Law books for the price of printing?

Law students spend between $3,000 and $4,000 on books while in law school. For those who borrow, add an additional $1,000 on the 10-year plan or $2,000 on the 20-year plan. Although a drop in the bucket compared to tuition and living expenses, $4,000 to $6,000 for books is not insignificant.

Reducing these costs to the cost of printing is a common suggestion, but it doesn’t seem to have been done on a large scale. In a new article in the Saint Louis University Law Journal, Professor Ben Trachtenberg of the University of Missouri Law School explains how to do this in an effort to encourage action.

The question is: will it happen?

It starts from a sensible premise. Casebooks really offer value in the form of editing and commentary. Although the other parts of the book are generally freely available in the public domain, the people who put together the casebooks still deserve compensation for their work and expertise.

Trachtenberg exposes his argument through the prism of collections and supplements of criminal procedure. He conservatively estimates that students at Missouri’s four law schools spend $80,000 a year on crime books. Extend these estimates to all ABA-approved law schools, and law students spend a conservative amount of $5 million per year. My estimate on the back of the envelope for the total spent by law students on all casebooks and supplemental materials is about $100 million per year. However, Trachtenberg points out that not all courses are suitable for scale.

The costs imposed on professors to change casebooks, tastes, accent, and other factors would ensure that no book would ever be adequate. However, that is a lot of money spent each year on an area of ​​law that is not rapidly changing. When the law changes, student-printed books facilitate the changes without new editions or supplements.

Since course materials don’t appear out of nowhere, Trachtenberg suggests that law schools coordinate efforts to fund teams to create these books. He believes that part of a university’s mission should be to control costs and disseminate knowledge. The production of casebooks seems to be a natural choice.

But rather than schools pooling their resources, it may make more sense to do so through an external grant-funded organization. This would further reduce costs, as students would not fund the creation of casebooks. Of course, even if students fund these types of projects through tuition, they’re saving overall – and that’s what really matters.

Professor Trachtenberg says it’s a “who’s with me?” kind of statement. He can’t do it alone, but hopefully he’ll have takers as he works to spread the idea. Full professors have the freedom to spend their time as they see fit. Why not that?

Kyle McEntee is the Executive Director of Law School Transparency, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to make access to the legal profession more transparent, affordable and equitable. LST publishes the LST Reports and produces I Am The Law, a podcast on legal professions. You can follow him on Twitter @kpmcentee and @LSTupdates.

Nancy I. Romero