Thursday, April 17, 2014

Three Books for Aspiring Lawyers

So you want to go to law school. You want to join the ranks of what Alexis De Tocqueville called the "American aristocracy."


Now, go read the article "Should I Go To Law School" on Art of Manliness.

Still want to go?

Great. Congratulations.

Then let me recommend three books that will help you prepare, even though they will likely be neither assigned nor discussed directly in an of your law school classes. Two of these books I read prior to law school, and they helped me greatly. All three provide some basic foundation for the material you will be learning.

First is Lawrence Friedman's A History of American Law. This is by far the largest of the three books I'm recommending, but still very much worth adding to your library. Friedman begins with colonial law and traces how American law changed over the decades. He examines the large categories of law: public law, family law, commercial law, torts, property, and law and the economy. He also has several chapters on how the legal profession has developed. What makes this particularly valuable is that in law school you will run into all these concepts at various points in their development. However, while many courses require an understanding of history, they are not taught as history. Friedman provides a framework that you will find remarkably helpful sitting in a torts class, learning how a theory develops, and being able to place it within his timeline. Even if you do not read it in its entirety, it makes an excellent reference book. I might be overstating somewhat if I said that Friedman is today's equivalent of Blackstone, but he does provide the service today that Blackstone provided in the colonial era, namely, a history and summary of the current state of law.

Second is Roscoe Pound's An Introduction to the Philosophy of Law (also available as a free ebook).This does for legal theory what Friedman does to the American experience--provides a structural framework. In law school, I took a course on Jurisprudence (Philosophy of Law), and the first three chapters of little book has more content than that entire course. Starting with Ancient Greece, and moving through Rome and into common law and into the positivist school, Pound traces how thinking about law has changed, how it hasn't, and how each new development relates to the prior understanding, Take, for example, his observation on how the American system inverted the classical understanding of natural law: "In the United States, since the natural law of the eighteenth-century publicists had become classical, we relied largely upon an American variant of natural law. It was not that natural law expressed the nature of man. Rather it expressed the nature of government." That subtle shift of emphasis from the human soul to the purpose of government actually explains a lot of how we think about politics. The book is full of gems like that. And for beginning law students, the last three chapters turn to specific areas of law: liability (negligence), property, and contract. These will be three of your core classes, likely in your first year. Knowing a bit about them in advance, even if the material is now dated, won't hurt anything.

The first two recommendations are heavily academic. Not so the third one. Here, I recommend Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. This is at first glance the strangest one on this list, but to be honest, Agatha Christie has greatly influenced how I think about legal problems. I've been meaning to post about it for some time, and might yet expand it at a future date. Basically, though, Christie is good at showing how anyone is capable of crime, and how presuming otherwise clouds the cases. More than just clues, her detectives observe and are close students of people. And that is often the key to solving the puzzle. Never forget that each legal problem has one or more people at its heart. While I can't say more without giving away the outcome, this story, more than any other I've read, demonstrates how just a few missing facts can completely change the outcome of a case. And also that-- well, if I finished that sentence I'd give away too much. Just read the book.

Certainly there are other resources as well, and this list should not limit you. J. Budziszewski has written several excellent books on natural law theory. And the Blackstone Legal Fellowship program has a book list of its own. But these three books that I've recommended here will give you an excellent starting point.

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