Escape the Law School Textbook Scam

In addition to being scammed by your law school, you are also being scammed by law school textbook publishers (with the help of your professors). But you can fight back.

When you started law school, you probably just lined up in the school bookstore and bought all the textbooks you needed. They were new, thick, heavy, and very expensive. I recall that day; it was a harbinger of how much work (and expense) lay ahead.

But as I continued through school, I came to realize that every class I took required me to buy the latest edition of the textbook. That seemed sensible, until I realized that the new editions were not significantly different than the previous editions.

Think about it…have you read any articles recently on the latest earth-shattering SCOTUS decision on, say, property law? Me either. But oh look, here’s the latest edition of one of the most commonly-used property textbooks for you to buy for a mere 156 bucks. The previous edition, from 2006, used, is available for, ahem, 50 cents. (Insert profanity-laced rant here.)

So why is there a new edition? Because the publisher only gets to sell a new copy of a book once, and some law students are smart enough to buy used textbooks that are still required for a particular class, so there’s a strong incentive for publishers to release new editions often.

And why does your professor, who doesn’t seem like such a bad person, require you to buy the new edition rather than the previous one (and just direct you to get any important new cases from Lexis/Westlaw)? Because professors get their books for free. Why should your professor be inconvenienced when you can just pay an additional 155 bucks?

In your first semester as a 1L you should probably just buy the assigned editions—you don’t need any additional headaches. But after that, fight back against the scam. look for older editions online, or split the cost of the textbook with a friend, and share it.

Besides, the further along you get in school, the less time you’ll spend reading cases anyway. I recall in my third year a classmate (who graduated with high honors) saying to me, with contempt practically dripping from her voice, “I don’t read cases.”

So maybe at some point you won’t need the textbook at all—the perfect solution to the textbook scam. That’ll teach ‘em.



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  • Tyler White

    Also, when you are done with those latest editions, sell them on Ebay or Amazon immediately. You will make your summer’s beer money back with all those books you will neverevereverever open again. Unless of course you went all technicolor dreamcoat with the highlighting; then you won’t earn back as much.

    • Andy Mergendahl

      Tyler, excellent point. And the more common the book, the faster you should get it up for sale. I sold a few more-obscure books (Admiralty! Yar!) three years later and still got good money for them. Highlighting does decrease value significantly, but small sticky notes work almost as well as highlighters to get you through class. A few pencil marks can also work to guide you. As for pricing your books, don’t hold out for an extra $10 because you think your book is in slightly better shape than someone else’s. Get your money and head for the liquor store.

  • Steven Appelget

    I bought a one edition back textbook for Con Law that had the added bonus that the prior owner had taken an entire year’ worth of class notes–really good class notes–in the margins.