law at university? Want to start your first academic year with a solid foundation of knowledge? Then these books would be a great place to start!
Having an understanding of current legal issues is crucial for prospective law students as it helps them to inculcate a deeper perspective and derive a keen eye for legal details. At the same time, it is also valuable to read widely to develop a core knowledge of the legal system and its possible modules in a Law degree.
1. About Law, by Tony Honoré
People and states lay down laws and make contracts and treaties and wills only to come up against a situation that they did not foresee.
The answers are not obvious. Lawyers have to work them out.”
Looking for law books for beginners? Then Tony Honoré’s About Law is for you.
Short yet precise, About Law offers a basic, but great introduction to law and a range of topics, including; the purpose of law, a simple explanation of how it works, as well as an introduction to the legal system in England. Honoré is one of the most renowned legal academics and understands the complexities of law. But this does not mean he speaks in Jargon. In fact, quite the opposite; using technical terminology only when necessary, always providing a glossary of terms and explaining them in detail.
2. Letters to a Law Student: A Guide to Studying Law at University, by Nicholas J. McBride
“The first reason for studying Law at university is that doing a Law degree is great at helping you learn how to think carefully, imaginatively, and sensibly. I am not sure how much schools do nowadays in helping their students to think – students I meet say that much more emphasis is placed on rote learning and regurgitating information. Certainly, when I ask them to discuss a situation raising some issue of law, their responses seem to be much more guided by their instincts and emotions, rather than by carefully and imaginatively reasoning their way to a sensible conclusion.
This is one of the most famous Law books in the world, and is highly recommended for all prospective students heading off to study law at university.
As the name suggests, McBride’s book is broken up into a digestible collection of ‘letters’ which are addressed to a fictional student. Together, they form a collection which outlines what it’s like to study Law in higher education, and more importantly, invites you to think deeply about whether studying the subject at university is right for you.
McBride by definition, is an author, professor, and University of Cambridge Fellow, making him well-equipped to offer advice to prospective Law students. Not only does he touch on topics about what it is like to study Law, but also offers practical advice on what it is like to study the subject at different universities.
3. 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.”
Bingham offers a great place to start in beginning to understand the term the "Rule of Law"; it is a principle of the UK’s unwritten constitution. It means that politicians must govern within their powers, and Law should apply equally to all and be easy to understand for it to be followed by the majority. He then goes on to lay out further principles that are vital to the rules of law, getting any reader ahead in their Public Law modules.
It is a great read for those who wish to read more UK law books and familiarise themselves with the system in place here. It also draws on some international influences too, making it a great all-rounder for grappling a better understanding of Public Law.
4. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
“The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings. Viewed by this light it becomes a coherent scheme, and not the monstrous maze the laity are apt to think it. Let them but once clearly perceive that its grand principle is to make business for itself at their expense, and surely they will cease to grumble.”
Offering something slightly different to the other books on our list, fans of Dickens may well be acquainted with his novel Bleak House – as it is still cited as one of his best works today. Recognised as one of the most famous law books – most likely thanks to its author – this 19th Century novel tells the story of a court case in London. Less informative than some of the other law books on our list but still considered a great read for those looking for something a little less factual, it offers an insightful depiction of the types of character tropes that are characteristic of legal professionals in London in the 19th Century – some of which are still highly prevalent amongst the legal community today.
5. The Firm, by John Grisham
“Some of our clients have not been saints, but no lawyer can dictate morals to his client.”
Another one for the fiction lovers! Spending 44 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller lists, this thrilling 1991 read outlines the fictional story of Harvard graduate Mitch McDeere, who finds himself working for the Mafia’s very own law firm.
A truly engaging and unusual story about the highest law principles, you will be gripped from the start to finish as you watch McDeere juggling against both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides of the law. See how McDeere plays both sides against each other – and navigates a criminal conspiracy that goes far beyond anything he ever expected.
6. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? By Michael J. Sandel
“Self-knowledge is like lost innocence; however unsettling you find it, it can never be ‘unthought’ or ‘unknown’.”
Is it always wrong to lie? Can murder cases sometimes be justified? Questions like these dominate our lives, but are often addressed with little to no thought on a daily basis.
Published in 2010, Harvard professor, Michael J. Sandel, and his acclaimed book, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? invites readers on a journey of moral reflection, encouraging us to think through and question the complexities of modern social dilemmas.
Considered as one of the best Law books to offer an easy and accessible introduction to the complexities of modern moralities, it is a must-read for those heading off to university who are looking to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the dilemmas many legal professionals face during their careers.
7. Using a Law Library: A Student’s Guide to Legal Research Skills, by Peter Clinch
“The study of law is changing. It is becoming less about learning mechanically the facts contained in books noted on lecturers’ reading lists, and more about the ability to analyse a legal problem, identify and employ the written and computerised sources appropriate to its solution, and present the results of that analysis and research as a coherently organised, written or verbal presentation.”
When you embark on your journey to studying law at university, or even taking part in a law summer school, you will need to do lots of legal research for essays and class preparation. This book by Peter Clinch is a useful guide on how to use catalogues and indexes, and search for things efficiently. The practical approach makes it one of the best law books for beginners, helping students to understand and undertake particular research problems, as well as showing how to record and present data for research projects, dissertations, and other assignments. It is clearly labelled, with diagrams and charts offering visual aid for your learning. A great companion for your university degree!
8. Great Debates in Criminal Law, by Jonathan Herring
“What acts should constitute criminal offences? No one would dispute that murder, rape and burglary should be. However, for other kinds of conduct it is not so obvious. Should allowing a dog to foul in a park be a criminal offence? Or walking around nude in a public place? Or hunting with dogs?”
If criminal law is a module which you think would interest you at university, then this book is a must-read. Written by Jonathan Herring, Professor of Law at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Law at Exeter College, it is a great introduction to key concepts in Criminal Law, including the key tensions and questions which surround it. Illustrating the current debates amongst those working in the field, as well as including references to further reading, it will keep you well-informed when it comes to making university applications and discussing criminal law in interviews.
9. Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories: From Lady Chatterley’s Lover to Howard Marks, by Thomas Grant
“The book that follows is not a conventional biography; nor is it conventional history. Rather, what I have attempted is a kind of social history of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s told through the lens of its leading criminal cases, bound together by the common thread that in each case the defence was conducted by the same man.”
Having defended some notable figures through history, including the famous Christine Keeler, Great Train robber Charlie Wilson, as well as Kempton Bunton (the only man to have ever successfully ‘stolen’ a picture from the National Gallery), Case Stories provides entertaining, vivid, and deeply revealing insights into what really took place in these celebrated courtroom dramas that defined a period, all while painting a picture of a truly remarkable life.
It is a great introduction to some of the most notable legal cases throughout history, while also providing a great introduction to the UK legal system.
10. How the Law Works, by Gary Slapper
“In theory, and, generally in practice, the law is above everyone. Other forces, like morals, peer pressure and religion, exercise influence over people but, ultimately, the law is the set of rules that is most forcefully and systematically applied.”
A comprehensive, witty, and easy-to-read law book for beginners, Gary Slapper’s How Law Works is a refreshing but reliable guide to the modern legal system here in the UK. Providing both interesting yet comprehensive coverage of UK law, Slapper’s book avoids the legal jargon, providing an accessible entry point to the different types of law and legal techniques used within the system. It also clarifies the mechanisms behind criminal and civil law, as well as introducing readers to the ideas of ‘compensation culture’ and human rights law. How the Law Works is an essential read for students approaching the subject at university in the near future, or for anyone with an interest in being introduced to English and Welsh Law here in the UK.
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Prepare for studying Law at university with 10 famous Law books. From Tony Honoré's 'About Law' for beginners to John Grisham's thrilling 'The Firm,' these books offer insights into legal concepts, moral dilemmas, and the UK legal system. Get a solid foundation before starting your academic journey.