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Postcards from the Fringes

Travails and dilemmas of a middle aged, non ranked law school student

An estimated 6-minute read
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I have always been in awe of the grand backdrop of leather bound books against which lawyers are often photographed. I know now that these are law reports and not read cover to cover from Chapter 1.

So when I randomly stumbled upon a blog post that talked about good reads for trial lawyers, I got searching for books that an Indian law student could find useful.

Much is being discussed all over about internships, research papers, moots etc. Law textbooks and reference books and journals usually go with late nights, deadlines and exam panic – and hardly make for inspiring reading and will anyway continue to be part of a lawyers life.

Books can be valuable companions in the metamorphosis from student to lawyer. They can inform, inspire, provide food for thought, shape attitudes and perceptions of the legal profession, develop key skills or spark an interest in a particular area. While some could be great one- time reads, there are many that could be an indispensable part of your law library.

I found a number of books on life at law schools in the US but hardly any on law in an Indian context. We don’t have books such as One L - The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School, and scores of ‘law school survival’ books, that I am not sure too many Indian law students can relate to. Besides, what are seniors for?

Some of the books recommended are ‘classics’ that could be read again from a different perspective, while others are ‘skill oriented’ and cut across cultures.

So I have compiled a ‘starter list’ after some googling, categorized ‘stage wise’. Of course, this could be read in any order depending on interest, but most first year students are not likely understand or appreciate Conflict of Laws or Economic Analysis of Law in the first year.

The Early Years

For me, the first year went by in a blur. Adjusting to subjects that are completely new including a new way of thinking and writing and adjusting to a new hectic lifestyle, does not leave much time for reading anything other than textbooks and notes and extra curricular activities.

The shock of barely scraping by in the first semester exams made me wish I had read books like Getting to Maybe – How to excel on Law School Exams and How To Do Your Best on Law School Exams.

Whether books such as the above really help ‘crack exams’ is highly debatable. Most of us get by with help from seniors, professors, 'trial and error' and living in the library. However it’s worth a read as it does give you some direction as to how to approach legal analysis and develop your own style of understanding concepts and writing.

Mid way through the LLB, I am pretty sure I need – The Law School Breakthrough – How to graduate in the Top 10% of your class even if you are not a first rate student. Though I haven’t read this yet, a quick Google Books preview reveals that the writer is spot on and the advice translates to the Indian scenario as well.

Since academic knowledge won’t alone make a lawyer, it’s good to get oriented to the ‘soft kills’ self-help books - How to win Friends and Influence people by Dale Carnegie, Influence - Robert Cialdini, How to Work a Room - Susan Roane, Emotional Intelligence and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series when it looks like nothing’s going your way.

A lot of our lives revolves arount writing - whther it's exams, papers, articles etc.

Stephen King’s ‘On Writing- A Memoir of the Craft’
is a must for every law student to understand the fundamentals of basic good writing.

A sample: "One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes."


The Elements of Legal Style and The Winning Brief by Bryan Garner, the editor-in-chief of Blacks Law Dictionary are widely acclaimed resources for developing a good legal writing style.

For remembering everything you have read or are going to read –‘Remember everything you read – The Evelyn Wood 7-day Speed Reading and Learning Program.’


Of course, along with all the stress, some fiction might be fun! Grisham’s The Litigators or The Street Lawyer, In the shadow of Law and many others may provide a much needed escape and entertainment (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-levine/legal-thrillers-trial-and_b_670856.html)

The mid –way ‘must reads’

This is about the time when one settles down a bit. This is also a time when t is easy to lose motivation as the end is still sometime away. Autobiographies and memoirs are good to do this year as most students would have done internships at trial court or high court advocates hence the ability to relate better to situations.

Roses in December- Justice MC Chagla. Chapter 2 ‘Life at the bar’ is a must read for all wannabe litigators. There’s also Before Memory Fades – Fali S Nariman, Neither Roses nor Thorns – Justice HR Khanna, My own Boswell – Justice M Hidyatullah, The Story of my Life – Clarence Darrow and many more. The main take away is that no one had it easy – even legal luminaries!

Another ‘must buy’ is Ward Farnsworth’s The Legal Analyst – A Toolkit for thinking about the Law. I'm halfway through and it’s worth every penny! John Delaney’s Learning Legal Reasoning and Logic for LawyersA guide to clear legal thinking also seem like good reads but are out of stock on most Indian e bookstores.

Final Year ‘must haves’

A whole lot of internships down and most of law school behind you, the end is near and it’s time to appreciate books about ‘real work’ in a law firm or trial sagas. There are vast amount of books for different areas of the law and interest and attempting to compile ‘best books list’ would indeed be a challenge here.

However a few names that are on many lists - The Trial of Oscar Wilde, The People v Clarence Darrow, The Due Process of Law - Lord Denning and all of Lord Denning’s books, Posner's ‘Economic Analysis of the Law’, and Epstein's ‘Simple Rules for a Complex World’, Rawls's A Theory of Justice and The New Way Things Work, by David Macauley for putting across complex concepts in an easy to understand way.

The Bombay Bar Association has some reviews and recommendations.

The Art of War deserves a special mention. I found many papers drawing comparisons between the strategy in the book and how to apply it to a trial. Interesting!

I didn’t come across too many books for transactional lawyers on ‘lists’ other than the academic books on investment, business and the joys of contract drafting. Books on negotiation, bargaining such as The Dealmakers by Paul Hoffman, Mergers and Acquisitions Deal-Makers: Building A Winning Team, Never Make The First Offer by Donald Dell, John Boswell, Competitive Persuasion: Why Dealmakers, Closers And Negotiators Rule The World by Lawrence Rosenberg and Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury should be good reads.

Of course, buying all of them could set you back quite a bit. However, most of these books should be available in your law school/ college library. If not, you can always talk your librarian into buying some of them!

So what’s on your bookshelf?

Photo by Mr T in DC

Tagged in: Good Reads
Legaloldie attempts to provide a different perspective from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’- 3 year LLB, unranked unknown law college, trying to make it against all odds.
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