Law & literature | Law

Law & literature

Reading a wide range of literature is valuable and rewarding.

There is a vast range of novels which link to law and which can be useful ways to learn about law without actually feeling as if you are studying.


Listen to a podcast on the relationship between law and literature featuring remarks of Ed Santow, Director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre of NSW.

Holiday reading

Baker, L, The Justice from Beacon Hill; the Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harper Collins, New York, 1991
[The biography of a leading American judge who also fought in the American civil war]

Beasley, Richard, Hell has Harbour Views, Macmillan, Sydney 2001
[A young lawyer practising in a big Sydney firm has to choose between his self-respect and his job. This is also available on video/CD.]

Blackwell, L,  Death Cell at Darlinghurst, Hutchinsons of Australia, 1970
[One of the few Australian criminal history books available]

Bryson, J,  Evil Angels, Penguin, 1985
[About the Chamberlain case – takes you through all the stages from coroner’s court to Royal Commission to pardon, quashing compensation]

Clendinnen, Inga,  Dancing with Strangers, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2003
[Clendinnen takes the diaries of the first settlers in Sydney and the actions of the Aboriginal inhabitants in the first few years of the colony and weaves a beautiful and sad story of cultural misunderstanding despite good intentions]

Dershowitz, A, Reversal of Fortune, Penguin, New York 1986
[Dershowitz is a famous Harvard academic lawyer who takes on cases occasionally with his students as researchers. This is about a murder trial]

Durbach, Andrea, Upington, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1999
[In South Africa in the 22nd year of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, a black policeman is killed, 25 people are convicted of his murder, and fourteen are sentenced to death. The trial takes place in an atmosphere of desperation. One of the lawyers is assassinated. Written by the solicitor on the case, now a member of UNSW Law.]

Grenville, Kate, The Secret River,  
[A novel based on the life of an early convict in Sydney and the relations with Aborigines]

Grisham, J, Presumed Innocent, The Pelican Brief, The Chamber, The Testament 
[Grisham is always a good read, but remember the legal system he is talking about is the US one, not ours]

Hastings, P, KC, Famous and Infamous Cases, Heinemann, 1950
[Hastings himself was a famous advocate. This is his look at some famous cases]

Herbert, AP, Uncommon Law ( various editions)
[These are small spoofs on cases which were written for Punch. They are funny but also follow judicial reasoning techniques]

Marjoribanks, E, The Life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall, 1929
[This is the book that started many an advocate on a career at the bar. Edward Marshall Hall was one of the most famous dramatic barristers at the English Bar.]

Marr, D, Barwick, George Allen and Unwin, 1980
[Essential reading for Australian lawyers]

Osborn, JJ,  The Paper Chase, Hodder and Stoughton, 1971
[See the differences between US students at Harvard and you]

Palliser, C, The Quincunx, Ballantine Books, New York 1989
[A riveting read of a historical novel about the missing codicil to a will, the Equity courts in England in the 19th Century and the impact on a family of the vagaries of the legal system]

Paper, L,  Brandeis, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1983
[Brandeis had a huge impact on American trial process and was a very powerful judge.]

Patterson, RN, Various novels
[Similar to Grisham, but sometimes more depth]

Pryor, Lisa, The Pinstriped Prison, 2008
[Why law students and other over-achievers can end up in jobs they hate]

Robertson, Geoffrey, The Tyrannicide Brief, 
[The story of the barrister who prosecuted Charles I for tyranny and was then sentenced to death himself as a regicide]

Sullivan, R,  Goodbye Lizzie Borden, Penguin, 1974
[One of the most famous murders in history – a look at the evidence and how the trial was run]

Turow, S, One-L,
[The best  account of first year at Harvard Law School – describes learning to read a case as ‘stirring cement with your eyelashes’]  (plus other novels by the same author)

Vidal, J, McLibel: burger culture on trial, Pan Books, 1997
[McDonalds sued two Greenpeace members for libel when they handed out some leaflets saying their foods were unhealthy and damaged the environment. This is an account of the famous four-year civil trial where McDonalds got more than they bargained for]

Whittaker, J, The Raking of  the Embers and The Flame in the Morning, Angus and Robertson
[The story of Henry and Susannah Kable, the plaintiffs in the first civil trial in Australia]

Woodward and Armstrong,  Brethren; inside the Supreme Court, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1979
[How the US Supreme Court judges write their judgments. This book caused a furore when it came out. Written by the journalists who broke Watergate.]

Plus: anything from the KB10-KB66 section of the Law Library.