Law School Life: Renting Textbooks, versus Buying Textbooks, versus Second-Hand Purchases

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

In case you didn't know, this post is going to be about textbooks.

How we love them. How we hate them. How they quickly draw the money from our bank accounts like a mosquito draws blood. Double that pain for any gigantic constitutional textbook.

But all hope isn't lost: When considering about textbooks, I'll be here to give you some tips, tricks, and overall suggestions that will (hopefully) make your purchase considerations in law school a little bit more nuanced.

  1. If it's a course with a heavy courseload/ you can fall behind in easily, buy the damn book. I'm sorry: I saw far too many kids struggling by week three or five of a twelve-week term (not including exams), because they insisted on 'saving money' upfront by not buying a textbook (and trust me; these are kids who in the same breath would order UberEats every day to the law library and take an Uber from the bottom of the law school hill to the top of the law school hill because they couldn't bother walking). This is especially prevalent in the first term or two of law school (which is also usually and unfortunately when you do all your required, base-level courses). You may be able to manage that in undergraduate studies, but this is serious, and especially in your first year of law school, there is a very steep learning curve that can get away from you very quickly if you're not careful. Buy. The Damn. Book.

  2. Depending on how much your professor is a fan of the Socratic Method, you will also avoid looking like an idiot if you were called on in class: Look, I was blessed with my professors: Besides one old crotchety professor with one foot in the grave, most of my professors were civilised with their use of the Socratic Method. And mostly, Socratic Method usage in the twenty-first century has seemingly been greatly exaggerated (Although I still do believe it still has a stronger hold in the U.S.). But you still don't want to be that person who just sits with his mouth flapping open and closed as everyone cringes and suddenly finds the table in front of them immensely interesting. In my experience, if the class is being active, a professor won't particularly employ the Socratic Method; that is, if people are openly offering up answers and being engaged in the material, they won't pick out some random schmuck to pick on about the material. My counterpoint to this, however, is 'Don't push your luck.' The only time I ever saw this employed in real life was on a particularly heavy day mid-term during mid-terms in Property Law, where our professor gave us what averaged out to around five and a half hours of case reading on top of our midterm assessments, and we all were just too exhausted to properly read the last of six extremely complex cases. When the professor realised this, she stopped teaching, didn't bother to review the case because we hadn't bothered to review our materials, and sure enough, it reared its ugly head on the final. Not fun. Read your materials.

  3. Some law schools offer renting textbooks or buy-back opportunities: If this is something you want to employ to save money, go all for it. I bought textbooks at the beginning of term, sometimes realised that professors would go off of printed material more than the book (Mostly in elective subjects), and return the book after. The one caveat I have to add is that most schools with a buy-back policy may be exceedingly strict with what quality the book might be in in order to 'buy it back.' In my experience, that meant no highlighting whatsoever, which doesn't particularly jive with my colour-coding brain. If you want to take advantage of a buy-back/renting opportunity, be sure you know these rules ahead of time, to avoid an unpleasant surprise at the end of term.

  4. See if there's funds for paying for your textbooks and materials: I had a nice surprise one term when I was rewarded a small scholarship that paid for my work materials for the term. It wasn't much in terms of a scholarship ($500), but it was better than a kick in the pants. Small scholarships like this can definitely make a dent or be a pleasant surprise if awarded your way.

  5. Second Hand Purchases: I always say second hand purchases from the bookstore should be based on either personal preference, the quality of the second hand purchase, and if the second hand purchase is dense material. Personally, I like dense material fresh and not scribbled over in small print (If something is small enough that you have to squint to read it, it's not going to help having frantic highlighting followed by scribbles). However, you might luck out and find a second hand purchase with some neatly written handwritten notes/ highlights to clarify. Notes in the columns can sometimes help if you study alone and are not seeing what other people are seeing. This is actually a hidden benefit I found from second-hand textbook purchases. You can actually see what someone who has most likely taken the class is highlighting, and what really stood out to them about the case or material.

  6. Additional Material (Study Guides, etc.): Most often at the school bookstore, there are these additional materials which can help guide you through a particularly difficult course. Don't rely on these, but I did find them extremely helpful in helping to contextualise both your notes and classroom material. Often in law school, you are so dragged down in the minute details of law, that it can help to have an overall guide to help contextualise the big picture. I found study guides extremely helpful with these, and found them a really useful tool throughout courses. Not always necessary in the easiest of courses, but definitely helpful in courses like constitutional law and public law.

  7. See if you can rent them from the library// see if your law school has an additional library option, especially if its in the same city. One of the best kept secrets I found out about during law school was the 'additional library' option on a library search. That is, even if a book is considered an 'essential' course load book for your law school, it may not be at another law school in the city or province. In that case, you may be able to request that book for free from the law school search, and not have to pay for it at all for the remainder of your term, if you get on the course material ahead of time. This is usually the best option if you have someone a term or two ahead of you that you know, that can provide you with the materials that you could order perhaps a week or two before the start of term, and before anyone else is thinking of ordering the materials.

  8. The Friend Loan/Purchase: Last, but definitely not least, I recommend the friend loan/purchase. This might be tricky if you don't have a particularly close friend in law school, because people can be easily insulted/ end up not trusting you if you return their textbook they wanted to keep for reference with accidental coffee spills, or you simply offer them half the price of the bookstore purchase price. If you know someone is finishing up a class you're taking the next term and would like to sell their textbook, keep your price proportionate to how strong your relationship is. Is saving thirty bucks really worth someone thinking you're a cheapskate and trying to gyp them out of their textbook? I don't think so.

So there you have it: Textbooks from A-Z. Choose wisely, and go forth and read, young padawan!