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The Oracle

What should I read over summer?

updated on 02 August 2022

Dear Oracle

I want to talk about law-related books in my personal statement for university applications. What are your favourite legal books to add to my summer reading list?

The Oracle replies

Reading time: four minutes

Many students will use quotes and thoughts about books as an introduction to why they want to study law in their personal statement. Alternatively, you may just want to dip your toe in the legal world and read some lighter legal texts than academia could provide. Whatever your motive, there are some great law-themed books to try. They will certainly be a bit more educational than your average beach read, but no less entertaining…

Is Eating People Wrong?: Great Legal Cases and How they Shaped the World by Allan C. Hutchinson

In common law jurisdictions such as England and Wales, case law has a profound effect on shaping the interpretation and application of statutes. This results in law students having to spend many an hour pouring over cases which may be tens, if not hundreds, of years old (Donoghue v Stevenson, I’m looking at you). But this makes it easy to forget the fact that these cases were real – they happened to real people, with real lives, and had real impacts. Hutchinson’s work helps to address this issue and does an excellent job of bringing some of the most famous cases from the UK, Australia and the US to life as well as showing their wider impact on the legal system.

Just Law by Helena Kennedy

Nowadays the conversation about the role to be played by the state in individuals’ lives underlies many other debates of the day, including those about privacy rights, rights to justice and the right to freedom. This is likely to continue, and it will be an area of law set to grow hugely because of this. Baroness Kennedy maps the development of justice and the interaction between the state and its citizens to further her argument that human rights have gradually been eroded and reframed by successive governments as our society has developed. An interesting read by an acclaimed figure of the legal world; this book is not to be missed.

You can read more about a legal career in civil liberties and human rights with this Practice Area Profile.

Letters to a Law Student: A guide to studying law at university by Nicholas McBride

No list of books for law students would be complete without this one. Verging on biblical status for prospective law students, it will live up to your expectations and is well worth a read.

The Secret Barrister books

The first of the books penned by the Secret Barrister, The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken achieved critical acclaim and made shockwaves both within and outside of the legal sphere. Is it the most light-hearted of reads for the beach? No, probably not. But knowledge is power, and this – along with the Secret Barrister’s other works, Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies and Nothing But The Truth: A Memoir – will certainly educate you about the reality facing the legal system in the UK today.

Want to learn more about what life as a barrister is like? Click here to learn more.

The Pink Line: The World's Queer Frontiers by Mark Gevisser

People outside of the legal sphere may assume that the title of lawyer gives you some sort of special omniscience (along with an ego, most likely), but the reality is it doesn’t. Unless a weirdly niche knowledge of the Companies Act 2006 counts! Everyone has blind spots and privilege relative to others, so books such as this are excellent in educating everyone about the issues faced by other people (or even ourselves). This particular book documents the development of queer rights across the world, so may be especially interesting if you’re considering a career in human rights law. Even if you’re not, it’s certainly well worth a read.

For more on diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, check out our Diversity Hub, sponsored by Gowling WLG (UK) LLP.

In Black and White: A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System by Alexandra Wilson

Similar to the previous suggestion, this is an excellent exposé of how the justice system is all too often experienced by lesser privileged groups. Again, this won’t prove to be the cheeriest of reads, but education is the first step in changing the legal system for the better. Known as the Essex Barrister on Twitter, Alexandra Wilson tells her experiences in a way that’s compelling and set to inspire change.

Bethany Barrett (she/her) is an LCN blogger, LPC student and future trainee solicitor at Addleshaw Goddard