This article is written by Anirudh Vats, 2nd year student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala. This article will provide a comprehensive list to get you interested in the literature of the law, and provide much needed respite from the dull statutes and journals a law student usually spends his time reading.
As a law student, constantly reading statues, judgements and journals can get dull and tedious. One way to get away from this is to read legal literature. Many a book has been written on legal issues, but some stand out more than others.
It is also important to read the literature of law because while statutes and bare acts tell us what law is, literature tells us the soul of law. Literature interprets law and shed light on how law is experienced by the common man, and what the popular perception of law is.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
This is one of the classics in legal literature. A simple, endearing story about a father-daughter relationship, and how the practise of racism can derail a functioning society.
This book is genuinely a straight-forward story about growing up and living in a little Alabama town during the Great Depression. It has a warmth and effortlessness to it that I think resounds with a great deal of readers.
Notwithstanding how enjoyable reading the story is, this book is both amazingly and deceptively incredible in its discussion of race, resilience and human conventionality.
During his discourse to the jury at the climactic part in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch shows a key conflict between the two powers in strife during the rape trial—the law and the code. Tom Robinson, he contends, has overstepped no law, however his informer Mayella Ewell has disregarded the code by making advances to a black man:
“She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with. … No code mattered to her before she broke it, but it came crashing down on her afterward.”
The point Atticus contends is that Tom Robinson, a dark man accused of assaulting a white lady, must be made a decision on the basis of the law, yet he knows on account of his life in Maycomb society that the jury will pass judgment on the respondent as indicated by the code of that society.
Anonymous Lawyer – Jeremy Blachman
Anonymous Lawyer describes the encounters of a dynamic legal counselor who tries to move toward becoming the administrator of his firm. His desire for power has no limits and there is no price he won’t pay to accomplish his objectives. Needless to say, there are a few deterrents that he has to defeat on his approach to extreme achievement, including an unpleasant rival and a spouse who spends his cash as quick as he earns it. Not only is this book enjoyable to read and engaging, it provides a unique perspective towards the inner workings of the big law firms in the legal industry.
In this character Jeremy Blachman conveys a revealing, pertinent satire on the predator-like, soulless lawyer as we know them from popular culture. In so doing he elucidates some of the truth, along with good humour, and reminds us that the legal profession, like so many others, is riling from a century of evolution.
Bleak House – Charles Dickens
To many, Bleak House is Dickens’ most noteworthy novel, it is clearly one of the essayist’s most convincing and engaging works. It manages the subjects of misfortune, law, social class, mystery, and legacy, as well as the impact the procedure of law has on customers and their organizations. Despite the fact that questions of the law are often just a backdrop to the focal plot, the majority of the fundamental characters are associated with these cases somehow and endure shockingly subsequently.
Along with exploring emotional themes like the search for love and the importance of passion, it also explains the interface of people’s personal lives and their dealings with law.
It is a great insight into how law is actually experienced by people and how it shapes and controls their lives.
The Firm – John Grisham
The Firm is a legal thriller by John Grisham. It follows the story of Mitchell McDeere, a successful lawyer who was raised in the coal-mining region of rural Kentucky, and worked hard to pave his way out of menial labour and poverty.
The story is one of the infamous legal thrillers by John Grisham in which a young, idealistic lawyer gets tied up with the mafia and tries to expose the link between the legal and the criminal world.
While it is essentially a thriller, designed to hook you to the story and make you finish it, it also exposes how sometimes administrative authorities and their corrupt practises allow crime and evil to persist in society.
It also paints an optimistic picture of an idealistic lawyer going against the system in search of higher principles of justice, and this trope can be a major source of inspiration for an aspiring lawyer.
The Trial – Franz Kafka
This Law book deals with Kafka’s vision of law. A law is expected to be fair and just. And if it is not, it is expected that we work in unison to overturn and rectify that law.
But Kafka’s vision is: Law is abstract and subjective. Law talks about equality and justice. But where in the world does law actually exhibit these values and principles?
Kafka’s views throughout this novel make it allegory as it does not point towards a specific law, but THE LAW in general. The novel also shows the corruption and lust of the judges in Courts.
The basic contention of Kafka is that there is a disjunction between the Idealism of Law and how it is actually manifested in society. He talks about the arbitrariness of law and how it can become a tool for oppression under totalitarian and even supposedly free societies.
This is easily one of the classics when it comes to legal literature and should be considered a rite of passage for anyone who cares about jurisprudence, legal idealism and the social realities under which law operates.
Kafka paints a bleak picture of how law is interpreted. The charges put on the protagonist of the story are not revealed to the reader or to him. The authorities prosecuting him are portrayed as totalitarian and inaccessible.
This extreme situation is an extrapolation of the situations we experience in our supposed free societies and warns us about what we could turn into. It is somewhat dystopian, but also tries to capture the essence of law and give it an ideal to aspire to, not just in principle, but also in action.
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishment centers around the psychological anguish and mental predicaments of Rodion Raskolnikov, a poor ex-student in Saint Petersburg who plans an arrangement to murder a corrupt pawnbroker for her cash. Prior to the slaughtering, Raskolnikov resolves that with the cash he could free himself from neediness and proceed to perform incredible benevolent deeds which will atone for the crime that he has committed. Be that as it may, when it is done he winds up riddled with perplexity, doubt, and devastated with the realization of what he has done. His ethical defenses deteriorate totally as he battles with blame and self-hatred and faces the consequences of his actions on his life.
Why should a lawyer read Crime and Punishment?
Because it raises philosophical questions which a lawyer has to answer on a regular basis in his/her profession. Crime and punishment may not give you practical knowledge about your daily existence as a lawyer, but will arm you with the philosophical questions you need to tackle the moral and ethical problems and dilemmas any lawyer is bound to face in his profession.
It’s not a light read by any stretch of the imagination, in fact, the amount of introspection this book will make you do is incomparable, but it still remains a fantastic read and a pleasure every law aspirant should indulge in.
The Merchant of Venice – Shakespeare
Underneath the dramatic beauty of this play by Shakespeare, lies a message about legal culture, legal history, role of law and lawyers; interpretation of the law and legal writings. The play also brings out the popular conflict between the Christians and the Jews and brings out aspects of Jewish subjugation like never before.
This famous dialogue by Shylock represents the elements of Humanism found throughout the play.
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”
Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson
Set on the anecdotal San Piedro Island in the northern Puget Sound district of the province of Washington coast in 1954, the plot rotates around a homicide case in which Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American, is blamed for murdering Carl Heine, a regarded angler in the affectionate network. A great part of the story is told in flashbacks clarifying the collaboration of the different characters over the earlier decades.
This novel by David Guterson has number of themes like the American dream, the experience of separation, bias and discrimination, cultural conflicts and love, linked fates, choices, snowstorm and the trees, earth and the seas, face reading and the moral judgement. This is a book which can take you on a journey which spans the whole emotional spectrum of a person. The concept of “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” permeates the novel and upholds the principles of “innocent until proven guilty” and due process.
The Mahabharata and other mythological epics
This may seem like an unusual choice, but the Mahabharata along with other epics and mythological works like the Ramayana, the Manusmritis and the Upanishads are essential reads for a lawyer.
These epics have ethical and moral dilemmas that an individual faces, with themes like subjugation, war, internal conflicts etc. It contains debates about marriage, family, the role of teachers and sex.
It explores the morality of war, and how even in situations of crisis, humans should maintain a code of conduct and a basic sense of morality.
They also elucidate the rich legal history of India. Most of our educational systems teach us the western conception of law, because that is the prevalent perspective in modern day legal systems, but we also must recognize that laws operated in India throughout history, and the earliest conceptions of systematic law in India far predate the ones in the West.
Therefore, not just for Indian law aspirants but especially for them, reading these epics is essential for your development as a lawyer.
Presumed Innocent – Scott Turow
Presumed Innocent, published in August 1987, is Scott Turow’s debut novel, which tells the story of a prosecutor charged with the murder of his colleague, an attractive and intelligent prosecutor, Carolyn Polhemus. It is told in the first person by the accused, Rožat “Rusty” Sabich. A movie adaptation starring Harrison Ford was released in 1990.
This is a novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. The case itself, the legal questions, the prosecution and the verdict, every aspect of this book is rife with suspense and drama.
Read this book if a riveting story with a fascinating legal case at the centre of it interests you. And frankly, if that doesn’t interest you as a law aspirant, maybe you need to rethink your career choices.
This is in no way an exhaustive list, and probably misses out on many important legal novels you should read, but it does give you an introduction into the fascinating world of legal literature and instills an idea of reading Law for pleasure.