Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How Law Schools Could Save Students $150 Million. Per Year.

Elangdell pressCALI, How Law Schools Could Save Students $150 Million:

There are over 140,000 law students in the 201 ABA accredited law schools in the US. According to the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), higher education students spend an average of $1100 per year on books. Do the math and this comes out to 140,000 x $1100 = $154,000,000.

What if most of the books that students need for law school were free? Well, obviously, this would save students the cost of purchasing $154,000,000 worth of books each and every year.

How can this be done?

What if every law school in the country – all 201 of the ABA accredited law schools – nominated just one faculty at that law school to write a casebook and donated that book, in electronic format, to the commons under a Creative Commons license. The cost to law schools would not be zero, but collectively, the value to law students would be enormous.

The basic plan would be thus…

Every law school puts forth a Fellow who will participate in a team of faculty to write a casebook in a substantive area of law over 12 months.

The law school gives the Fellow leave from teaching a course or an institutional stipend for writing the book.  The details are to be worked out between the school and the Fellow.

These 201 Fellows form the first cadre of a three year, 100 casebook effort.

Faculty will form Fellowship Teams to work on a book together to share the workload and provide collaborative feedback and quality control to each other. The assumption here is 3 authors per book, so 201 law schools = 67 books and 50% completion/attrition, so 33-34 new books per year x 3 years = 100 books.

A web-based service to enable Fellows to setup their teams or find others who want to write in the same subject area … a kind of for casebook authors. CALI could help with this.

Since we need to transition from paper books or “pbooks”, we can use a service like to create hardcover or softcover prints at low cost. CALI’s eLangdell Press offers softcover prints of 500 page books for under $15 (not including shipping) from, so we have some experience with this.

Authors can retain copyright in their own works, but must license the book under a Creative Commons license to allow redistribution, remixing and re-use by anyone else. This is why one of the formats for distribution must be Microsoft Word’s .doc format.  This is critical to creating an ecology of course materials that permits improvement and customization for local needs.

The benefits of such a project are considerable:

This sends a message to law students that law schools are doing something innovative, serious and substantive to increase the value and quality of legal education and reduce the cost.

This idea leverages the benefits of electronic books and ubiquitous internet connectivity and exposes law faculty to 21st century technologies that are becoming de rigueur to their students.

The result provides a remixable foundation of electronic course materials that is a starting point for innovation in courses and curriculum design.

(Disclosure: I am Vice-President of the Board of Directors of CALI.)

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Institutions as dedicated to financial fraud (see placement statistics) as law schools are, are extremely unlikely to perform this sort of public service (the kind that takes money out of their pockets).

Many (most? all?) schools have a financial relationship with the retailers (and other intermediaries) who handle these books.

Just another little buried nugget of oozing corruption in the rotted heart of legal academia.

Posted by: cas127 | Jul 19, 2012 10:50:52 PM

Anon's comment implies the sales job for this effort shouldn't be directed at faculty - it should be directed at the deans and administrators who keep the tenure gate, to produce policies that DO reward these kinds of efforts.

I'm not in legal education, but I am in a place where I have a department chair and a provost who value my efforts to produce and support open-source course materials, where the standards for promotion and tenure do allow for such efforts, and where those efforts ARE helping my career. If the rules and regs for advancement don't reward that type of work, I will be the first to tell someone to stay as far away as they can, because ultimately you don't want to sacrifice your career for a type of work, regardless of how much you believe in it.

This is a spectacular proposal - full marks to CALI - but you don't want to just see faculty nominated, you want to give faculty the right incentives to do their best work and to produce the best possible casebooks. That's going to be a much harder sell.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward | Jul 19, 2012 12:08:08 PM

r. willis

Would you want to be the unfortunate "Fellow" assigned to develop a casebook for your law school?

It is really miserable, unrewarding, and does absolutely nothing to help your career.

Teaching, advising, and researching are all far better from a career and personal enjoyment point of view.

This is the kind of thing that would be forced on some junior untenured person, who would put in the bare minimum amount of work necessary to not get yelled out. Since a casebook is a casebook, and there's no reward for producing higher quality, why would you expect anything produced under this system to be nearly as good as a casebook in which the author stood to benefit if the book became popular and was widely used?

I've seen open source software. Open Office looks like Microsoft Office from 30 years ago.

This is a recipe for low quality product and resentful producers.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 18, 2012 5:55:52 PM

I am the author of the referenced article and the Executive Director of CALI.

There are many different economic models for remunerating authors for their work. The current one involves 80-90% of the cost of the book going to intermediaries and processes that are becoming
increasingly unnecessary or can be eliminated through age-old American ingenuity and innovation.

With ebooks, we can (eventually) eliminate the cost of printing, shipping and warehousing the physical books themselves.

With websites and freely available software, we can eliminate the proprietary digital production processes that were previously only available via commercial publishers.

With blogs like this and personal computers and the Internet (which we all own/access already), we can largely eliminate the need for marketing.

I am not saying that authors should not get paid for writing casebooks. I am saying that there is an enormous amount of inefficiency in the system that can be squeezed out and the savings distributed back to the authors and the students.

It's up to the law school to cut a deal with the faculty using leave time or stipends so that faculty have time and incentive to write the book. It's up to other faculty to decide if the fruits of this effort are worthy of adoption. Hardly socialism, much less communism. Just a different, and I believe better, economic means of production.

When CALI was getting started in the 1970's, no commercial entity existed to create computer-based tutorials, so law faculty used found-time or received grants to support their efforts. Today, we pay law faculty to write CALI lessons and we have over 900 of them available covering over 30 different legal subject areas. These were used over 1 millions times per year over the last five years. None of CALI staff do this for free and all of CALI's authors were compensated for their time
and content.

The issue that I wish ANON had picked up on, however, was innovation. Legal education is going through cataclysmic changes and law schools are going to need to innovate with their methods of delivery and the design of their curricula. This is hard to do if the core content is owned by an external agency that is tasked with extracting maximum dollar value – not serving the educational or access-to-justice mission of the law school. Freely licensed course materials allow for maximum flexibility to meet changing models of educational design and delivery. Lessig anyone?

I agree, let us compensate our authors, but why do we have to add a 80-90% markup on top of that AND lockup the result such that it cannot be used in new, better and different ways to suit our needs?

Posted by: John Mayer | Jul 18, 2012 5:12:51 PM

hey, anonymous. the proposal is in effect that the law schools would be paying these people to produce the work. not slavery.

Posted by: r. willis | Jul 18, 2012 4:42:15 PM

Fantastic proposal.

Another tactic is to use prior editions of casebooks. Last year, the average cost for the Fed Tax casebook used in my class was about $3. I'm skeptical that the small changes made from edition to edition are worth the extra price for students.

Posted by: andy | Jul 18, 2012 3:01:41 PM

Yes. If you can convince people to do the boring, grueling, and unpleasant work of putting together a casebook for free, the people who they are working for won't have to pay for the work they are doing.

When someone is forced to work, we call that slavery (or the draft during times of war).

When someone gives away for free what they could have rightfully charged for, and what others were willing and perfectly able to pay for, we call that being a fool.

But why stop with free casebooks?

Everyone with a copyright could give it away for free. Free movies, free DVDs, free music, free video games, free novels!

And will the people who are receiving all of this free content reciprocate by providing free rent, free healthcare, free groceries?

I don't think so.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 18, 2012 2:43:31 PM

But then how would law professors make money on the side?

Posted by: David | Jul 18, 2012 2:01:54 PM