Are you searching for new books to read this summer? We’ve combed all the best lists to bring you this curated guide for 10 law-themed books all attorneys should read. Whether you’re looking for a classic legal thriller, a guide for work-life balance, or an acclaimed autobiography, this list has you covered.
Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (Knopf, 2019) Cep brings to life the true-crime story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, who was accused of murdering five family members for insurance money in 1970s Alabama. Written in three parts, Cep first explores Willie Maxwell and the murders, discovering that Maxwell took out insurance policies on almost everyone in his circle. The second part of the book examines Maxwell’s lawyer, Tom Radney, a clever man who successfully defended both Maxwell and Maxwell’s killer. The final part of the book investigates the life of Harper Lee as the famed writer came to Alabama with the intention of turning Maxwell’s story into a true-crime novel. In weaving these three parts together, Cep brings extraordinary insight into the practice of law, courtroom drama, and the fraught history of life insurance.
And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank by Steve Oney (Vintage, 2004). This acclaimed book reconstructs the events surrounding 13-year-old Mary Phagan’s murder and the cover-up of the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, the Jewish businessman convicted of Phagan’s murder. Oney’s narrative identifies and examines the broad cast of influential Georgians involved in Frank’s trial and lynching. Oney also describes the long-term impact of Frank’s lynching, which included the revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the progression of the Anti-Defamation League. This well-researched and thrilling saga gives an extensive look at what happens when justice is replaced by vigilantism under the guise of the law.
A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (Random House, 2015). This powerful memoir follows Bryan Stevenson’s journey as a young lawyer in Georgia and Alabama. Stevenson weaves his story with that of his client Walter McMillian, a poor Black man who was falsely convicted and sent to death row in Monroeville, Alabama. Stevenson details how his anger over this longstanding injustice led him to cofound the Equal Justice Initiative. This memoir both provides an excellent critique of the justice system and encourages personal commitment to defendants.
The Sun Does Shine:
How I Found Life, Freedom, and Justice by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin (St. Martin’s, 2019). Hinton’s bestselling memoir tells the story of his wrongful imprisonment and quest for freedom. Wrongfully convicted of two counts of capital murder in Alabama, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution and sat on death row for thirty years until he was released in 2015 with the help of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson. Running the gamut from emotional despair to a deep sense of hope, this memoir offers an extraordinary first-hand perspective on issues of race, class, and the criminal justice system.
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1987). Turow’s debut novel appears on multiple lists as a must-read for lawyers. Helping to establish the legal thriller as a literary genre, Presumed Innocent follows state prosecutor Rusty Sabich as he is accused of murdering his colleague/former mistress. The book is a fast-paced thriller that blends political intrigue and legal maneuvering with complex characters, and its nuanced treatment of right and wrong make it a compelling read for any lawyer.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006). Harper Lee’s classic is at the top of many must-read lists. Even if you’ve read the book before, it is well worth a revisit! Originally published in 1960, this widely acclaimed novel tackles serious issues like rape and racial inequality, while also developing characters who are genuinely warm and personable. Lawyer Atticus Finch’s act to defend Tom Robinson, a Black man accused of raping a white woman in Depression-era Alabama, has secured Finch’s status as a model for integrity and justice within the legal system.
The Happy Lawyer:
Making a Good Life in the Law, by Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder (Oxford UP, 2010). This helpful guide by law professors Levit and Linder begins by examining causes of dissatisfaction among lawyers. Building from these areas, the authors develop several paths to happiness and fulfillment based on personality types, values, strengths, and interests. Levit and Linder blend science, psychology, and their knowledge of modern law firms to create a “toolbox” of easy to follow steps to help both aspiring and working lawyers increase career happiness.
A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being by Martin E. P. Seligman (Atria Books, 2011). Recommended by the American Bar Association, psychologist Martin Seligman’s text explains that happiness comes from achievements rather than money. With his emphasis on Positive Psychology, Seligman extolls the benefits of adopting five pillars for profound fulfillment: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. While the book is written for a universal audience, it will benefit lawyers seeking to balance work and life commitments.
The Story of My Life by Clarence Darrow (Da Capo Press, 1996). Famed attorney Clarence Darrow’s autobiography provides a conversational reflection on his more than 50 years as a corporate, labor, and criminal lawyer. While he delves into his most significant cases, including the Scopes trial, the Woodworkers’ Conspiracy Case, and the Sweet and Scottsboro cases, he also includes his own thoughts on issues that are still relevant today, including capital punishment, civil liberties, and the judicial system. Darrow’s story is an essential read for any lawyer.
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor (Vintage, 2014). Justice Sotomayor’s bestselling autobiography is a candid look at her journey from a Bronx housing project to the Supreme Court. Her book describes a woman determined to create her own path to success, despite numerous obstacles and painful challenges. Sotomayor’s honest and hopeful reflection on her life and legal career instills the reader with a sense that anything is possible.
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