I love that you’re asking this question. It’s a great idea to spend time reading before your first year of law school. And I love books, so it gives me a chance to reminisce about some recent good reads and some old favorites. Though I would argue that whatever you decide to read is less important than the decision to read itself.
Selecting a few books to read before law school makes good sense for two reasons. First, we learn a lot by reading in law school so you will want to build good reading habits, to increase your reading stamina, and to get used to reading to learn.
Second, reading law-related material can get you acquainted with legal concepts, legal terms, and the court system you’ll be hearing about in your classes. Plus cognitive theory tells us that we learn better when we start off with prior knowledge we can build upon. So I encourage you to load up your eReader or pile your nightstand with some legal books that grab your attention.
Concerned about racial justice? Try The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess by Michelle Alexander.
Do you come from a medical or life science background? You might like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Concerned about the environment and ready for a good story? I suggest Gray Mountain by John Grisham. (Someone wanting a good story and reflecting on the appropriateness of the death penalty might prefer A Time to Kill and its more recent sequel Sycamore Row, also by Grisham.)
If social justice brings you to law school, pick up Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.
Change in our federal government, STEM, women’s empowerment, and race intersect in Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, the book that inspired the award-winning movie this year.
For a beautifully written memoir of a life that led to the United States Supreme Court, consider Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World.
Or if you want a mystery that weaves in a woman who served as a judge 500 years ago and the legal system in ancient Ireland . . . then you should definitely introduce yourself when you get to campus because I haven’t yet met anyone who appreciates Cora Harrison’s Mysteries of Medieval Ireland Series more than I do.
Or perhaps you are looking for a more focused list. You want to have your ducks in a row so you can achieve the most during what you’ve heard is a challenging first year of law school. Try out this trio: 1) Expert Learning for Law Students by Michael Hunter Schwartz, 2) Reading Like a Lawyer by Ruth Ann McKinney, and 3) Point Made by Ross Guberman.
When I stood in your shoes nearly twenty years ago, I asked my law school for a list of legal books to read before law school. Four impacted me so profoundly that I share them with you today: Unlikely Heroes by Jack Bass; The Buffalo Creek Disaster by Gerald Stern; Truman and the Steel Seizure Case: the Limits of Presidential Power by Maeva Marcus; and the classic I know you read in high school—but that I know you’ll have a new appreciation for as an adult—To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.