By Natalie White
Updated: January 4, 2021
Let’s face it: you are going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to become a lawyer. In 2012, the American Bar Association found that law students at private schools paid $40,000 on average for tuition and fees. This does not include textbooks, supplements, and daily living expenses. However, there are many ways to save money during law school. Here are the top money saving tips for law school.
Making a budget may seem like the obvious thing to do. So why don’t more people do it? Only 50% of people 22 or younger said that they budgeted their money in 2019. Many students have difficulty with budgets, especially due to somewhat irregular jobs and school fees.
However, if you use student loans to get through law school, you will need to budget. You will receive a loan payment and feel flush with cash. But that money needs to last the whole semester. If you budget, you will avoid cash flow problems and be prepared for emergencies. Also, you may realize that you can live off less and take out fewer loans the next year, thus saving you thousands of dollars of compound interest down the road.
Mint is my favorite budgeting tool. On Mint, you can easily connect your online accounts to the software and it will track all of your expenses automatically. There are many other options available, including plain old excel spreadsheets.
Buy or rent used law school books
Textbooks can be a huge area of expense for you, depending on your professors. A brand new, latest-edition law school casebook could easily cost $250 or more. Some professors require textbooks or online programs in addition to casebooks, as well as other supplements. Finding cheaper options for textbooks will save you a lot of money.
I just started my first year of law school, and I spent a lot of time asking my older peers their preferences on law school books. Here is what I found.
In some situations, it makes sense to buy new. There might be a brand new edition of the textbook in an evolving subject that is required by the professor. There may be no used options available. You may be forced into buying brand new textbooks.
A benefit of a new textbook is having a clean slate for highlights and margin notes. Making notes in your casebooks is far more common in law school than it is in undergrad. Many people create a color-coding system and thoroughly mark each book they use. If you are a visual learner and very particular about this system, the purchase of new books may be well worth it to you.
In many situations, law students try to buy used so they can save themselves money. Many law schools have Facebook groups for law students to sell textbooks. Many websites offer used textbooks for purchase, including Amazon and Barrister Books.
A benefit to buying a used textbook is the fact that law school textbooks depreciate less than other college textbooks. You could buy and sell your used textbook for a small discount in price, as long as you do not severely damage your book and as long as another edition of the book is not printed.
If renting is available, it can be the cheapest, most convenient option. You can order the books and send them back without having to worry about selling them afterward. However, renting could also end up as the most expensive, inconvenient option. If your textbook gets damaged, you will have to pay for a new copy of the book. Also, many law students report that they have to return their textbooks before finals are completed for their law school semester, which could wreak havoc on your study schedule.
One secret about rentals (and perhaps used textbooks also) is that the prices go up the closer you get to the beginning of the semester. As the available rentals are sold and supply runs low, bookstores increase prices. I ordered my rented Torts casebook for $26 on July 27. I checked back on August 10 and the exact same book rental, at the same company, was then listed for $125. Avoid buying textbooks at peak times so you can avoid inflated prices.
There are three frequently asked questions about textbooks.
Do I need to keep my casebooks after I finish the class?
No. Really, the answer is no. Some people say that they have looked up a case or two, or they kept the casebooks related to their practice area. But in reality, most people use their old law school casebooks as decorative pieces or for attic storage. You will not use your textbooks for studying for the bar—you will only use your notes or case outlines, if that. Many areas of the law will continue to change with time and your current textbooks can become outdated. Do not feel the need to hold onto your casebooks for some unforeseen future time.
Will I be able to return the casebook if I highlight in it?
Most likely. It is a common practice to highlight in law textbooks, and all of the textbooks I rented had highlights and notes from previous owners. You might have trouble if you highlight whole pages or write over the text, but I doubt the people at the textbook companies are going to dig through the pages in your book and check.
You might get distracted by the highlights and notes from other people, or perhaps you might be grateful that they marked the holding for you.
Do I need to buy the latest edition casebook?
Probably not. Usually there is little difference between one casebook to another—perhaps a few extra cases or an updated notes section. If your case is missing from an older edition, you can look it up online, get a copy of the casebook from the library, or borrow it from a friend. The negative of older editions is that many professors assign readings using page numbers, so you may have to spend extra time figuring out your assignments.
If you are taking a class in an emerging field like cyberlaw, there may be more dramatic differences in newer editions and the newest edition may be required. If you are ever unsure, email your professor and ask.
Don’t panic-buy supplements
You might feel like you need to purchase the latest outline or study aid from every company available. Don’t do it. There are hundreds of prep companies offering everything from case briefs to outlines. When classes become more challenging and you feel crunched for time, you will be tempted to buy your way to good grades. It won’t work. You need to learn how to analyze and do law school on your own, not regurgitate the thoughts from your study aids. Do the hard work, not the easy, expensive work.
You may consider one or two supplements if you seem to be on a different wavelength from your professors or you have a hard time with an area of the law. Wait to buy any supplements for a few weeks so you have time to get to know the class and the professor. Some professors are so particular about the way that they teach that supplements will be of little help to you.
Make sure you take advantage of what you are given. Most law school libraries will have physical study aids that you can check out. Many libraries also purchase subscriptions to online services that you can access using your law school email.
My school purchases a subscription to Quimbee for each law student. Quimbee has case briefs for almost every case in 1L classes. I often use Quimbee when I am reading a complex case and I want to check my understanding of the facts or the holding.
If you are considering a supplement, look for supplements that help you prepare for your exam. Crushendo supplements come with mnemonics and audio outlines that not only simplify the information but help you remember it.
Save up for professional outfits
My most unexpected law school expense had to deal with professional outfits. As a woman, I had plenty of dresses and nice shirts, but I had nothing that resembled a pantsuit. Then, a week before my first interview at school, I suddenly needed to buy a whole new suit with a matching shirt and new pumps. If you are trying to save money, the last thing you want to do is buy stuff last minute.
Plan ahead. First, talk to other law students and learn about professional dress. Professional dress for men is easy to find—conservative suits, plain ties, and dress shoes. However, professional dress for women can be trickier. Look for pantsuits, shirt and pencil skirt combos, blouses in conservative colors, and heels.
Second, start searching websites and comparing prices. Wait until you can find some good deals. There are regular sales for business clothes throughout the year. If you are aware of these sales and accumulate a wardrobe over time, you can save a lot of money.
Use university perks
You are a member of a university, not just a law school. Does your school provide a free bus or train pass? Are there university deals on new computers? What about a free pass to your campus gym? Take advantage of everything your university has to offer.
Many companies offer deals to students, and law students are often included in this group. As long as you have a .edu email address, most deals available to undergrads are available to you. Law students can get a free six month Amazon Prime trial and a discounted subscription to Amazon Prime. Spotify, Hulu, and Showtime have a combined student deal, and Apple Music also provides a student discount.
Apply for law school scholarships
Do not forget about scholarships. You probably applied to your own school’s scholarships when you applied to school, but many other agencies also offer scholarships. Many minority students have extra opportunities for scholarships to encourage diversity. Also, if you get good grades in school, you may be able to earn additional scholarships from your school.
Find quality housing
Housing can be a huge expense, especially if you are going to law school in a big city. Look for cheaper housing options, such as living with roommates. However, do not get an apartment with undergraduate roommates. You do not need to go back to the partying undergrad life. Try to connect with other law students like you who are focused on school.
Make good food choices
It may seem like a small thing to grab lunch at a new restaurant or go out for drinks with friends. But these purchases easily add up. Mint, a budgeting service, recommends that a single person should budget $251 a month for food. If you track what you spend on food, you may be surprised by how much you spend on coffee or vending machine granola bars. Cut back on fast food purchases. You can also pay attention to your law school emails and attend networking events with free food!
You can save a lot of money in law school by just being aware and remembering these money saving tips. Know where your money goes. Know what your financial weaknesses are. Small steps can make a big difference!