Books going into law school
March 1, 2006 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to take the LSAT and apply to law school. What books should I read?

I've ordered One L and Pure Theory of Law from Powells. What else should I order? I have the Logic Games Bible and a couple of the Actual LSAT tests. I'm going underground for the next few months, and hopefully will emerge from the subterra in law school.
posted by four panels to Law & Government (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Read this.
posted by ND¢ at 2:03 PM on March 1, 2006 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like you're planning on studying for the LSAT on your own. If so, I highly recommend you take a review course. They tend to raise your score pretty significantly, which is always a good thing - a very good thing - when it comes to law school applications. Even if you think you're good at these kind of tests, you can almost always do better. I don't think books alone are enough, particularly since practice tests, in a test-like environment, are one of the best ways to prepare, and the prep classes administer those.
posted by Amizu at 2:12 PM on March 1, 2006

From my own experience, I think One L either blows the "horror" of law school out of proportion, or was an artifact of its times whose relevance should be quite low for a prospective law student in 2006.

I'm agnostic on the review course. I took one because I'm a slacker and will waste my time if I self-studied. But if you're able to study and practice for hours on end without goofing off, you may be better off studying on your own.
posted by subtle-t at 2:16 PM on March 1, 2006

As to useful texts, you may want to read The Path of the Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. for a legal-realist look at the practice of the law.
posted by subtle-t at 2:18 PM on March 1, 2006

You can't so much practice for the LSAT as you can practice for the style of test. It's not specific knowledge, it's all very general. If you're nervous taking standardized tests then a course might do you well.

OTOH, I know plently of people who are used to taking such tests (for example, taking the WAIS over and over again for practicing psychology students) who've done VERY well without anything more than a glance at one of the books.
posted by tiamat at 2:25 PM on March 1, 2006

Bramble Bush by Karl Llewellyn. Not an original recommendation, but it introduces you to the rationale behind the teaching of law. It's also written very densely, which will help introduce you to legal prose. It was recommended to me when I was at your stage; I think I finished it during school.

Good for you. Law school taught me how--but by no means what-- to think. IANAL, but I will always value the education.

Rarer, and very rewarding, is Writing from a Legal Perspective by George Gopen. Superb, and underappreciated. It was a secret weapon of mine in law school, written by my undergrad Shakespeare prof.

Other, less academic recommendations:

The Buffalo Creek Disaster
A Civil Action (book or movie).

You'll get enough to read. For big-firm law, no shortage of books exist--although one of the best is about the clients.
posted by Phred182 at 2:35 PM on March 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

As far as LSAT prep, I agree that a prep course is a good idea if you wouldn't study diligently on your own. Otherwise, the books are fine, and you should just take a ton of old exams for practice so there are no surprises.

Otherwise, I wouldn't really advise reading any law-related books before entering law school. You'll be up to your eyeballs in law reading once you start, so you should enjoy your pleasure reading until then.
posted by brain_drain at 2:37 PM on March 1, 2006

The Logic Games section is the one where, if you learn how to do all the different types of puzzles, you should be able to get a consistently perfect score on the section, as there's no ambiguity. The book you bought is useful.

I would suggest getting as many past tests as you can and doing them all. Start out doing a couple a week, untimed. You must be able to do a practice test under a time limit, consistently, before you write the real thing.

I also recommend Kaplan's LSAT 180 book as a primer on how to take the LSAT. Be cautious about their practice questions, though, because they aren't the real thing and occasionally have real errors in them that will throw off your game.

Be prepared to take the LSAT more than once. I will be writing it for my third time in June (my previous scores were 164 and 163, which would normally be good enough, but I was a slacker in school so my grades are mediocre and I want to try to get in without playing the 'mature student' card.)

Don't practice the day before your test; you'll need the rest. And unlike Amizu, I wouldn't recommend a prep course; a decent majority of the people who talk about such courses on the various law school discussion forums vouch that their money was not well-spent. It'll help some people, sure, but not most. And they aren't cheap.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:38 PM on March 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

I did not take a test prep course, and scored in the 94th percentile. I did use a book -- I believe it was called Peterson's Guide -- but my google searches don't turn up anything current (I took the test in 1991).

The nice thing about the Peterson's book was that it was more about the logic of the test itself than any specific subject matter. I think the author had been involved in constructing the test in the past, and was able to provide a number of important tips (i.e., X% of the questions are considered "easy" and Y% are considered "difficult", so moving on when you're stuck on a question makes sense, or the fact that every question can fairly easily be reduced to two possible answers -- stuff llike that). I found that very helpful.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:38 PM on March 1, 2006

Review the many Ask MeFi posts on law school and the LSAT.
posted by MeetMegan at 2:42 PM on March 1, 2006

I began my LSAT prep with a Kaplan course, circa 1993. I am not sure the course helped me at all. As I sat for the test the first time, it was an awful experience. I felt like from the first section that I was bombing. I felt strongly enought that I cancelled my scores immediately, so I never found out how I did.

I retook the test the next time it was given. For that test I just bought a Barron's book and worked with it an hour or so a night.

The practice really helped me improve my skills for the logic games section.

I ended up doing fairly well with a 161 (good enough to get me into the school I wanted).

Practice, practice, practice -- it will make a difference on the LSAT.
posted by szg8 at 2:43 PM on March 1, 2006

I'll be in your shoes in a couple years. (Wow...) Best of luck!

FWIW, and it's possibly too late for you, but one of my coworkers this summer was a law clerk and a rising 3L. She said the best LSAT prep she got was an undergrad argument/logic (possibly symbolic logic?) course. She said it was almost the same curriculum and materials her friends in Kaplan had. So if you've been there, done that, test-prep will likely be a waste of money compared to reading your class notes.

If not... the rest of the thread has you covered. Thanks for asking this, I'll have to refer back to it later.
posted by SuperNova at 2:46 PM on March 1, 2006

Do not read One-L. Don't do it. No good can come of it. It will just result in you spending the first semester of law school in sheer, insomniac terror. Your law school experience will not be like that, and it will not offer you any practical advice or preparation.

As far as the LSAT, take it a bajillion times, and make sure you're using recent exams. I believe in the late 90's they rejiggered the LSAT in subtle but significant ways. There are a few "10 actual LSAT" books, make sure you get the more recent ones, and take them under timed conditions.

Don't bother trying to read legal treatises intending to "get a head start" on the material. It will bore you to death, you have no idea what doctrines will be important to your professor, you will have no idea what is important about the material as applied in the real world, and you'll just come off as a huge dork. I would however suggest reading some light "legalish" material that will familiarize you with some of the lingo, and offer illustrations of how things actually work. Buffalo Creek is a good one. I enjoyed Contempt of Court. Storm Center is good too.

It's quite common these days to apply economic principles to the study of law. If you're not already familiar with that stuff, I'd suggest some kind of basic primer on economic concepts (externalities, risk-benefit, etc). The most obvious recommendation I can think of is Freakonomics, but you would probably benefit from something a bit more technical.

Oh yeah, don't take notes in Word, use Onenote.
posted by Brian James at 2:47 PM on March 1, 2006

Dammit. Meant to be:

Review the many Ask MeFi posts on law school and the LSAT.
posted by MeetMegan at 2:49 PM on March 1, 2006

Aside from the LSAT, if you want some good legal reading, I'd suggest Gideon's Trumpet by Anthony Lewis and A Civil Action by Johnathan Harr.
posted by szg8 at 2:50 PM on March 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

There's been a Civil Procedure rubric developed for teaching A Civil Action as civil practice. It'll help if you read it now as an observer and in Civ Pro as a student.
posted by MeetMegan at 2:57 PM on March 1, 2006

Reading books on the law will do nothing for you on the LSAT. Get a prep book and take a course. Brian James is exactly right about the redo. I took it in '87 or '88 and in 2001. In the eighties, my score had two digits in it. In the ninties it had three. My eighties score was significantly better, so they changed it all around. They added more logic games. Buy the dedicated book and take the course.

As for prep for law school itself, read The Road to the Law. Order it at the URL I gave you. That's how much they will charge you. I did it. I don't understand where it links, but they never asked any questions and they only charged me $1.88 for a brand new copy. No clue why.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:00 PM on March 1, 2006

I scored 160 pre-Kaplan and 168 post-Kaplan. It's been about 12 years but I think most of my gain was in the logic games. The Kaplan instructor I had was very good. I don't know that they all are.
posted by Carbolic at 3:01 PM on March 1, 2006

Also, to clarify, I did not put all those links up there to say that you didn't check everything out before posting, rather, I really think you should read them as prep for the LSAT and law school.
posted by MeetMegan at 3:01 PM on March 1, 2006

The market now sucks, however, and you should really think hard before investing the cash.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:02 PM on March 1, 2006

Also, it does not matter if you "come off as a huge dork." This is a profession and people will be relying on you for important aspects of their lives. Focus on getting it right all of the time.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:04 PM on March 1, 2006

Cancel the order for Pure Theory of The Law. One glance at it tells me its a translation of a German philosophy text. That will have exactly zero use for you.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:09 PM on March 1, 2006

Try this: http://www.lawschooldiscussion.org/prelaw/
It's a great place to obsess (or just browse the resources, if you're less neurotic).
posted by AwkwardPause at 3:16 PM on March 1, 2006

Read this: The Truth About the Billable Hour.
posted by gd779 at 5:13 PM on March 1, 2006


From personal experience, I can tell you that all the LSAT prep books are garbage. The writing and reasoning are dreadful. The harder you think about the questions, the fuzzier and more ambiguous they get.

On the actual LSAT, the questions are very carefully written. The harder you think, the clearer they get.

The only prep material worth getting is actual old LSATs.

The prep courses promise to raise your LSAT score, and they probably do, mostly by running you through old LSATs. It's a lot of money, but can help you feel better about taking the test.

The books recommended above are great, but I don't think they will help you on the LSAT.

I had more fun in law school than any time in my life. My reaction was "Why didn't somebody tell me about this before?" It tremendously improved my thinking and reasoning.

When you get out of law school, it's entirely different. The "law" that you've learned recedes into the background, and your work is all about facts. That and keeping clients happy. And making a living. You learn nothing about this in law school. You live the life of the mind in law school, but hardly at all as a lawyer.

You need to be an excellent writer. You don't learn this by reading reading philosophical treatises. You learn it by reading great literature, not books about the law. Good legal writing is simply good writing. The moment you start "writing like a lawyer," you know you've gone off track.

You have an audience of one: the particular judge in this particular case. There are almost always legal principles that can be applied, or not applied, to decide a case either way. Your goal is to present the facts so that they favor you, so that the judge will chose the legal theory that lets you win.

In representing your client, you naturally take the client's side, but you must write to seem neutral -- right down the middle. If you're obviously adversarial, the best thing the judge can think is, "Wow, that's a great adversarial presentation. I wonder how the other side will answer it." I'd much rather have the judge read my papers and think, "Of course. That's right down the middle. How could anyone think anything different."

You pull out the legally significant facts, which satisfy the legal rule you want the judge to apply. Then, present them in the order that the rule calls for, and as a sympathetic story. Then, it's like picking off targets in a shooting gallery, plugging the facts into the legal rule.

Finally, being a lawyer is often unpleasant. You'll find constant lying and taking unfair advantage, from both clients and other lawyers. You have to control the situation -- be the Alpha Gorilla. If that's not who you are or want to be, think again about being a lawyer.
posted by KRS at 6:01 PM on March 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Do NOT read any of the "how to do well at law school" books. They are all full of crap. At best, these books and other review materials try to bring you up from below the curve to at the curve. That's like asking whether you want to be hit in the head with a hammer six times, or seven times.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:14 PM on March 1, 2006

I did well on the LSAT using Mastering the LSAT and taking the practice tests that are available from LSDAS.

I wouldn't read any of the books about law school. I made the mistake of reading Planet Law School before I started and it freaked the hell out of me. The only valuable information I got from it was LEEWS (Legal Exam Essay Writing Strategy) which I considered a very good investment and helped me considerably my first semester.
posted by delosic at 6:31 PM on March 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

re: LSAT: I think you should take a practice test and see how you do. If you get a 165ish or better, you can almost certainly get away with just studying on your own to get your best LSAT score. At that level you pretty much "get" the material, so you're working for speed and familiarity. Be sure to time yourself and really understand the questions you do wrong. And only work out of the actual old LSATs, the books seem by and large useless.
If you are not scoring in the 165+ level you might have some fundamental skills that could be taught, in which case a course might be useful.

I wish I could justify going to law school, which sounds like a fucking blast, but man being a lawyer sounds like sheer hell. From what I can tell you work like a dog, the pay might overall be good but the hourly sucks. Oh well, if I ever win the lottery...
posted by ch1x0r at 8:06 PM on March 1, 2006

I go to Cornell Law School. I practiced only with the official LSATs, generally without timing myself. I didn't take a course. The only reason I've ever heard for spending hundreds of dollars on a course is that it will motivate you to do the work. If getting a good LSAT score isn't enough motivation on its own, you should ask yourself whether getting good grades will be enough motivation for you to spend hours a day studying once you're in law school.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:57 PM on March 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Take old LSAT tests, and take them seriously when you do. Judge your scores against the 25-75% scores at the schools you'd like to attend, as listed in the US News and World Reports guide to law school admissions. That will be a good indicator of whether you will get accepted or not.

That, and enjoy your last few breaths of freedom.

Also, if you are entering law school on the assumption that it is a "fucking blast" as one commenter described it, I strongly suggest you rethink your options. If you don't a) go to an elite school, b) have a job at a law firm already, or c) have serious legal-related work experience, it's a really tough market right now. And the entering classes, at least at my school, have been consistently larger each year.

Good luck. Also, it seems a little late to take the LSAT and attend law school next fall. Or do you mean in 2007?
posted by MrZero at 10:06 PM on March 1, 2006

Don't ask for advice here: www.xoxohth.com.
posted by Falconetti at 4:02 AM on March 2, 2006

I'm a 4th year associate at a corporate litigation boutique, for whatever that's worth to you...

I strongly, strongly second ND¢'s advice on the Dahlia Lithwick article above. Nothing I've ever read captures the psychological transformation that occurs in law school as accurately as she does in that short article. It has the curious power to either confirm and reinforce your desire to be a lawyer, or clarify for you the reasons why you should try something else. (I would also generally recommend anything Lithwick writes for her Slate.com column -- she's as good as it gets for an easy-to-read survey of current constitutional issues.)

I would also echo the caution expressed re: One L. It's a little alarmist, and you don't need any extra anxiety going into your 1L year. Trust me, your classmates and profs will supply all the external motivation you need. Maybe read it on a week of vacation taken after your last 1L exams.

Finally, I would recommend A Civil Action. I agree with the poster above who said that being a lawyer is (in many ways) about being a good writer. A Civil Action is a great example of both great writing, and of modern civil litigation motion practice. My CivPro professor literally used the book as a case study throughout our class, and I have a case right now that is alarmingly similar to the facts of the book... so I think it could be helpful to you in a number of ways. Plus, it's just good old fashioned pleasure reading -- something you'll have precious little time or energy for in the next 3 years.
posted by fearless_yakov at 7:02 AM on March 2, 2006

IAAL, and I used to teach the LSAT prep course for Kaplan, so I have a pretty good perspective. A lot of what was said above is true: if you're motivated, no need to take the class - buy the books and practice, practice, practice. Otherwise shell out for the course - doing well on the LSAT and getting into a better law school is worth the $1000 (lawyers are snobs, and are really into where you went to law school).

Something that hasn't been said yet - the LSAC averages your scores (rather than taking the highest or most recent score), so taking the LSAT over and over again (until you presumably get your dream score) isn't good advice. If you do crappy the first time, your second score will be averaged with that score, bringing it down. A lot of law schools will look at your higher score if you make a significant jump (i.e. more than 6-7 percentage points), but the ultimate number that they get from the LSAC is the averaged score. I cannot emphasize how important this is - don't just take the test and hope that you'll do well - take at least one practice test first!!!
posted by elquien at 8:34 AM on March 2, 2006

Something that hasn't been said yet - the LSAC averages your scores (rather than taking the highest or most recent score), so taking the LSAT over and over again (until you presumably get your dream score) isn't good advice.

LSAC doesn't average your scores; the schools do (or don't), and it depends on where you apply. Most Canadian schools (including the top two in the country, UVic and Osgoode), for example, take only the highest score in the last six years (and UMan, in particular, asks specifically for which writing of the test you wish them to poll for your score). I'm looking at UBC, UMan and USask, all of which take only your top score.

Most US schools do take an average, but not all of them, so taking the test over and over again is only not good advice if you plan to apply to the former, rather than the latter.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:21 AM on March 2, 2006

I should have been more clear - the LSAC does report the separate scores, but the main score that it reports to schools is the averaged score (and its webpage recommends to schools that they look at the averaged score, as it more accurately reflects a student's abilities). Whether or not a school takes all of the scores into consideration is its own prerogative. I was just trying to point out that the LSAC doesn't only report your highest score, like the SAT or ACT boards do.
posted by elquien at 11:32 AM on March 2, 2006

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