Author: Dennis McKinney

Six of the best law books

Six of the best law books

We asked you to tell us which books a future law student should read. Here are the top nominations – and some of the other contenders

The Rule of Law by Tom Bingham


Whatever did inquiring legal minds read before Lord Bingham published The Rule of Law? This slim volume has rapidly become the book Guardian-reading lawyers are most likely to recommend to anyone interested in the profession. As Joshua Rozenberg put it: “Bingham’s definition of that much-used term is now entirely authoritative and will probably remain so for the next 120 years or more. In summary, it is ‘that all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made, taking effect (generally) in the future and publicly administered in the courts.’

Letters to a Law Student by Nicholas McBride


“Dear Sam, I hope you don’t mind me writing to you in this way…” The only book to receive as many nominations as Bingham’s was Letters to a Law Student, by All Souls fellow and director of studies at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Solicitous, authoritative and hardly discounted even by Amazon, it knows its audience – those who already have a place to read law are advised to skip the first chapters.

Glanville Williams: Learning the Law (ATH Smith)
Welsh legal scholar Williams died in 1997, but Learning the Law lives on – though much of the rest of his prolific output is out of print. His support for legalising abortion and euthanasia, as well as his role in decriminalising suicide in 1961, earned his reputation as a reformer. But not everyone is a fan. “I read it once and I’ve never touched it again,” wrote Stephen Clark (LLB Exeter and about to start his BPTC). “This is supposedly the standard introductory text, but I couldn’t encourage students enough to stay away from it. It really won’t help when it comes to knowing the law, it won’t help when it comes to understanding the law and it won’t impart you with the skills necessary to do well on the LLB.”

What About Law? by Catherine Barnard et al
Recommended by – among others – Southampton University lecturer Mark Telford, What About Law? describes the various fields of law in engaging detail, though is less forthcoming with practical advice. Opens with the legal implications of the wild party 17-year-old Laura throws while her parents are away for the weekend.

Eve Was Framed by Helena Kennedy
Baroness Kennedy, as listeners to her current Radio 4 series will know, is as much concerned with justice as the law. Much of this lively and highly readable book is devoted to exploring the myriad ways in which the legal system has let down women – as lawyers, victims and defendants – though there is also plenty of optimism, particularly about the ability of women to rise to the top of the legal establishment. Kennedy’s Just Law was also nominated.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Somewhere in the new Rolls Building, a modern Jarndyce v Jarndyce is doubtless lumbering – or perhaps the Technology and Construction Court is hosting a particularly lengthy dispute involving tree roots. Dickens was a court reporter for four years and undoubtedly drew on his experiences, particularly at the Old Bailey, for his fiction – this coining trial may have inspired part of Great Expectations.

Other nominations
Cardiff and UCL academic Richard Moorhead: The End of Lawyers by Richard Susskind

UK Human Rights Blog editor and 1COR barrister Adam Wagner: Geoffrey Robertson’s The Justice Game

Carrie Alcott: How Law Works by Gary Slapper (“Absolutely brilliant. Have just read it now, going in to my final year, and really wish I’d come across it before I began studying”)

Lila Lamrabert: The Law Machine by Clare Dyer and Marcel Berlins

Michael Zymler and Jennie Evans: How To Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic by Madsen Pirie

Jason Miller and Emma Morris: The Case of the Speluncean Explorers by Lon Fuller (Miller: “Jurisprudence isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it shows a variety of legal and moral viewpoints.”)

Stacey Roden: Learning Legal Rules by James Holland

Paul O’Grady: A Short History of Western Legal Theory by John Kelly

Marika Giles Samson: The Best Defense by Paul Dershowitz

Jack Gilbert: The Colour of Law by Mark Giminez (“on a purely motivational basis”)

How to get your Motivation Back

How to get your Motivation Back

You were so keen at the start of semester, so motivated. Somewhere along the line that fizzled out, and you could really use some motivation right now because assignments are due and exams are edging their way closer. How do you get your law student mojo back?

So far, so good

It probably feels like you’ve achieved very little this semester and that all the work is ahead of you. At risk of sounding dangerously like a motivational speaker, the semester is like climbing a mountain: all you’re looking at is how much you have left to climb, but if you looked back you’d see how far you’ve already come. Okay, well that was embarrassing. No more metaphors, I promise.

But seriously, you’ve done heaps of work already. You’re over half way through the semester. Be proud of what you’ve achieved so far. There’s nothing like past achievements to motivate future ones.

Bigger picture

It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you’re stuck down in the nitty gritty of daily law student life. Who could think about their dream of being a media lawyer when they’re writing a property law assignment?

Regain your motivation by reading a book or watching a show that inspires you about your future career. It could be a book by Geoffrey Robertson QC, or one of Alan Shore’s brilliant closing arguments on Boston Legal. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as it helps you to view your degree (especially the boring bits) as an essential step along the way to your ultimate goal.


Get some stress relief

Stress can really zap your enthusiasm. Where possible, remove sources of stress from your life.

Stress-relief activities such as going outside for a run (avoid the gym and go outside) will also help you to feel calmer and more positive – it’s pretty impressive what a bit of sunshine can do for your mood.

For the couch potato-types (myself included) watch a comedy – it’s hard to be negative when you’re laughing. Music can also be really good for both stress relief and motivation. Eye of the Tiger, anyone?

What do I want?

Another problem can be listening to other people too much. If you do something to please others, it’s unlikely you’ll ever feel motivated and passionate about it. And don’t let people talk you out of something by telling you that you that it’s ‘competitive’ or that ‘few make it’. Also, ‘everyone else is doing it’ is not really a good reason to do something you’re not interested in.

Sometimes you just have so many distractions that it crowds out your passion for law student-ing. If it’s boring and unimportant, why are you letting it take up so much of your time? Pursue your goals and the motivation will usually follow.

Dealing with disappointment

It’s pretty much inevitable that somewhere in the course of your degree you’re going to experience failure of some variety, and it’ll do nothing for your motivation. It happens to everyone so don’t beat yourself up too much. Or as Dr. Seuss would say: “I’m sorry to say so, but, sadly it’s true that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.”

In a previous semester my favourite subject was Estate Planning. Not only did I love the subject matter (nerd alert) it also just ‘made sense’ to me. I worked really hard on an assignment and was really confident with what I’d handed in. I ended up failing that assessment and for a while I lost the motivation to do any work for the subject. Due to the efforts of a very engaging lecturer, I got my inspiration back and went on to get an overall subject mark that I was happy with.

Having been there, my advice is to learn from your mistakes and don’t let your failures own you. One bad mark doesn’t mean that you’re not capable or worthy of your career ambitions, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re going to fail the subject. Learn from your mistakes (get advice from your tutor if you need it) and you’ll be a better law student for it.

If all else fails…

If you can’t find the motivation, bribe yourself. I’m serious! Criminal law isn’t your thing but you have to do that assignment. Break it down into small tasks and give yourself rewards for completing them: checking Facebook when you finish that paragraph, having a Milo when you’ve done all your references. Bribery has gotten me through many uninspiring assignments.

Even self-bribery doesn’t always work. Sometimes you’ve just got to plough through it. At the very least, a deadline can be pretty motivating.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 14 September 2011.

4 Things to Consider Before Going to Law School

4 Things to Consider Before Going to Law School

The law has long been seen as a prestigious career path—and a great option for people with all kinds of skill sets.

But the conversation about law school is filled with a fair amount of doom and gloom these days. The legal industry has contracted seriously in the last few years, and there’s no doubt that JDs face a lot of competition coming out of law school.

Still, if you make the right decision for you as an individual, a law degree can open any number of career doors. Here’s what to consider when deciding whether to take the law school plunge—and how to find the right school for you.

1. The Job Market

It’s no secret that employment prospects for new law school grads have dimmed in the last few years (it’s become such a trope that one Chicago lawyer is even offering a $1,000 scholarship to students who decide not to study law).

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go—it just means you should know what you want out of your legal career and be realistic about getting there. Start by looking at the employment trends—where new JDs are getting jobs, the salaries they’re making, and the un- and under-employment rates at top law schools. You should also look up schools you’re interested in in the American Bar Association’s employment summary reports, which break down bar passage rate, the types of jobs graduates are getting, and where they’re working.

Generally, you’ll want to look for schools where most graduates get full-time, long-term legal jobs within a few months of graduation. If you see that a lot of new JDs end up at part-time or short-term jobs, it’s probably an indication that they’re struggling in the job market. And the last thing you want is to graduate with $100,000 worth of debt and no job prospects.

2. Geography

Knowing where geographically you want to practice law can give you some much-needed direction—law schools often have strong alumni networks and recruiting relationships with firms in particular states and cities. Sometimes these networks are obvious, but often, they’re not (for example, Berkeley sends a lot of graduates to jobs in California, but also to big law firms in New York City). If you know you want to move back to the Bay Area or plan to join your fiancé in Chicago after graduation, look for schools that feed into those regions.

Similarly, a particular industry may have a major presence in a certain geographic area, and that should factor into your search, too. If you’re passionate about a social cause and interested in working for a national advocacy group, for example, you should be looking at law schools that send a lot of graduates to jobs in Washington, D.C. If you’re interested in, say, energy law, target schools in Texas and Louisiana. You can ask admissions officers where each school’s JDs are ending up, or use the law school search tool on Noodle to see which schools feed into the place you want to go.

3. Return on Investment

Higher education has never been more expensive, and law school is no exception. Advice on paying for law school deserves its own post, but before you get that far, do a little research to estimate your return on investment. Payscale offers data on salaries for graduates from law schools in a variety of jobs, so you can think objectively about how much you’re willing to pay and how much debt you’re willing to take on. Some career paths value a legal education even if they don’t require it (think government or policy jobs), so if you go to law school and don’t plan to practice law, take that into account when you look at how all the numbers break down.

And if you’re interested in a public service career, consider paths that offer loan forgiveness. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program through the U.S. Department of Education forgives federal loans after 10 years of employment in jobs with government entities or nonprofit organizations.

4. Scores
On a more obvious note, your LSAT scores and college GPA will largely determine where you go to law school. So, as you’re thinking about the schools with great employment rates that place graduates in your field and industry of choice, look at their average and target numbers. If your scores aren’t close, it’s worth postponing the application process to focus on boosting your LSAT score or thinking seriously about going. It’s difficult to do, but it’s crucial to your future to look at the numbers and make an informed decision.

Finally, the most important thing is finding the school that’s right for you as an individual. During your research phase, remember to keep asking yourself a key question: Why do you want to go to law school? Yes, you want to apply to the highest quality law schools where you can gain admission, but it’s crucial to find a program that meets your needs and fits your situation. Be honest with yourself about your goals, and the other questions will be much easier to answer.