Working Theory

by Michael Reed


I do employment law for the Free Representation Unit.


michael at


Books lawyers should read

26 March 2014

A discussion started yesterday on twitter about what books lawyers should read (a subject close to my heart). A number of people made suggestions and I thought it was worth assembling them in a slightly less ephemeral form. I’ve also added a couple of extras.

I’ve also taken the liberty of providing amazon affiliate links. If you click through and purchase, you’ll make a small donation to FRU.

If people have more suggestions let me know on twitter or in the comments.

Where it started

Brief to Counsel, Henry Cecil

Brothers in Law, Henry Cecil

Brief to Counsel is a guide for young barristers, written in 1958. Inevitably, it’s no longer a wholly reliable guide to the modern Bar. On the other hand, it’s still full of good advice.1

Brothers in Law is the fictional version, chronicling the youthful misadventures of Roger Thursby, pupil. It’s also full of good advice, as well as being historically interesting as a call for better vocational education. It pulls off the difficult trick of showing that Roger (who has no practical training) is a disaster, but will be a great advocate once he’s found his feet.

Books on advocacy

Advocacy in Court, Keith Evans

The Art of the Advocate, Richard Du Cann

The Winning Brief, Bryan Garner

Forensic Fables, O – recommended by Simon Myerson QC

If anything, advocacy is harder to write about than to do. And even harder to learn by reading about it. But I think everyone should read the first two books before getting on their feet – and the third before writing anything a judge will read.

Keith Evans also gives my favourite advice about the style of employment tribunal advocacy: emulate a meticulously prepared civil servant, there to assist the tribunal by presenting your client’s case.

And I agree with Simon that Forensic Fables is ‘funny, but bang on’.

Non-fiction writing, the standard to which we should aspire

Bad Pharma, Ben Goldacre

The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins

Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne – recommended by Tim Pitt-Payne QC

As Tim points out, popular science sets high standards for non-fiction writing dealing with complex technical subjects such as law.

The one hardly anyone will read, but everyone should

The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro

Caro sets an almost impossible standard. His work of LBJ is simultaneously a great piece of literature, a brilliant thesis on the uses and misuses of power and an insightful biography of a complex man. It also amounts to a fascinating history of 20th century America.

For lawyers, I think it’s worth reading for the way he balances passionate advocacy with scrupulous honesty. Caro both admires and hates Johnson – and you always know what he thinks – but he presents the facts fairly for you to make up your own mind.

It’s also in four large volumes, with the fifth still to come. I’ve only met one other UK lawyer who has read the whole thing. So I can’t claim it’s indispensable. But it really is worth it. If you just can’t spare the time, try The Power Broker, which is almost as good and only one volume.

The Irish RM, Somerville and Ross – recommended by Simon Myerson QC

Tragedy at Law, Cyril Hare – recommended by Tim Pitt-Payne QC

Anatomy of a murder, Robert Traver

Real trials

Easing the Passing, Lord Devlin

A Civil Action, Jonathan Harr

Both recommended by as Tim Pitt-Payne QC as wonderful books about real-life trials.

Chambers / law firm politics

The Masters, CP Snow

Watership Down, Richard Adams – recommended by Tim Pitt-Payne QC

Both, in their own way, incisive about leadership and politics in a small organisation.

Bonus for employment lawyers

Autumn Term, Antonia Forest

A slightly eccentric choice; it’s a Girl’s Boarding school novel, published in 1948. But do not dismiss it. Antonia Forest transcends her genre, in the same way Dorothy L. Sayers transcends the detective novel or Ursula Le Guin transcends science fiction. She is simply so good that everyone should read her. In particular, she has the author’s chip of ice in her heart and a precise, merciless sense of morality. This, deployed within the closed world of Kingscote School, is riveting.

Of particular interest to employment lawyers will be the aftermath of the Guide hike, a quintessential example of how an internal disciplinary hearing can go wrong.

Bonus for pupils

The Pupil, Caro Fraser

About the only novel that might make you think ‘Goodness, this is a calm, relaxing experience compared to what I was expecting’ – assuming you don’t end up fending off a loan shark during a Chambers party or getting seduced by a sinister, Welsh, barrister.

Late additions

The Warden, Anthony Trollope

Recommended by Tim Pitt-Payne QC: ‘Really good on difference between what lawyers and clients think relevant / important.’

The Manticore, Robertson Davies

Recommended by Tim Pitt-Payne QC: ‘For what to do if you crack up? But the same quality of formal and informal care would not be easy to find.’ (I think we’re stretching it here. How many lawyers could afford a long sabbatical to Zurich for Jungian analysis in the event of nervous break-down? But Davies is brilliant, so people should read it anyway. However, start with Fifth Business, the first in the Deptford trilogy.)

As far as I remember, Lord Justice Kerr

Recommended by Jeffrey Jupp: ‘From a Berlin childhood to the Court of Appeal – fascinating.’

Point made, Ross Guberman – recommended by Anne Fairpo

Abraham Lincoln and the Structure of Reason, David Hirsch & Dan Van Haften – recommended by Anne Fairpo

I’ve not read the Abraham Lincoln one, but can enthusiastically agree that Point made is an excellent discussion of the nuts and bolts of written advocacy.

  1. Tim Pitt-Payne QC highlighted ‘The best way of learning civil procedure is to look up every new point you come across.’ I’d pick ‘If you’re losing all your case management applications, you’re probably applying for things you shouldn’t.’ 

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