Casebooks are important for more than building up your biceps. Though they are cumbersome, you will need them for every class your first year, and for most classes the final two years. Everyone knows how expensive law school is – students routinely take on six figures of debt just for the three years of tuition alone.
The sticker shock does not stop once school starts. There will be quite a bit to purchase before classes start, including your casebooks. The weeks before 1L classes begin, you will either get access to a book list or all of your class syllabi. Your default reaction may be to place an order with the campus bookstore. This is easy. You hand over hundreds of dollars (if I had gone the bookstore route my first semester, I would have paid north of $500), show up before classes start, and haul the books home. Here’s some good news: You don’t have to do this.
Old vs. New
When you browse on Amazon and other book selling sites, you’ll often see that the previous edition of your textbook is a fraction of the cost. One of my 1L courses required a $240 book, but the version published just four years earlier was a mere $15. That is a staggering difference, and it is perfectly rational to want to make the old version work.
But don’t give in to the temptation, especially during your first year. Many professors assign page numbers for the required reading rather than case names. The book publishers are savvy. They edit the author’s notes and commentary just enough to make the different versions of the books incompatible, despite often having the same cases in each version. Both versions of the Civil Procedure book will have Pennoyer and International Shoe, but in one book the case might be on page 93, and in the other it will be on page 118.
You might be wondering why that matters. When you are in the middle of a cold call, every second matters. Trust me, you do not want to be flipping through your book to find the quote your professor referenced in his or her question to you. Being prepared during class is challenging enough without the logistical problem of getting on the same page.
Further, some professors assign the author notes as reading and expect you to be prepared to address those in class. Those can change a lot with the different book versions, so beware.
If you absolutely must buy the old edition, make sure you do your due diligence before the semester begins. Crosscheck the versions, and note which pages line up to which cases.
Luckily there seems to be a trend of professors who are more aware of the financial burdens students face. These wonderful few will recommend old versions of the book and will sometimes offer printed versions of the reading material at a steep discount.
Rent vs. Buy vs. Buy/Sell
Once you commit to obtaining the latest editions of your books, you will have to decide whether to buy the books new, buy them used, or rent them. I had a few classmates keep every single book, but most of them were eager to discard them immediately after finals. This is up to you, but keep in mind that every case in your books can also be found on Westlaw and other legal research services, so it is highly unlikely that you will ever need to use them in your practice.
Buying the books new means you will be the first owner and the pages will be blank and ready for your highlights and notes. Some students book brief and make extensive notes in their books, but many will write out separate case briefs, leaving their books clear. How you study and process the cases best will be up to you, but if you are interested in reselling books that you bought new, keep in mind that your buyers may not want heavily notated books. If you buy the book new, you may also have access to helpful online resources (such as those in Casebook Connect), which could include an e-book version, outlining tools, and other study aids.
I did not mind seeing notes and highlights in the books I rented and bought used. I did my best to not read anything into the highlights and notes – different professors emphasize different things about each case, so I knew it was a waste of time to try to seek meaning from the previous owner’s thoughts. The savings from the used books were well worth it to me, and I never bought a new book unless the edition had just been updated, and it was required for a class.
I enjoyed renting books for several of my classes, especially when I knew I would be busy at the end of a semester. Being able to pop a book into a box and ship it back to Amazon was a godsend. When I knew I would have weeks of leisure (no major trips or bar study planned), I usually bought the used books and resold them on Amazon and on my law school class Facebook page. I never made a profit selling the used books, but I usually came out close to even. If you do a quick search, you’ll see countless guides on the best practices of selling used books.
If you go the used book route, start early. The best deals tend to be shortly after the semester ends. Students are hungry to offload books before winter holidays, summer work, and bar prep begin. Keep a close eye on your school Facebook page and listserve, if there is one. Post the books you are seeking, and set up alerts for the books you are trying to sell. If you rent, make sure to shop around. Compare your bookstore rate with the dozens of used booksellers online.
And, most importantly, use your books! The most expensive books are worth nothing if you don’t do the reading.
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