What books should I read to get ready for law school?

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So you decided to go to law school... The bad news is that you've made a horrible mistake that you will regret for many years to come. Most lawyers fantasize every day about paying off their loans one day so that they can go back to not being a lawyer with nothing. That's our dream. Let that settle in for a second.

But, the good news is that law school can actually be fun. It is stressful to be sure, but also satisfying and rewarding. You don't need to face your horrible mistake for a few more years yet, so focus on making the most out of those years. One way to do that is to prepare. Preparing reduces the stress and increases the satisfaction and reward. All of the books below would help get through your 1L year with less stress and would help you get better grades. I break my recommendations out into three categories depending on how intense you want to get about getting ready for your 1L year. Personally, I'd probably recommend the middle option, but to each their own.

Bare Minimum

It is not insane to simply show up on your first day of law school totally unprepared. In fact, that is exactly what many, maybe even most, law students do and it more or less works out fine most of the time. There is something to be said for showing up well rested and ready to give it all you can. That said, even for the 0L aiming to get away with as minimal of an amount of preparation as possible, I think you ought to do two things:

1. Watch the Paper Chase.

This movie is universally regarded as the definitive fictional depiction of law school. Professor Kingsfield is an archetype that law school professors consciously emulate. The cases, situations and characters are all things you will run into. Hey, I know, you're trying to keep your preparation to a minimum, but how hard is it to watch a movie?

2. Read the Legal Analyst.

I think that if you can only bring yourself to read one book prior to law school, this is the one you should read. It is substantive and requires you to think, but it is a fun read and you can easily read a few pages at a time when you feel like it. The Legal Analyst focuses entirely on the policy rationales behind the law. That provides a great background for every 1L class and gives you the tools to start seeing the fun and interesting side of law school right off the bat. It is also good to kind of get your head around the more abstract policy thinking at your own pace when you have time to sit down and mull things over in a coffee shop rather than when you're scrambling just to get through the cases in time for morning.


Probably the ideal approach is to do a bit more than the bare minimum. I would recommend reviewing the following in addition to the above:

1. Read One L.

Turrow's infamous description of the life of a one L is a staple of law students. It really does prepare you for what is to come. My mom even read it before I started law school and it gave her some great insight into what I was about to undertake.

2. Contracts in a Nutshell.

It is not a bad idea to get at least the general concepts of one of your 1L classes under your belt before you start. All through first semester, you'll have a slight edge if you're a bit more familiar with the concepts, and contracts is the right one to start with. I recommend the Nutshells rather than the Examples and Explanations for 0Ls because the E&E's make more sense once you've got some materials under your belt. The E&E's include practice questions and they are essential reading before your first exams, but I recommend holding off on them until then.


You're thinking "screw this guy, I'm going to get every advantage I can." Ok, you're a gunner. You may not know what that means, but sooner or later, you'll have to face it- that is what you are. Fine. Be that way. Read all these before you start law school and you'll be way ahead of everybody else, but won't you be sad on the inside? Anyways, here is the very most you could possibly do before law school:

1. Criminal Law in a Nutshell.

Criminal law is actually kind of a mess. This will help you get your bearings

2. Torts in a Nutshell.

Torts is fun and relatively intuitive (especially if you read the Legal Analyst like I told you to). This nutshell will help you frame the topics properly.

3. Civil Procedure in a Nutshell.

CivPro inevitably sounds horrifically boring to you right now, but it actually can be one of the more interesting courses, depending on your professor. The nutshell does a decent job of giving you the background to appreciate the interesting parts.

4. Read Bleak House.

Bleak House is the uber-classic, 1036 page reason that not only should you not become a lawyer, but you should not even speak cordially with lawyers. It is nonetheless a favorite of law school professors and a literary masterpiece that is well worth reading. If you read it, not only will you be more erudite, but you will catch a lot of inside references that are sprinkled throughout your textbooks, Supreme Court decisions, exam hypotheticals and class discussions. Let me put it like this- most law students find themselves on more than one occassion pretending to have understood various Bleak House references to avoid looking ignorant. Is that what you want? No, you're a gunner, so you have to actually read it.

Updated October 2014