Date of Publication: 28 June 2021
Applying to study Law at university? Want to start your first academic year with a solid foundation of knowledge? Perhaps you’re a newbie to the subject and are looking for some accessible information for which to pursue further study?
Being aware of current legal issues is important, not least because it helps prospective Law school students begin to think about the subject from a deeper perspective and start to see the world around them with an eye for legal detail. But it’s also useful to read more widely, to get a sense of what being a Law student is like, and to establish what type of modules you could end up studying during a Law degree.
By reputation, Law is often considered to be a complicated and inaccessible subject, meaning it can be difficult to know where to begin your reading. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 10 famous Law books which you should and can read before university. From law books for beginners to philosophical debates on the idea of morality, there’s a varied and inspiring collection to choose from.
10 Famous Law Books to Read Before University
Preparing to study law at university? Or even doing some reading around your subject in order to prepare you for your university applications?
We’ve compiled a list of 10 famous Law books that will help ease you into the subject and give you a feel for what studying and pursuing Law as a career may be like.
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. A man makes a will thinking that his children will outlive him. What happens if he outlives them? I agree to buy a house on the basis that I can sell my present house. Do I have to go on with the sale if I find that I cannot? Income is taxable, but do tips amount to income? Murder is forbidden, but is it murder to put a terminally ill patient who wants to die out of their misery?
The answers are not obvious. Lawyers have to work them out.”
Complete newbie? Looking for law books for beginners? Then look no further than Tony Honoré’s About Law.
Short but certainly not lacking any detail, About Law offers a very 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 doesn’t mean he speaks in jargon. In fact, quite the opposite; using technical terminology only when necessary, but always providing a glossary of terms and explaining them in detail.
A great starting point for students interested in law, or those with a general interest in the subject which will equip you with all necessary basic knowledge – it’s an accessible and simple base for all further study.
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.
I find this really sad. In these benighted times, we need more than ever people who can think properly – and if you haven’t acquired that ability at school, then doing a Law degree is a great way to catch up.”
One of the most famous law books in the world, and one that is highly recommended for all prospective students heading off to study law at university is Nicholas J. McBride’s Letters to a Law Student.
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’s like to study law, he also offers practical advice on what it’s like to study the subject at different universities.
Packed full of helpful advice, tips and humorous anecdotes – it’s a must read law book for anyone aspiring to study the subject in the near future.
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.”
If you’re already familiar with stock phrases in law, you may have already heard of the commonly used term, ‘Rule of Law.’ It is one that is often misunderstood, and, if you’re planning to pursue a career in law, one that you will need to develop your own understanding of.
Bingham tries to offer a great place to start in beginning to understand it; that the ‘Rule of Law’ 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’s a great read for those who wish to read more UK law books and familiarise themselves with the system in place here. But it does also draw 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 have already read 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 which concerns the complications which often arise with death of family members and wills.
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.
What McDeere perceived to be his dream job; a high-paid salary, new home, and keys to a brand new BMW, actually turned into one of his worst nightmares. With mysterious deaths of previous lawyers within the firm, FBI investigations, and top-secret files, he soon finds out just how difficult it is to escape the murky world of the mafia.
A truly engaging and unusual story about the highest law principles, you’ll be gripped from 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 often are 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.
A lively and thought-provoking read, Sandel introduces us to a range of political and philosophical theories and ideologies, provoking us to think about a number of difficult questions related to topics such as same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and equal rights. By the end, Sandel demonstrates how having a basic understanding of philosophy can help us to make sense of politics, morality and convictions. And help us to reach more balanced conclusions in the future.
Considered one of the best law books to offer an easy and accessible introduction to the complexities of modern moralities, it’s 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’s 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’s a great introduction to key concepts in Criminal Law, including the key tensions and questions which surround it.
Primarily designed to encourage you to think critically and analyse specificities within topics, each chapter is structured around a key debate to encourage deeper thought. For example, ‘Why do we have the laws we have?’ or ‘Could criminal law look differently?’
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.”
Ready to get inspired ahead of your university studies? Meet Jeremy Hutchinson, one of the UK’s leading criminal barristers of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. In the famous biographical law book, Case Histories, Thomas Hunt expertly collates some of Hutchinson’s most famous cases of this period – including some which have gone on to shape our political and cultural history.
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’s 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
“It is now worth noting that in a democracy like the UK’s, law is the highest power. The police or the military forces might have the most physical force at their command but only because they are invested with that power by law.
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 essential reading 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.
Study Law in the UK this summer
Think you may want to pursue a career in law? Perhaps you’ve already submitted an application to study it at university and want to get ahead of your studies?
With 2-week summer courses available here in Oxford and Cambridge, a Law summer school is the perfect opportunity to expand your subject knowledge, gain a new cultural perspective, and meet new people from around the world!
Take a look at our available law summer school courses to experience the university subject for yourself this summer!