Five ingenious ways to get your law school books on a budget

Purchasing books

[ Stephanie Baldwin, 3L at the University of Arizona ]

Let me begin by saying that as a law student, already with limited means, I was quite shocked at the cost of textbooks. To put it into perspective, my first semester law school books, if I had to purchase them new today, would cost me over $1,200. TWELVE. HUNDRED. DOLLARS. And that’s for only five books.

I’ve never been accustomed to new things. So as soon as I received my law school books list at 1L orientation a couple of years ago, I went on the hunt to get what I needed at the lowest price possible. As a 3L student now, I have a number of tips you’ll want to use for getting textbooks on the cheap, even when you’re about to enter the spring semester.

Tips to spend less on law school books

These tips aren’t just for new law students and fall semester supplies. There’s always ways to spend less when it comes to books. How much can you really save? Well, each semester of law school, I have paid less than $180 for all of my books. Here’s how I did it.

1) Rent law school books online in July, November 

As soon – and I do mean as soon – as you get your book list, go to Amazon.com and Chegg Study to check out book rental prices. The rental book market feeds on the amount of demand. You can use this to your advantage by renting when demand is low. This is typically in July and November.

Before renting online, you need to make sure that rentals will be for the next semester; however, in July and November, you can usually get your books very cheap. For example, this semester, I am taking five classes and all of my books were under $20 each to rent in July. To compare rental prices from month-to-month, one of these books was $105 to rent in mid-August – doing it earlier in July saves you a lot. I rented all of my books in July for the cost of one book in August.

Law school books for the spring semester can be a little bit more tricky, but start looking at rentals in November. Sometimes they are a bit high because people are renting books for final exams, so sometimes early December provides the best pricing. But once again, renting early can save you literally hundreds of dollars.

2) Use books on-hold in the library

One of my friends lives by this method. At most schools, a copy of the textbook is placed on-hold in the law library. At my school, these particular on-hold books can be checked out for two hours at a time, but could not leave the library unless it was about to close. This was the way he completed most of his readings during 1L year. Even I used the books a few times because I also picked up early editions to save money.

3) Buy or rent old editions

Often new editions have just a few changes and/or updates. These cases can easily be printed from WestLaw or LexisNexis. I could get old editions between $5 and $15 if the rentals were not available, and then I would just look at the library edition if needed for the newly updated information. You might also want to check to see if your library has the old editions in its catalog and, if it does, simply check out the book for the semester. 

4) Ask 2L and 3L students if they’re selling

2L and 3L students can also be an excellent source for books. During 1L year, I managed to score a Torts book with the most pristine notes written in it for only $20. Honestly, it was a beautiful thing to behold. Besides just asking around, you might want to check to see if your school has a system in place for a book exchange. At my school, we had a marketplace that made it very easy to buy used books from upper-level students. 

5) Buy digital book codes

This was primarily how I got my law school books so cheap each semester. I researched of a textbook had a digital book code and then asked classmates if they were using it. To my surprise, most were not. So I would offer to buy the code from them. It worked out well for everyone. They made money and I saved a ton on a “new” book.

I love digital editions for their outlining and note-taking features. Plus, with driving back and forth between Tucson and Phoenix, weekly digital books meant that I had a much lighter load to transport. I also liked to listen to my textbooks while driving back-and-forth and that, of course, is only possible with digital books.

Bonus Pro Tip: When it comes to law school books, make sure you are also getting the outlines that are included in BARBRI 1L Mastery and BARBRI 2L/3L Mastery.

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