You have embarked on the decision to study for a Bachelor of Laws (LLB), a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or ILEX. Your future success on whichever course you are studying depends on your ability to understand, explain and apply the law. There is a wide variety of choice for legal textbooks and students can be overwhelmed with options. The pressure to purchase the textbook recommended in your module reading list is not insignificant, however, it is possible that the textbook recommended to you does not help you learn. During my time as a student I put textbooks into three different classifications according to the level at which they were pitched: introductory, intermediate and advanced.
Introductory ‘does what it says on the tin’. Intermediate built on introductory by adding more layers of complexity, both in terms of content and how it was pitched. Advanced built on intermediate by pitching it at the highest level possible: if you didn’t quite get it, it was a signal to go back to an intermediate or introductory book to start with the building blocks again. This was infinitely valuable because accurately judging the level of the book, and my understanding of the module, were tied together. If I was fairly confident in my understanding, I could choose a book at intermediate or advanced difficulty and build on my knowledge. If it was a subject with which I struggled, then I needed to appropriately adjust my reading material. There would be no reason to start reading an advanced or intermediate textbook because it would not sink in. An introductory textbook was necessary first.
Routledge Publishing have released a series of books called Beginning the Law aimed at students who are looking for a book to give an introductory view across the subjects of Constitutional Law, Contract Law, Criminal Law, and Equity and Trusts. Further books are due to be released next year on Employment Law, Evidence, Medical Law, and Human Rights law.
The Beginning the Law series has several key features. It attempts to break down each subject, providing a glossary of terms and definitions as you go, so that the content is manageable and easy to understand. There are questions to make you think about the law that you are reading about, how it applies and, hopefully, prompting you to think critically over whether the law should function in that way. Cases are summarised, reducing them down to the most critically important facts and defining the principle, or ratio, that the case established in a clear, easy to understand way.
There is a companion website that offers more content, such as essay questions and brief answers as well as links to news articles and references to journal articles. At present, the Contract and Criminal Law companion websites appear to have more content than the Constitutional and Equity and Trust websites. That, however, is likely to change, so don’t be too disappointed if content for the book you use is not there just yet.
The series achieves its aim of breaking down information by keeping it clear and concise. The writing style is uncomplicated and the words used are appropriately pitched for the audience which the book is aimed at. It satisfies the first two levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning by providing knowledge and describing or explaining it. Further levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy, such as application and analysis, are steps that Beginning the Law coaxes you towards with the questions it asks at the end of each topic.
The questions are intended to make you think about what you have just read, pushing you towards attempting to resolve the question and improve your understanding of the subject material. If you skim over the questions, then obviously you will not receive the benefit of them. If you use the book as you should and think about the questions posed, then they should help you (a) understand what you have read; and (b) help you think about how the law is applied and analyse scenarios correctly so you know which cases apply and which cases do not. This is an important skill to learn for exams; you need to be confident that you can read a scenario, pick out the relevant points and know which cases are relevant.
When I first sat down with the Beginning the Law series, I was impressed with how light they were. The books range from 150 to 200 pages, and they adequately give you a summary of each topic which you may be examined on in Contract Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law and Equity and Trusts, without flooding the page with content. They are clear and accessible, covering a wide range of examinable topics. The books do not go into a great amount of depth in terms of the judgments. They do not, for example, explain how the judges arrive at their judgment or give an excerpt so that you can see the legal principle as it is written in the case as you would see in a Text, Cases and Materials, but that is because this is an introductory book.
Consider that the subject of law is a language. The Beginning the Law series teaches a student enough to be able to start the conversation, leaving other textbooks to build upon its foundations in order to develop conversational fluency.