Guest post: Advice from a recent Law graduate (Part two)

This is the second of Jack Williams’s guest posts (the first one is here). In this post, Jack suggests some fiction books that aspiring Law students might ­want to read, and offers some further thoughts on what to expect of a Law degree course.

You may not have expected to find fiction amongst your suggested reading (and you certainly won’t once you start the Law degree itself!), but there are two excellent novels which you may wish to read on a rainy day (there might be many this summer by the looks of it!) or on any summer travels you may have planned. These novels obviously have the Law as their backdrop and will get you really thinking about legal issues, albeit via a more informal approach perhaps.

The first is The Trial by Franz Kafka. This is the story of a man unexpectedly arrested and then prosecuted by an inaccessible authority for a crime which is never revealed or explained to him – he simply does not know what he has done wrong, if anything, nor how to go about defending himself (Against what? one might reasonably question). This should get you thinking about all sorts of constitutional and justice-based questions: Is this just? What rights should citizens have to know the case against them? Why? What authority does the state have to do this, if any? Are there individual rights which can’t, or shouldn’t, be removed by the state? What makes a fair trial? Are the Law and morality separate things? What does it mean if the Law as written (de jure) and the Law as in practice (de facto) are different? These sorts of questions will feature heavily in Constitutional, Administrative and Jurisprudence modules in a Law degree. Interested and keen readers might like to do some further reading into what is called the Rule of Law – a good place to start might be Lon Fuller’s The Morality of Law (just chapter two would suffice) or Lord Bingham’s The Rule of Law.

The second novel is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. The backdrop for the whole story is the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, about fallouts regarding a will. The novel is a long one and predominantly about the developing relationships between the characters themselves, but your focus for thought should be the litigation itself. The case has consumed many, many years of preparation and trial, plus between £60,000 and £70,000 in court costs. This should get you thinking. Is justice delayed, justice denied? What are the advantages (precedent, public nature etc) and disadvantages (costs, time etc) of a court-based system? Is there another way to do justice outside the courts such as ‘consensual justice’ like mediation or arbitration? Does the high cost of cost proceedings mean that some people don’t really have access to justice? What about lawyers: what role do they play – is the scheming Tulkinghorn the norm, or a rogue I should aim not to be like? These sorts of questions will feature heavily in the Civil Procedure module during your Law degree. If you are interested in reading more about these areas, I would suggest Hazel Genn’s 2008 Hamlyn Lectures, Judging Civil Justice (chapters one to three would suffice).

Final comments

A Law degree is formed of a multitude of subjects (at Cambridge, for example, students usually study 14 separate papers). One common mistake – because it features some much in the media, films, and so on – is to think of Law as predominantly Criminal Law, but in fact this is just one module. By reading some of the books I’ve suggested in this post and in my earlier post, you will soon be able to distinguish between different areas of Law and then begin to see the plethora of various areas of Law which exist.

Another common mistake would be to think of Law as just a set of rules which, during your Law degree studies, you simply have to learn by rote. Again, by reading the above suggestions, you will soon discover that this is wrong: the Law is always complex, sometimes inconsistent, infrequently unstable and at other times completely unknown! There are always policy debates – Is ‘X’ Law satisfactory? What are its policy goals? Does it need reforming? What are the alternatives? I hope this blog, and its recommended reading, have helped to start you thinking about these sorts of questions which, in turn, I hope have academically excited and interested you. If so, studying for a Law degree will be deeply rewarding.

The author of this guest post, Jack Williams, studied Law at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, graduating in summer 2012. For other reading suggestions, see this page

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