Buying Law School Casebooks
- Sep 01, 2009
- Law School, Law School Advice
Buying Law School Casebooks
My bookshelf is currently cooler than it has ever been. In the past few weeks I’ve said goodbye to my secret love for trashy young adult novels (yes, this includes Twilight), and packed all my old books into storage to make room for their new “legal Dixie” counterpart—the casebook. For those who may not know, casebooks are law schools’ badass answer to the textbook. They are filled with past court cases and comments by the author on those cases, and each one looks like it should come with a complementary colored smoking jacket. Since law school is too serious to have patience for silly things like cover illustrations, each one is a solid, primary colored, hardcover behemoth with a contrasting colored textbox for the title. The title is gold and shiny. They are clearly written by people who use the phrase “old boys club” without irony.
Short of something actually published in the nineteenth century, these are seriously the most pretentious looking books I have ever seen. And my bookshelf is full of them. I’ve been inviting friends over just so I can strategically position myself, one hand on the shelf and the other on my calabash pipe, and lament how truly unbearable law school work is, for the purpose of making them realize how truly worldly and intelligent I’ve become.
(For the record, law schoolwork is not unbearable and my friends think I’m obnoxious.)
But alas (the subject matter gives me license to use the word “alas”) as with all great things there is a downside: the price. Falling more or less in the range of $120-$160 each, my four or five courses a semester just got considerably more expensive. Not to mention that the majority of my professors also require supplementary books. (Those books just look like your standard college theory books; accordingly I’ve been hiding them under my bed.) After careful questioning and observation, I have come up with a few ways to minimize these costs as far as possible, which I will share with you now.
Probably the safest and most convenient way to reduce cost is to just hightail it over to the bookstore as soon as you get your course list and snatch up all the used copies you can. If you are like me, this is impossible because your life is ruled by procrastination. I have been known to put off laundry for so long that I have to stop by CVS on the way to work and buy clean socks. And let me tell you, in the middle of winter, those are not the most enjoyable walks. Although on the upside I have an enormous sock collection.
But I imagine many law students are not like me, and can actually get things done when they are supposed to. Thus this could be a viable method for you. To reduce competition, I recommend you view this task in a mission impossible sense, and travel gymnastically through the bookstore with your hands clasped in a fake gun. This has two advantages: one—I’d find it amusing, and two—people are going to get the heck out of your way if you are forward-rolling down the aisle toward them. Voila: wall of used books at your fingertips and no one to grab them first. Plus, the bookstore will let you return the books if you get the wrong ones or change your mind. Huge convenience.
A cheaper method would be to befriend an older law student and either inherit or buy their books way below list price. Of course, if you don’t know anyone before you go to law school this could be tough for your first few semesters, although I would not think less of you if you began trolling local law student bars as soon as you put down your deposit. Sure you may end up with a reputation as that creepy future 1L, but the financial payoff will be great.
This method also has the drawback that you may potentially end up with an old edition of a book, but this is not as bad as it may seem. Sure, each edition will be repaginated and have some different comments from the author, but the beautiful thing about our legal system is that it ensures that the meat of the book, aka the court cases, can’t be changed. Even if the most conservative judge took a magical trip to the Land of Oz and came back with a heart, he couldn’t just waltz into chambers tomorrow with a bottle of white out and make a few changes. So if you are willing to put in the time to coordinate the pages in your book vs. your classmates’ book, and think on your feet if your instructor does happen to ask you about extra content not found in the older edition, it could work for you.
An older friend who claims he hasn’t bought a book since 1L suggested the cheapest, and most intimidating, method of all to me. As the meat of most classes is the cases, he claims they are all that you really need. Another beautiful part of the legal system is that these cases are pretty easily found by anyone, let alone a law student who has online access to every case through their school. So if you have an instructor who just has cases written on the syllabus, chances are that you can get away with just looking up those cases and never spending a cent on a casebook again. Now, I am personally terrified by this idea, but I also haven’t seen my loans dwindle to nothing yet. Poverty makes people desperate, so I can’t guarantee I’ll feel the same way come 2L or 3L.
A final option that I have not mentioned is purchasing books online. Largely this is because I don’t consider my readers idiots. It’s also because I have a personal vendetta against Amazon. So if they leave a box of books on your stoop for the nearest homeless guy to use as bedding, I don’t want to hear about it.
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