Books to Read Before Law School – an Essential Summer Reading List

This book list was curated to offer those on the cusp of law school a summer reading list packed with important insights, presented in a manner that would not put them to sleep. It turned out to have something for everyone. Whether you prefer e-books or the old fashion flipping of pages, here are five must-reads for the summer months…

Bob Joseph, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality (Canada: Raincoast Books, 2018) ISBN: 9780995266520

Why read it this summer?

Because, as Misha Munim puts it, “this book is an essential read for all. Bob Joseph gives us tremendous insight into how the Indian Act has been used as a tool of oppression towards Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and enlightens us of the responsibility we all bear to advance Truth and Reconciliation.” Misha is a Human Rights Lawyer by training and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Consultant at Munim Consulting. She has identified a key message for aspiring legal scholars as they read this modern-day masterpiece.

Action Calls No. 50-52 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada seek equity in the legal system for Indigenous Peoples. Joseph captures why something so natural and obvious had to even be sought after in the first place; it is important that tomorrow’s legal leaders understand this.

If there is one trait I could embed into all who start law school, it would be humility. With that in mind, I feel a further takeaway offered here is the realization that there are things you do not know. I have yet to come across anyone previously aware of all 21 “things” Bob reveals in his book. The fact that it is all grounded in Canadian law presents a lesson for those readying themselves for legal study. The field of law is full of ego, including held by some who do not know what they are talking about. Applying this lesson in humility and furthering their understanding of responsibility for reconciliation will situate law students well.

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018)  ISBN: 9780807047415

Why read it this summer?

Because you do not want to be the only one in law school who hasn’t!

In this New York Times Best Seller, DiAngelo offers insight into why it is so hard to address sensitive subject matter. This supports the development of the real skills essential to succeed in contemporary legal practice; this book offers a solid foundation for understanding how and why to nurture them.

Celebrated Métis Scholar, Andrea Menard, finds that: “amid a legal landscape often bereft of thorough scrutiny into systemic discrimination, White Fragility emerges as a powerful tool to utilize against those who are in entrenched positions of power and privilege, enjoying the status quo without any need for self-examination, nor any fear of negative consequences resulting from their inactions.”

Indeed. In Chapter 11, tactics are called out which serve to reinforce systemic bias. These include inaction, along with the use of intimidation and dominance. It will be helpful for law students to learn about and identify these tactics, recognize who they hurt and develop skills to nimbly avoid getting trapped by them.

Complementing the insights offered by Bob Joseph, DiAngelo reminds us of the harm that comes when attention is diverted away from where it is needed. The sentiment is well captured by artist Amii James in My Legs (2020).

While White Fragility is American, a quote shared on page 77 hits too close to home…

“I’m not racist; I’m from Canada.”

That should surely fire up anyone preparing to go to law school with plans of making a difference.

If the message does not resonate, check out the critically acclaimed mini-series Little Bird and then come back here to re-visit this. (It just so happens that the main character in Little Bird, Behzig, is a law student.)

Douglas Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991) ISBN: 0-312-05436-X

Why read it this summer?

Read on to find out!

Packed with fun references to yesteryear – such as the mention of bicycle couriers – Coupland has much to offer those preparing for the study of law. From work-life balance considerations, such as the notion that human beings are not designed to have free time (page 23, 143), to general observations about careers in law (page 26, 135), there are multi-level insights offered in this book, written before most law students were born.

While a lighter read than most of what will be skimmed in law school, even the Contents page offers legitimate, practical insight appliable to legal study…

Quit Recycling the Past

Purchased Experiences Don’t Count

Define Normal

Another relevant piece surrounds the way the stories told within the book are presented. An aspiring law student could challenge themselves to summarize a case as succinctly and with the captivation Claire commands of her audience in Generation X.

I must admit though, none of the above offers the real reason this book is on my list. That would be to give soon-to-be law students a glimpse into what the world looked like when the senior associates they will encounter practicing in the field today were in their shoes; you know, before they sold out. While that is stated tongue in cheek, it is nonetheless interesting to consider the cycle, as many of the life hurdles presented circa 1991 still apply today.

To law students, my hope is that Douglas Coupland will remind you that pursuing this field of study need not consume every fibre of your being. You can amount to more than the sum of your tuition, textbooks and student debt!

Richard Susskind, Online Courts and the Future of Justice (United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2021) ISBN: 9780192849304

Why read it this summer?

Cryptotechnophobia is defined in Generation X to mean “the secret belief that technology is more of a menace than a boom”. The sentiment had traction when Susskind’s book about online courts was first released in 2019. Not so much anymore!

Online Dispute Resolution expert, Colm Brannigan, says: “with the recent, seemingly overnight emergence of ChatGPT into the spotlight, it is even clearer that lawyers must add technological competence to their toolbox. Online Courts and The Future of Justice is one of those books you just should read, even if you do not have to. It is not a pessimistic view of the future, but it is a different future; the ability to embrace technology and adapt to continuous change is its key, as technology is both transformational and disruptive.”

Susskind offers views on the principles of justice, rule of law and purpose of the courts. Also included are practical demonstrations, local shout-outs and some interesting thoughts about Artificial Intelligence – an object in the mirror that is closer than it appeared when the topic was written about here.

Recent research conducted by the ADR Institute of Ontario and Humber College supports the notion that online justice delivery is here to stay. I think of it as I do contactless food delivery. Few are inclined to step back from the convenience and efficiency we have now grown accustomed to.

Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham (United States of America: Random House, 1960) ISBN: 9780394800165

Speaking of food, do not let the title or, for that matter, the age recommendation of this selection fool you!

Why read it this summer?

50 words.

The entire tale is told using just 50 words.

What does this offer to someone embarking upon law school? Everything!

While law students can expect to encounter their fair share of Latin during the course of their studies – for reasons I fail to grasp – I beg them to keep in mind all that is accomplished here with 50 simple, everyday words.

For generations, the push in law was toward fancy words. The kinds of words only known to academics and rappers. For everyone else, the message was lost. The words were meaningless.

Believe it or not, everything from legislation to court decisions will one day be presented in terms people actually understand! The future of the law is in plain language.

If law students are lucky, they will get the chance to learn from legal communication specialist Caroline Mandell on their learning journey. Mandell teaches you to think like a lawyer, and to write for your reader. She encourages legal writers of all sorts to consider the needs, and the expectations, of those who will read what they write. This involves embracing plain language – it makes all the difference.

There you have it, five sizzling reads to keep you company over the hot summer months, whether you are preparing for law school come fall, or otherwise. Enjoy!

Public Service Announcement: All of these books are available at your local public library.

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