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What to Books to Read Before Law School
Are you Ready for 1L?
What to Read Before Law School
I graduated from law school in 2011. I also passed the New York State Bar Exam. The following suggestions are books that I read before my 1L year, during 1L, and books that in retrospect, I wish I had read.
From someone who has been there done that, I can honestly give you the lowdown on law school, and the following list of books is all you need to get through your 1L year and maybe, beyond.
1. One L by Scott Turow
This is the never dying classic about the rite of passage called your 1L year. The key to keep in mind when reading this book is to realize that it is exaggerated, but only to an extent. You will encounter the same emotions and not even realize how stupid you acted during your first year until after it's all over. No amount of anyone's advice, mine, or some other book will be able to help you when you're in that moment. (I know, speaking from personal experience.) The only thing this book is useful for is realizing how intense you could get and also to keep yourself in check.
2. The Paper Chase
Not exactly a book, it's actually a movie, so you're not being a complete bookworm your entire summer. The classroom scenes in the film are fairly accurate as to what you can expect from professors using the Socratic Method. The study group scene is also standard because if you join a study group, you will eventually feel let down by some members and realize that you should have just did all the outlining yourself (with help from a commercial outline, of course). There's a passing line about how the law students in the dorms are going nuts when exam time comes around. That is accurate as well. I advise getting your own place and not staying in campus graduate dorms. It's better for your sanity.
3. Ivey Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student by Martha Kimes
This book is written from a female perspective (yeah! womyn power!), but the basics of what happens in law school are still the same. This is just a bit more updated than One L. The book goes into the writing competition to get on law review and journals and also about getting into moot court. The book also talks about on campus interviews and your 1L summer.
My only complaint is that Martha Kimes sort of breezed through school and jumped all the hurdles and scored a pretty awesome 1L summer. If you're eventually not in that boat when the time comes, this book isn't the best preparation. And trust me, that time will most likely come considering the dump state the legal job market is in and the fact that most on campus interviewers are only interested in the top 10%, which means the vast majority of law students need a different approach plus gumption. So, when you get to those parts in the book, take them with a grain of salt.
Understanding the Idealism
4. The Buffalo Creek Disaster: How the survivors of the worst disasters in coal-mining history brought suit against the coal company--and won by Gerald M. Stern
This book isn't about you or law students. It's about the greater calling of the profession and what you could do to change the world as a lawyer. This is what the noble strive for. This was also a once in a lifetime case that very few lawyers would be lucky enough to get.
The reason why I suggest it is because too many lawyers (and 3Ls) are jaded, but when you're just starting out as a 1L, you can still manipulate your future to a greater extent. If this book excites and spurs your idealism, then you need to go with it, express it, and make it happen for yourself and world to the nth degree. For the rest of us, at least the book is an exciting page turner.
Understanding the Content
This is probably the section with the most useful, practical suggestions for students. If you're serious about good grades, and you should be to a healthy extent, then getting through these books will give a good leg up for your 1L year.
5. The Truth About Negotiations by Leigh L. Thompson
6. Getting Past No by William Ury
During my 1L year, in Legal Writing, our professor broke us up into groups and had us do a mock negotiation with our opponents. I had no clue what I was doing or saying and in retrospect, no one knew what they were doing either because we were all starting out with hostile attitudes and positioning.
The Truth About Negotiations is a good general primer, and Getting Past No provides specific strategies to address hostile behavior from your opponent. If I had read these before that negotiation exercise in class, I would have felt like I had an edge. I would have felt more confident and sure of myself. And in law school, any extra boost of confidence is all you need.
Moreover, even if you never have a formal negotiation exercise, you negotiate in your every day life with everyone including your mom, so these books can never hurt, and can only help. You can also check out my article "What is Negotiation and How to Negotiate" by clicking here.
7. West's In a Nutshell Series
I advise getting these for each of your 1L courses like Contracts, Torts, Property, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, and Civil Procedure. These are great little books that introduce and summarize the topic. You don't have to understand or memorize every point in the book during the summer. It's good to just get your feet wet and have some familiarity with the material.
Your 1L courses teach black letter law i.e. rules of law that have not changed for eons, so don't worry that you're not reading the "correct" material or that you'll have some ingrained misconception before "learning" it in class because that just isn't true. The truth is that the more familiarity you have the subject before your formal class, the better. Your brain already has a spot for it and it retain any new material harder, better, faster, stronger.
In fact, what's even better than getting the Nutshells is if your undergraduate college provides classes on law subjects. Speaking from experience, I took a Business Law class as an undergraduate. What I realized later was that the course had actually taught me the same black letter law that I was learning in Contracts I. I got a huge leg up that first year. (I actually got an A!)
8. Legal Memos
I'm a huge of fan of learning through absorption and imitation of models, which is essentially how you will be taught to write in Legal Writing. Our professor gave us a simplified version of a legal memo and we had to write something similar but using our assigned topic and cases. If you can get your hands on some old legal memos from upperclassman or anyone you know that has gone to law school or just do a Google search, then you'll have a leg up. It's important to get a general understanding of the structure and feel for the style. Again, this is about familiarizing yourself so you're not starting from zero in the classroom. It's better to start from +1 or +5 depending on how many legal memos you read and look at.
Is Law REALLY for YOU
Finally, I would have put this category first but didn't want to insult any die hard 1Ls to be. The problem is that too many students go to law school without a clear understanding of what they are really getting themselves into. A J.D. is not a highly portable degree. You may be better off with a Masters or MBA depending on your interests. If you start down the law school road, there are numerous hurdles to pass through and honestly, the light at the end of the tunnel is not the brightest. I'm not saying it's not worth it, I'm saying you should think carefully whether it makes sense for you.
9. 50 Best Jobs for Your Personality by Michael Farr and Laurence Shatkin
I ended up looking at this after I took the bar exam when I was sort of in a phase of soul searching and not looking for a job. I took the job-personality quiz inside and the jobs it suggested for me were about as far from lawyer as you could get. It was clear to me during law school and my internships that something was missing. I was not fulfilled and I didn't know why. This book made clear that it was because I was not using my strongest characteristic, which was to be artistic. I've looked at many similar books since then, and they all say the same thing.
My law school friend, however, took the same quiz and he was a perfect fit to be an attorney and he loves it more than I do. So, the book is not biased against attorneys in any way. I only suggest this book to help you consider your options and what your soul wants and needs to be happy.
10. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss
The truth is that the job of a lawyer can be grueling, especially grueling at a large firm, and eventually you will get bored of staring at the Westlaw database home page. Before you start down the path, consider your options. Consider how you envision your future. And be crazy here. Imagine big! Seriously, really really big!
I read The 4-Hour Workweek after graduating during my soul searching phase, and this book has blown my mind. One of the major principles from the book is about life deferment. The model that you should work your youth away and then retire and enjoy life is outdated. You need a new model. For me the book made a lot of sense from the get go because since junior high I wondered why I was wasting my youth to study and take classes when there was so much more to see and do.
If you need help imagining big, and I mean really big, big beyond law school, then you must read this book.
Overall, I hope these books will serve you well before you embark on your 1L year. I would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts about my suggestions, so feel free to contact me and keep in touch!
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