Student review: Letters to a Law Student: A Guide to Studying Law at University

November 4, 2010

Author: Nicholas J. McBride

Edition: Second

Publisher: Pearson Longman

Pages: 392

Price: £15.99

ISBN 9781408218808

The first indication of the book's originality lies in its format: a series of 20 letters addressed to a prospective law student, who, by the end of the book, is in possession of a good law degree and contemplating his career as a lawyer. The letters are arranged in five sections: thinking about studying law; preparing to study law; how to study law; preparing for your exams; and thinking about your future.

The epistolary format allows McBride a lightness of touch in his writing, which works well to dispel the clinical tone that can so often pervade this type of textbook. He achieves this in two ways: first is the use of a personal voice. He provides a robust description of a "good lawyer". He is insistent on the avoidance of passivity by continual questioning of both everything you read and your teachers; he urges the avoidance of subtlety in one's essay writing, and tells his reader to "write essays with a sledgehammer, rather than a rapier"; he stresses the importance of "falling in love with the law".

Much of his advice, particularly with regard to the need to be a critical reader and to avoid traps such as relativism and the quest for certainty, is applicable to students of all disciplines.

Second, he makes limited but well-judged use of striking imagery. English law is a river that flows from the three different sources of Parliament, the courts and the European Union; the rule of law is a roof sheltering us from "the twin evils of chaos and oppression"; legal cases are likened to beads that when strung on a common thread form a more complete picture.

At the same time, McBride is entirely practical, beginning with the preface, which provides waymarkers through the book for those at different stages in their legal education. Letters to a Law Student includes useful lists of books and websites; incisive definitions of the different areas of law; an outline of the qualities of a good lawyer; tips on how to compile effective topic, case and statute files; and advice on how to revise and answer exam questions.

Only one very small gripe: the faux-breeziness of tone that concludes each letter began to grate by the end.

As someone who, 30 years ago, ducked out of studying law as an undergraduate essentially through fear of the unknown, but now in middle age has decided to take the plunge, how I wish this book had existed all those years ago. It would have persuaded me to be brave.

Who is it for? Prospective and current undergraduates in law.

Presentation: Original.

Would you recommend it? Highly.

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