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Law Course Material Selection

Things to consider for law faculty when choosing course materials.

Casebook and Course Material Considerations

As you know, course materials are a significant cost for law students. For example, in fall 2023, a 1L student purchasing all their required books through the campus bookstore spent over $1,000 on books, and that does not include additional books they will need to purchase for spring semester. 

In addition to the cost, students can face difficulties accessing books. This fall, the campus store was sold out of many of the required casebooks and supplemental materials before classes started, and shipping times for books ordered online were slower and less predictable than before. 

Faculty have academic freedom to choose the materials that will work best for their courses. Open education and course material affordability are strategic priorities for the university as a whole. As part of the Reigniting our Strategic Directions planning process, Seattle University has created the Open Education Task Force to promote the usage and creation of open educational resources at Seattle University. 

This guide is intended to offer some suggestions for faculty when selecting their course materials and creating their syllabi. 

Consider Open Access Casebooks

Open access casebooks are an alternative that addresses both cost and access issues. Although they are not available or appropriate for every course--especially specialized upper level courses--there is a strong and growing collection of open access casebooks available for many courses. 

Faculty may want to consider the following publishers/distributors of open access course materials when selecting materials for courses. 

These are some of the major sources, but there are also other repositories of open access course materials that include materials for law school courses. Additionally, there are some self-hosted materials for specific courses not included in repositories that can be found via Google. 

Regardless of where you find the material, the process of evaluating the book will be similar to how you would approach evaluating a commercially published book. Depending on the source, the open access book may not have went through the same sort of editorial review as a commercially-published book. On the other hand, the open access book may come with helpful reviews from other faculty or in-class exercises created by other faculty. The open access book is also able to be modified to fit your needs in ways that commercially published books cannot.

Other Casebook Considerations

Even if an open access casebook is not available or otherwise not a good fit for your course, there are still things you can do to make your course materials more affordable and accessible. 

First, consider a low-cost commercial publisher. Semaphore Press is a commercial publisher that publishes several low-cost casebooks. 

Second, when comparing books from commercial publishers, keep the cost in mind. Commercially published casebooks now routinely cost over $200 each, but prices vary widely with some casebook prices approaching $400. Considering price and trying to choose lower cost options can substantially reduce the financial burden for students. 

Third, compare the edition of the book you're assigning to the prior edition. If the editions are substantially similar, consider including page numbers for both editions in reading assignments in your syllabus. If students can easily use an older edition, they will have better access to cheaper used books. 

Fourth, if you're using a commercially-published casebook, consider scanning the readings assigned for the first week and uploading to Canvas. This fall we saw many students who could not get their books before the start of classes. Making the early assignments available online makes it easier for students to choose cheaper used books and will help all students who run in to out of stock books or shipping issues. 

Finally, consider alternatives to casebooks. Does the library own books you could place on course reserve? Could you create your own course packet using a mix of library-licensed materials and public domain cases? Harvard Law Library's Innovation Lab has tools to help you build your own casebook, and your library liaison can help identify library materials you can use for your course. 

Statutory Supplements

Carefully consider whether you need students to purchase a statutory supplement or other supplementary materials. These supplements often cost $100 or more on top of the $200-$400 students are spending on the casebook, and almost everything included in these supplements is already available to students through library-licensed databases or free online sites. 

Although it might be a bit more work at the outset to set up your syllabus, using the free or library-licensed version of these sources can save students a substantial amount of money and increase accessibility. Additionally, accessing statutes and other supplementary materials in this way will replicate the ways students are likely to interact with these materials in practice. Contact your library liaison for help identifying library-licensed or freely available versions of materials in the commercially-published supplement.