Five books every lawyer should read

When I studied law, all students were required to do four non-law electives, which – as the name implies – had nothing to do with our legal studies.

The faintly insulting conceit on which this requirement was based was the concern that if exposed only to the study of the law, we would all come out cube-headed legal robots with no experience of life outside legal textbooks. 

This conclusion, ripe with bigotry and stereotype, took no account of our other life experiences – part-time jobs, relationships, sporting and other club ties – and thus was utterly flawed.

I, for example, was playing soccer, cricket and occasionally rugby league out at Ipswich, exposing me to life experiences that would have given my non-law lecturers heart attacks (playing cricket against the Wacol Prison team, inside Wacol Prison, certainly opened your eyes). The fact that our non-law electives were presented by career academics was an irony lost on them, but not us. 

My fellow students and I largely resented these electives, and the fact that they cut into the time we could apply to our real subjects. Looking back from the greater experience, although the reason for the electives was flawed, I can see that this was a missed opportunity by our law school. 

Exposing us to different thinking processes, and great minds from other disciplines would have been a great idea (especially if the subjects had no weight or assessment, and could simply have been exercised in broadening and stimulating the mind). Unfortunately, this was not going to happen in subjects like Consumer Chemistry and Australian National Government B. 

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There is merit in lawyers being exposed to ideas from other disciplines, although not because we would not otherwise turn into humans. That cross-fertilisation of ideas can sharpen the mind and make us better at what we do. 

So, in that spirit, here are five books I think every lawyer should read – not that everyone should, because that list is too broad, and incidentally would start with The Lord of the Rings

My list is below: 

  • The Demon-haunted World: science as a candle in the dark (Carl Sagan) – every lawyer needs critical thinking skills, and the quickest way to acquire them is through this, the quintessential text on critical thinking.
  • Leading (Sir Alex Ferguson) – Ferguson is the most successful manager in the history of the English Premier League, and his thoughts on leadership have been sought out by businesses, government and even Harvard. They translate well into the legal world too. 
  • The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (Christopher Hitchens) – controversial as ever, the late Hitchens takes the position of Devil’s Advocate in opposing the Sainthood of Mother Theresa. Hitchens was not a lawyer but this is a clinic on how to establish an argument and cut through hype and rhetoric. 
  • Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (Gilbert King– Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American appointed to the United States Supreme Court, and this book deals with one of his most important (and tragic) cases. A study in legal courage, and a cautionary tale in what happens when those sworn to uphold the rule of law fail in their duty. 
  • Out of my Comfort Zone: The Autobiography  (Steve Waugh) – proof of concept for this list, Waugh tells his life story and along the way shows how opening himself to new ideas and experiences – from reading Edward de Bono to touring the slums of India – helped him become Test Cricket’s greatest captain.  

What would be on your list? 

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5 Responses

  1. Shane, up to your usual standard but I especially love the subject matter this time.
    At the risk of lowering the tone, I still find the best courtroom drama on film as incredibly inspiring art.
    12 Angry Men (1957) still sets the standard. If you can forgive a little bit of melodrama and licence in the interests of cutting a long story short, the latest additions of The Trial of The Chicago Seven and Mercy are very good. My personal favourite is still Bridge of Spies which I think is Speilberg’s best work notwithstanding Schindler’s List.
    Which reminds me, in answer to your question…Schindler’s List…and To Kill a Mocking Bird.

  2. Those Tracks on My face – Barbara Holborow
    My Own Words – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
    Conduct Unbecoming – Steven Kumble
    Winning through Intimidation – Robert Ringer (planning and preparation is everything)
    Becoming – Michelle Obama

  3. May I suggest:

    1. Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership by James Kerr — What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life
    2. How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age by Theodore Schick Jr (chapter on logical fallacies is really useful)
    3. The Greatest Salesman in the Word by Og Mandino
    4. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
    5. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

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