How much are law school books each semester?

A new law student recently asked me how much law school books and outlines will cost each semester. Law students may want to know this for budgeting their finances or for requesting the correct amount of student financial aid.

One law student explained:

I’m going through the information to take out loans for my upcoming year and am trying to assess how much books may cost. The law school estimation is $800 for a semester. In my undergrad, I shopped around online for all my books, but I didn’t know if this was possible in law school. I looked at Law Student and saw that you recommend different sites for buying books. Do you have any suggestions for trying to determine how much it may cost including all other books (commercial outlines, etc.)?

You may be able to buy law school books cheaper online

I would plan on having to pay the full estimated amount, but you may be able to save around 30% by buying used from the law school’s bookstore or online. If you are buying online, the challenge can be getting the books in time. Often you get the list of books you need shortly before school starts, so unless you pay expedited shipping charges, it is difficult to get them in time to do your reading assignments before the first class.

Sell your books back to recover some of your investment

One way to save money is to sell your books back. In many law school bookstores, you can also sell your books at the end of each semester and recover 40-70 percent, unless a new edition is released.

Some law students like to keep their books because of all the highlighting they did. They said they might use their books to prepare for the bar exam. However, nobody uses their casebooks to prepare for a bar exam. There are better materials (outlines) for that.

I have known a few students who actually used their casebooks after starting to practice law, but only 1-2 of them. I don’t think it’s worth storing all of your casebooks just in case you might use them a few times. Also, with online research so accessible and books taking up so much space, many students may prefer to opt for online research over an old casebook from law school.

You might find that keeping some commercial outlines like Nutshells are helpful. Although I can’t imagine using them in practice, an outline is the most likely resource I could see saving after a course.

Why are new law school textbook editions released so often?

Here is a little secret about law school textbooks. In my opinion, it’s kind of a scam, but it is justified by the claim that this is how textbook publishers need to make their money. Textbook manufacturers update the edition ever year or two, not because it needs it, but so that they can sell more books (preventing the used book market from taking hold in law schools). They actually require professors to use the new textbooks, and then when the professor assigns reading to a specific page range, you need the current version to know you are reading the right pages. It’s pretty annoying, but it means we as students need the current versions.

What do you think?

Do you have any other suggestions for law students? What do you do? Leave a comment below.