How Soon Can I Start?
Suggestions for Incoming First-Years
Several members of the entering class have asked what they could read that would help them prepare for the start of a legal career. We polled the faculty for their thoughts, and their comments and recommendations follow. These are mere suggestions. Many professors think the best preparation for your first semester is to get plenty of rest. One faculty member, John Setear, concurred with that view, but had a slightly different take:
"I think that [a recommended reading list] is a bad idea.
The students don't need to read ahead before they get here.
They need to pay attention when they do get here. Providing
a semi-official reading list will just encourage the students
mistakenly to think that law school is like college, and that
what they need to do in law school is to master large numbers
of facts provided to them by others, rather than to think carefully
about small numbers of facts provided by others and even to
come up with hypothetical ‘facts’ of
With that caveat, several faculty members made recommendations you might find helpful.
Frederick Schauer's book "Thinking Like a Lawyer: A New Introduction to Legal Reasoning," is intended as a primer for current, incoming or potential law students and as a contribution to a long-running scholarly debate over the specific nature — and even the existence of — legal thought.
The book is now available in paperback.
Charles Barzun recommend Oliver Wendell Holmes' "The Common Law" (1888). (Ted White wrote an introduction to the John Harvard Library Edition.) "The book is mostly about dry cases from a long time ago which are filled with concepts whose meaning and significance are obscure," Barzun said. "But that is precisely why it will give [incoming students] a flavor of their first-year courses in contract, torts and property. Plus, it is a legal classic."
Molly Bishop Shadel's “Finding Your Voice in Law School: Mastering Classroom Cold Calls, Job Interviews, and Other Verbal Challenges” offers advice on everything from how to prepare for the Socratic Method in classes to how to be professional during summer jobs and beyond.
Edmund Kitch suggested reading "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine," by Michael Lewis, which details the build-up of the housing and credit bubble during the 2000s. Kitch's scholarly and teaching interests include agency, corporations, securities, antitrust, industrial and intellectual property, economic regulation, and legal and economic history.
Paul Stephan recommended "Super Strategies for Puzzles and Games" by Saul X. Levmore and Elizabeth Early Cook as a useful introduction to one kind of analytical thinking that lawyers and law students employ all the time.
Peter Low thought that Herbert Packer’s "The Limits of the Criminal Sanction," would be a good reading choice because it is an "accessible and provocative collection of ideas about criminal law, most of which will be encountered at some point in law school. Parts I and III are most relevant to the first year course in criminal law. Part II primarily relates to criminal procedure, a topic that comes later in the curriculum." Low's major teaching areas are criminal law and federal criminal law. He is also active in the federal courts and civil rights areas. He is the former University Provost.
George Rutherglen thought first of "Law's Empire" by Ronald Dworkin. "It's a little advanced," warned Rutherglen, "although very accessibly written. I would recommend it to students who have a background in philosophy or political theory." Rutherglen teaches admiralty, civil procedure, employment discrimination and professional responsibility.
John Monahan suggested Steven Pinker, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature." "The book is an excellent and highly readable account of how evolutionary thinking is transforming our understanding of human behavior," he said. When Monahan arrived at Virginia in 1980, he became the second non-lawyer on the Law School faculty. He teaches courses on social science in law.
Dan Ortiz recommended Jonathan Harr's "A Civil Action," saying that the book about a toxic tort case in Massachusetts "gives people a real feel for in-the-trenches litigation, shows how the court system works, and raises some ethical issues." He also recommended an article, Alex Beam's "Greed on Trial," which appeared in the June 2004 Atlantic (Vol. 293, No. 5). "It describes the Massachusetts trial of a claim by some lawyers for their attorney's fees in the tobacco settlement," Ortiz said. "It raises interesting ethical issues and also questions like what does the ‘public interest’ mean." Ortiz teaches constitutional law, administrative law, electoral law, civil procedure, and legal theory.
Rip Verkerke takes the title for the most recommendations, having provided two reading lists. "The first is derived from my Ethical Values Seminar that focuses on works that challenge reigning orthodoxy in various fields," he said Those books include:
Stephen Pinker, "The Blank Slate"
Peter Singer, "Animal Liberation"
Barbara Ehrenreich, "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America"
Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart, "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things"
Matthew Scully, "Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy"
Bjorn Lomborg, "The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World"
Patrick Michaels and Robert Balling, "The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air about Global Warming"
Martha Fineman, "The Neutered Mother, the Sexual Family and Other Twentieth Century Tragedies"
Verkerke specializes in employment and labor law. He said those interested in that field also would find it worthwhile to read one of the following books:
Paul Weiler, "Governing the Workplace: The Future of Labor and Employment Law"
James Atleson, "Values and Assumptions in American Labor Law"