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5 books for future law students

Leaving behind a career in marketing, Samuel March enrolled on the GDL at our Moorgate campus in 2018 and will head back in September 2019 to study his BPC. With 37% of working British adults saying their job is not making a meaningful contribution to the world it’s unsurprising that many look to the law when searching for a fulfilling career change.

By Editorial Team. Published 15 July 2019. Last updated 11 January 2023.

We caught up with Sam to discuss his career change from marketing to studying law, and the five best books about law aspiring legal students should be reading to prepare themselves for the journey ahead.

Quitting my old job to retrain as a lawyer has been an incredible journey. Law is the most engaging subject I have studied, but it’s a daunting field to step into. When I first enrolled on the GDL I had never read a judgement and didn’t know what a “pupillage” was (if you’re still at that stage and looking to do your BPTC, get to grips with Bar-related terminology now).

The GDL is hard work; you have 9 months to cover the core areas of law. It’s a whirlwind of textbooks, lectures, workshops, essays, revision and exams. If you have your hopes set on securing a training contract or pupillage early, then you’ll also be expected to fit in work placements, court visits, networking, volunteering, paralegal work, scholarship applications, competitions, publications and ultimately pupillage (or training contract) applications. I will cover course and exam tips and extra-curricular requirements in later posts.  

Time flies by once the course starts, so come prepared. Everything you strictly need to know for the exams will be clearly explained in your textbooks, but you won’t get these until you start the course. In the meantime, here are five easily readable and enjoyable books that will introduce you to the skills you need, the content you’ll study, the career you’re embarking on, and why it all matters. If you’re thinking of starting the course in September, pack these for your summer holidays.

Letters to a Law Student - Nicholas J McBride

If you know any lawyers, they may already have recommended this book. McBride (a Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge) will fill the mentor gap until you get here and enrol on The University of Law’s mentorship program.

Through a series of letters, McBride walks you through the process of studying law. His language is accessible, engaging, thoughtful and human. It’s really aimed at teens preparing for their LLB, but almost all of McBride’s advice is equally relevant to GDL students. Read it cover to cover before you start, keep it nearby, and refer back to when you start the course.

What About the Law? - Catherine Barnard, Janet O'Sullivan and Graham Virgo

If you enjoy this book, then you will love studying law. The authors provide an easy introduction to each core module. You’ll begin to appreciate how the outcome of one case establishes the law for all future cases.

Virgo opens with the case of R. v Brown (trust me…this one will stay with you.)  It is a case about a (fully consensual) BDSM group who did things to one another which were, shall we say, not for the faint of heart. In this case, the court ruled that it is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly inflict actual bodily harm (ABH) or cut another person for sexual gratification, even if they consent.  Christian Grey wannabes, beware; the threshold for ABH is low.

Moving onto Contract Law, O’Sullivan explains that every time you buy anything you form a contract. The basic principles of contract law are then explored with reference to the case of Ruxley v Forsyth: a dispute between a homeowner and a contractor over the depth of a swimming pool. A seemingly trivial case that raised a question so important that every UK lawyer must study it to this day. In this case-by-case manner, the authors also introduce you to the basic principles underlying Tort, EU, Land, Equity and Public Law.

Is Eating People Wrong? Great Legal Cases and How They Shaped the World - Allan Hutchinson

Hungry for more? Sink your teeth into Hutchinson’s weird and wonderful collection of great legal cases. The title is a reference to the grim case of R. v Dudley & Stephens. Hutchinson recounts the tale of the ill-fated crew of The Mignonette, and a case that established that if you kill and eat another person you are guilty of murder, even if it’s your only chance of survival.

This book may be your first encounter with the case of Donoghue v Stephenson, but it certainly won’t be your last: Hutchinson will regale you with the full story of poor Mrs Donoghue, a bottle of ginger beer, a dead snail, and a lawsuit that established the core principle in any negligence claim. It is well worth being familiar with some of these textbook cases before you start. This book is one of the must-read books for law students to learn about the great legal cases. 

Stories of the Law and How it's Broken  - The Secret Barrister

I recommend this book to anyone, law student or not; but you must read it if you are considering criminal law. The anonymous blogging phenomenon has come to embody the voice of the junior Criminal Bar.

The Secret Barrister tells the stories of those people the law has failed to protect. Victims’ cases are dropped without justice and innocent defendants have their lives ruined or are bankrupted paying legal fees for which they are never compensated.

It’s a pithy, animated and thought-provoking read.

The Rule of Law – Tom Bingham

The “Rule of Law” is a stock phrase in law and politics, but it’s not always well understood. If you’re going to work in law, you will need to develop your own understanding of exactly what it means. Of the many attempts to define it, Bingham (the former Senior Law Lord) offers perhaps the best place to start. He writes in layman’s terms: his work is engaging and accessible, even if you’ve never studied law.

Bingham explains that the “Rule of Law” is a principle of the UK’s unwritten constitution. It means that politicians must govern within their powers, that the law should apply equally to all and that the law should be understandable and certain. He lays out 8 principles that he considers to be vital to the rule of law. He then discusses how these principles are simultaneously pillars of modern democratic societies, yet occasionally conflict with the will of the majority. Reading this will mean you start the Public Law module one step ahead of the class.

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