Letters to a Law Student: A Guide to Studying Law at University by McBride Nicholas (Book Review)

  • Aastha Sahay
  • July 23, 2020

Content :


At the very onset, this novel by Nicholas McBride intrigues the reader. This is due to the fact that the novel is in an epistolary format of 30 letters to a law student written during 5 different stages- thinking about studying law, preparing to study law, how to study law, preparing for your exams, and thinking about your future. Apart from the format, the use of imagery by the author, as well as the breeziness in the tone of the letters make sure that this novel is not a tedious read. These factors will be elaborated upon further.


Like mentioned before, this book is written in the form of letters. In the preface, the author mentions how these are addressed to a fictional character, Alex. The first letter is addressed to Alex while he is in the middle of his A-Levels, contemplating whether or not he should pursue. The final letter finds Alex at the time of completion of his law degree. The letters in between find Alex at different stages of his school and university life. 


Despite the name of this novel, it is a good read for students everywhere. In his letters, McBride advises one to read everything presented to him thoroughly, and have a critical approach towards the same. Much of the advice in his letters, similar to the one mentioned right now, could be followed by people from every discipline. He urges students to question everything they read, and everything taught to them by their teachers.

The use of a personal voice and epistolary format dispels the assumption of tediousness which usually follows such a book. Additionally, this is done by the use of imagery. The author insists that we have to look past the vastness of this discipline and ‘fall in love with the law’.  When Nicholas McBride advised students to avoid subtlety in their writing, he asks his readers to “write essays with a sledgehammer, rather than a rapier.” We also see, how the author tries to educate the readers about the law through imagery, when he writes how 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".  In order to help practicing lawyers as well, the author states that legal cases should be read together, just like pearls make more sense when strung together on a thread.

The practical aspect of the book is what makes it an interesting pick.  Present in this book are practical examples and situations which a person might face, and methods to deal with the same. There is also a part in the book where given are two questions where you had to figure out how the law given would apply to a case.  How the author brings in the academic and educational aspect of law, without making the novel seem like a textbook, should be noted. There are mentions of books and websites students can refer to, how students can answer and revise exam questions, case studies, and tips for situations that typically people at different stages of their law education face. Even if one is not interested in pursuing law, the book provides a great deal of knowledge about the justice system and the role of lawyers in society. Being a law student myself, these are the reason why this novel managed to hold my attention till the very end.
If we were to read the preface of the book, we understand the intention behind the author writing this novel. He talks about how although there are a number of school existing and imparting education today, most of them don’t impart the skills that are required in today’s society in order to flourish while studying law at university. The practical skills that the author talks about here are the skills ‘to argue properly, to think rigorously, and express themselves persuasively’- skills necessary to perform well. Lawyers are an integral part of society, and form the basis of the justice system in any country. The author hopes to contribute to the ‘intellectual capacity’ of his country, and in my opinion, he succeeds in doing so. 

This book is highly recommended to people contemplating whether or not to study law, or is actually studying law at this very moment. In the former case, if the discipline specific information present in the novel does not interest someone or if one were to find it preachy, they could opt for a different course to pursue at university It also briefs readers about the daily life a law student at university and the activities he/she undertakes.

The only critique I would have with this novel would be that despite its best efforts, towards the end of every letter, the light tone which the author tries to use fades way which makes the letters slightly preachy. However, despite this, I can easily say that is one of the must-haves for anyone having anything to do with this noble discipline. Its an easy read, with simple language and as mentioned before, extremely relatable. A guide to all those wanting to learn more!