Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Modest Proposal To Make Us All Slightly Less Poor

When the semester began, we were ecstatic . . .

Our loans had cleared and deposited themselves with their sweet, sweet 6.8% interest in our QuickPay(TM) account - this being our final semester and all - thought we were free and clear of paying the ever-increasing amounts of money to the Law School. Everybody dance now!

Alas, our bliss was short-lived . . . We forgot that we had to buy books!

Now, before you interject with a million-and-one ways to get around paying the "list" price for the most expensive textbooks, let us assure you that we do them all. Taking courses with no book? Our bread-and-butter. Buying and selling on A veritable way of life for us. But sometimes there's just no way around it: there's a class you need, and it's a new textbook. Goodbye financial solvency, hello U.S. Federal Budget 2k10!

After bleeding over $250 on two new textbooks, we wondering . . . why are the things so damned expensive? And why is it necessary to put out a new edition practically every single year? Even typing it makes us kind of angry . . . so while we're sitting here waiting for college football to come back, I'm going to throw out some suggestions that could make textbooks a lot cheaper, in avant-garde slogan form:

(1) Remove all of the cases!
Why are the cases published at all? The Supreme Court cases are all available - for free - on the internet, and UVA Law requires everyone to own an interwebs-accessible computer, so why not let us all read them there. What about other cases? No problem - every single student at UVA Law gets free, full access to both Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw. The professor should say: "OK class, everyone go to 531 U.S. 98 for an example of fantastic constitutional reasoning." The class will then have the option of either pulling the case up on their laptop (for why banning laptops in class is bad, see this lengthy screed), or printing it out at the Lexis/Westlaw lab, which is also free. And in this way, you could get any law review articles the professor wants you to read - also free of charge. The Professor need only identify them on the syllabus.

But say the professor is not "down" with all of this use of the interwebs - problem? Nope. The professor can just make a copy of the judicial opinions and put them in a course packet or a *.pdf that students print out. As the US Copyright Office has noted:
Edicts of government, such as judicial opinions, administrative rulings, legislative enactments, public ordinances, and similar official legal documents are not copyrightable for reasons of public policy. This applies to such works whether they are Federal, State, or local as well as to those of foreign governments.
And yet we pay 100s of dollars for them?! - - Just print out the cases you need and send them over to the copy office - no harm, no foul.

And about those "edited" cases - a professor can easily edit cases in a course packet - in fact many professor do exactly that! - or they can simply tell the students which sections of the opinion are important to read.

What's left should be a very thin volume with all of the "commentary" that usually goes into the casebook. And that shouldn't cost very much at all.

(2) No Need for A New Edition Every Year!
Thanks to the age-old principle of Stare decisis et non quieta movere, law is (relatively) static from year to year - I mean, at least as far as casebooks are concerned. The Federal Income Tax provisions have been same for years now, for example, and most of the cases you read are even older than that. And don't even get us started on courses like property, where will you get to read such contemporary gems as Tulk v. Moxhay (1848) and Paradine v. Jane (1647).

Last year's radical changes to the law of Wills, Trusts, and Estates necessitated yet another new edition of the 156 dollar casebook. Good thing, too, because most of the material isn't available anywhere else!

In all seriousness, the minor changes from year-to-year should be handled in a supplement, preferably a free, online one. Otherwise we're stuck with the current lousy situation of affairs: we have to buy a new textbook every year, and can't sell our old used ones. More money for everyone - - - except the students.

(3) Course-packs and paper-backs FTW!
If possible, everything should be done by course-packet. Cheap to make, better for the environment. But we get that professors want to have their work put out there in a more-publishable format. Still, why not have paper-back casebooks. Our Criminal Adjudications Casebook was a paperback, and it was great (we even would have been able to sell it back for some real money because it was in such good condition - except for the problem that it would soon soon become "obsolete" - see point #2). To us, there seems to be no real reason why to make casebooks hard cover (they're not being reused more than once or twice, see point 2). And paper backs are better for the environment (we have been told) in addition to being cheaper.

(4) No more statute books!
OK, we don't buy these anyway (internet) but just for the record, stop making people by expensive (sometimes as much as $45!) books of statutes when they are, again, all available online. In the case of federal statutes, they are not only on Lexis/Westlaw, but also - thanks to Cornell Law School - available online at the Legal Information Institute. Especially vexing: not allowing people to access said statutes online during exams (which in effects mandates buying such a book - or in our case at least borrowing one).

Anyway, these four points in conjunction could make law school just a little bit cheaper for all of us. Obviously these ideas aren't going to be popular with everyone (read: some folks actually profit from expensive casebooks!), but it's ARE OUR Law School. And we're the ones paying.

ITE, Can You Really Afford an Entire Textbook?


Anonymous said...

Sorry for posting this here. I was not sure where else to ask this question: How exactly do you go over last semester's exams with professors? Do you print it out yourself and then bring that to his office after making an appointment? It doesn't break the honor code or exam rules to print the exam out?

Anonymous said...

Wow, I hope you aren't serious. If you haven't deleted your exam within 24 hours of receiving your grade for that exam, it is considered a per se honor code violation at the law school.

I hope for your own sake that either (1) you were joking or (2) you are just a naive, ignorant 1L with a group of lazy PA's.

Anonymous said...

Don't listen to 3:49. I'd just ask the professor, they're not that scary.

Anonymous said...

3:58 is setting you up!!! Listen to 3:49. If you print out your exam and hand it to a professor, you are asking to be brought before the honor council and thrown out of the University. Think before you seriously hurt your future prospects.

Anonymous said...

I have never heard it is an honor code violation to keep the copy of your written examination on your computer, though I might have just been under informed by my PAs. Do you have a citation for this alleged rule, 3:49?


Anonymous said...

3:49 = Flame.

For 3:23, just email your prof for an appointment; he'll (almost certainly) have your exam that you can review with him.


Anonymous said...

4:48 & 5:15 = the lowest form of 1L gunner trash. Sabotaging another student is cruel and pathetic.

Anonymous said...

10:30, what the hell are you talking about?

Anonymous said...

Wait, someone, anyone, is this an actual rule? Are you supossed to trash all of your old exams? Please, if someone actually knows, please say so.

Anonymous said...

You're actually supposed to keep a copy of your exam in case something happens with your online submission. I usually keep 2 copies: one I don't open ever so I have the timestamp if something goes wrong, the second I can open if I want to.


Anonymous said...

"We're slightly poorer." - Flight of the Conchords

Anonymous said...

God some of you are big dummies

Anonymous said...

Some of the people who post here are dummies because they believed there was possible truth in the assertion that there is some asinine rule controlling the actions of students? Why don't you think about that idea the next time you're signing the registration paper on the first day of classes.

SwampPoodle said...

For a response to the column: I agree that all of these improvements would but good for students. However, because professors make so much money from their textbooks, I can't imagine any of them ever going along with a scheme like this. Except for maybe the statute books. But then I have found that those are sometimes hard to navigate online. I never would have bought civ pro though as west law/lexis have so many free little booklets.