by Heather Cowgill
Whether you’re a law student on their summer break or an aspiring lawyer, you may have a book-shaped hole in your life. If you’re open to suggestions, below is a list of ten law-related books that will hopefully help you decide whether law is the subject for you, or will enhance your current studies! These books come from a range of authors, jurisdictions and time periods; this selection includes cry-your-eyes-out tragic tales, to philosophical works on morality, original feminist works and timeless classics, meaning there should be something for everyone!
Eve Was Framed by Helena Kennedy – Is an eye-opening critique of the British legal system. This book is especially useful if you are interested in feminism or criminal law; the author, Baroness Kennedy, was a successful barrister and is writing about her own experience of discrimination against women in the criminal justice system. Eve Was Framed explores sentencing discrepancies with gender, the perception of female witnesses and defendants, and out-of-touch judges. Unlike many heavy-going law textbooks, it is short but insightful. Regardless of gender, we should open ourselves up to reading the opinions of an educated and articulate woman with decades of experience. The issues Kennedy discusses, e.g. stereotyping and the influence of the media, can also be applied to other groups who face discrimination. Reading Eve Was Framed made me a more informed and conscious law student and I hope it can do the same for others.
Kennedy has also penned a sequel, Eve Was Shamed, which re-examines the failures of the British justice system towards women. Eve Was Framed was written in 1993 and the sequel, released in 2018, has proven that these issues remain prevalent, even in the #MeToo era.
Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? By Michael Sandel – Sandel is a Harvard lecturer, famed for his likeable manner and intellectual generosity. Justice explores controversies often making the headlines; same-sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action, patriotism (and more). It is a thought-provoking and captivating book that opens up issues that cut across philosophy, morality and the law. Written to accompany his famous course taught at Harvard for three decades, Justice is both enlightening and informative, and details well-chosen examples to illustrate complicated moral dilemmas. I encourage anyone from any political persuasion to read this work and discover the voice and mind behind such a popular figure.
The Trial by Franz Kafka - Kafka uses The Trial to paint a picture of an alternate world, ruled by an oppressive and remote authority. This authority is completely inaccessible to the people it controls, as the protagonist Josef K learns when he is arrested and prosecuted for a crime that is never revealed to Josef nor the reader. For those who enjoyed George Orwell’s 1984, The Trial is of a similar vein; both explore a dystopian future where citizens are constantly under surveillance, punished for the smallest of infractions. The slow-paced story focuses on Josef discovering more about the process of his trial, with Kafka’s chilling world of sham trials and injustice making The Trial more bleak than other books on this list. Many of the other works listed here are based on aspects of the law we take for granted. We accept the inherent benevolent motives behind the legal system, believing it exists to protect us and offers us a chance to determine our innocence just as much as our guilt, but The Trial sets out a warped world where law is not the pillar of democracy we expect it to be.
Is Eating People Wrong? By Allan Hutchinson - Sets out eight common law-defining cases from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as the historical and social context within which they occurred. The most striking aspect of Hutchinson’s work is that he combines great storytelling with an understanding of society’s fears and morals to demonstrate how the common law evolves over time, being built on by these milestone cases. In his methodical style, Hutchinson explains difficult concepts that enter into the cases as well as the institutions involved. The eye-catching title refers to a controversial case surrounding a shipwreck, desperate men and cannibalism, which Hutchinson uses to discuss whether necessity can, or should, be a defence under criminal law.
Madame Prosecutor by Carla del Ponte - Carla Del Ponte is the former chief prosecutor for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Madame Prosecutor is her story, a relentless and driven woman who is focused on bringing those responsible for genocide to justice. Del Ponte’s voice is centered on “confrontation” as the chapter headings in her work can attest. For those interested in international law, Del Ponte’s work can give hope to the disillusioned, those cynical of the impact of war crimes tribunals. Her quest for accountability is proof that one fiery and passionate individual can make a difference: Del Ponte’s work led to high profile arrests, including the “Butchers of Bosnia” - Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic - who, since the Bosnian War of 1992-1995, were two of the world’s most wanted men for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war, both arrested in the late 2000s/early 2010s.
Women Lawyers: Rewriting the Rules by Mona Harrington - Harrington interviewed over 100 female lawyers to create a fascinating tapestry of their thoughts and fears on the issues they believed were preventing them from progressing in their careers. The majority of the women interviewed were graduates of Harvard Law School, and Harrington – albeit briefly - does explore gender division and subsequent tension experienced by these women during their time at law school, which some readers may find interesting and even relatable. The results of Harrington’s interviews show these women feel they are on unsteady ground, tethered to the male establishment by their career choice, but also feel cut off and unconnected to the majority of women with whom they wish to belong. The scrutiny these women felt under included their representation in the media, the relationships they formed with their superiors and their choice of clothing in the office. Much like Kennedy in Eve was Framed, Harrington exposes the pressure placed on women in law, although this time in a commercial setting. For those hoping to read books to feed their sociological or feminist agendas, Harrington’s work offers itself up as an attractive choice.
Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman - Anonymous Lawyer is told in the form of a blog, with the protagonist – a sanctimonious lawyer at a firm in New York - having unflattering nicknames for his hated coworkers, gossiping and detailing his experiences from his own unique perspective. The derision with which the character treats his colleagues is part of what makes this book so comical. With no philosophical debates or harrowing trials, this book is a change of pace from the other more serious and thought-provoking works listed here. The only main plot point to be found is the attempts from readers of this blog to determine the identity of this anonymous lawyer. If you’re looking for a humorous account of a rude, narcissistic and genuinely unlikeable lawyer, who spends his time humiliating his interns and attempting to best his nemesis (“the Jerk”), then Anonymous Lawyer is for you.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Of all the books on this list, this may be the most well-known. Time and time again, this classic is recommended to law students. For many people, this book gives them less-than-enjoyable flashbacks to English classes in school, but despite this, To Kill a Mockingbird remains an iconic and outstanding piece of literature. Told in its characteristic brilliant style, the narrator is Scout, a young girl. We watch through Scout’s eyes as her father, a lawyer, takes on the case to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. The innocent and warm voice paints a picture of racial injustice in the segregated South of America and remains one of the best books this author has ever read.
To Kill a Mockingbird also has a sequel, Go Set a Watchman, less critically acclaimed, but yet another book to add to an ever-growing to-read list. Focused on the same theme of racial tensions and divides in the South, we see a grown Scout become disillusioned with her home and those she loved the most.
This House of Grief by Helen Garner - Is a haunting, non-fiction book centred on trial in Victoria, Australia. The defendant drove his car, containing his three children, into a dam, killing them while he escaped. Seven years of investigation and speculation followed before the trial, which was plastered across Australian headlines. Garner faithfully follows the trial of this seemingly ordinary, unambitious and loving father as the jury must decide – was this a tragic accident, or a calculated crime? Since the book is based on actual events, it is perhaps more unsettling than the other fictional accounts of crimes recorded in this list. Garner’s honest and thoughtful experience of the trial is a story of loss and a moving account of heart-breaking grief and the price of revenge.
Letters to a Law Student by Nicholas McBride – This book is set out as a series of “letters” from a fictional student asking McBride for help with a specific question as the focus for each chapter. The advice given is useful and accessible and given in McBride’s friendly voice, with the whole text being clearly set out in a direct and logical style, including how to take notes on a case, how to draft a personal statement, subject selection and how to choose between Oxford and Cambridge (the author having experienced both). If you’re an aspiring student, I would especially recommend reading this book, as it’s an invaluable step by step guide to becoming a law student, and repeatedly recommended for this list by almost everyone I spoke to, which is an achievement in itself!
The author would like to thank all of the fantastic women in academia and study for their invaluable suggestions that helped make this article possible.