#DearFindLaw: Best Law School Backpacks, Buying or Renting Books

By William Peacock, Esq. on August 01, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

#DearFindLaw - Advice for New Lawyers and Law Students from @FindLawLP

Today's #DearFindLaw advice column is all about junk in the trunk, aka hauling your crap to class. A reader asks us for recommendations for backpacks, an important consideration considering the size and quantity of expensive casebooks law students will be hauling back-and-forth to class, not to mention your irreplaceable notes stored on your expensive laptop.

And speaking of casebooks, another reader wants our advice on procuring casebooks: buy or rent, finding cheaper casebooks, and getting casebooks before your financial aid checks clear.

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Well Matt, it looks like you've already made a solid choice. We'd recommend a backpack that can (a) carry a few thousand two dozen pounds or so (five casebooks at about 4 pounds each, plus a laptop) and (b) has some padding to protect your laptop. The pack you picked looks sturdy and has a built-in sleeve for your laptop, so it checks off both boxes.

But, if you really want to go military, why not go for the classic All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) pack? Introduced in the 1970s, it served generations of American soliders well, across all of the branches of the military. Though the Army and some units in the other branches have moved on to the MOLLE (Molly), which looks a lot like the backpack you picked out, you can't go wrong with a classic.

ALICE or Molly -- the choice is yours. Also, considering the heft of the books, you might opt for a rolling bag instead, even if they aren't nearly as badass as an ALICE pack.


Filling Your Backpacks

Our other topic comes from a series of questions texted in by a friend. He wants our opinion on buying versus renting, tips for finding cheap casebooks, and how people go about buying said books before their student loan checks come in.

Here's my advice: Don't rent, at least for your first semester. Most students highlight the crap out of their books, and scribble notes in the margins, and you'll probably want to do the same at first to see if that note-taking strategy works for you. After a semester or two, if you find yourself taking more notes on your laptop or in a separate notebook, and you think you can get away without writing in your books, renting might be an option, but also consider how the cost of a used book, minus the trade-in value on Amazon, compares to the rental cost. (Then again, if it's a used book, you might get stuck with an un-sellable "old" edition if you choose to buy.)

Finding cheap casebooks. Do such things exist? We hope they will someday, and that more professors will adopt or author the free online casebooks we discussed earlier this year. But for now, in the real world, your best bet is to go used, go online, and go early -- the closer you get to your first day of classes, the narrower your selection will get, both online and in your school's bookstore.

Finally, when you're trying to pay for the books, well, credit cards are always an option. Considering how much you'll spend, you might want to keep an eye out for one of those "Spend $1,000 in your first three months, get two free flights" deals that pop up every so often. (NerdWallet and Slickdeals are great places to look for these.) If credit isn't an option, and you can't borrow from family, check with your school's bookstore. You'll probably pay more there than online, but you can go through the used books to find the least molested copies, and at least at my alma maters, you could charge books to your student account.

That's it for this week's edition of #DearFindLaw. If you have a question for next week's column, you can find me on Twitter @PeacockEsq.

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