Weigh 3 Factors When Making a Law School Budget

As a student at the Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University in North Carolina, Christopher Brown must study topics that are a core part of most J.D. programs, such as criminal law and constitutional law.

Less formally, he's also learning about budgeting, financial planning and low-cost living.

The 24-year-old rising third-year student has an unpaid internship for this summer, just as he did last year. He's financing his school years and the time in between with student loans and scholarships and carefully tracking his spending with a spreadsheet.

In his budget, there are line items for gas ($100 per month), groceries and miscellaneous ($500 per month) and more. He credits his mother for his budgeting skills.

"She had my back," says Brown. His mother, he says, is a certified public accountant.

[Find out how ready you are to pay for law school.]

Law school costs many students $30,000 or more per year, and the American Bar Association strongly discourages first-year students from working. Prospective and current students should think about how they'll manage their money while pursuing a J.D., experts and students say.

Here are three factors law school applicants should weigh when preparing to spend for their degree.

1. Books: Many classes for first-year students come with case books, says Tom Williams, assistant dean for academic affairs and the institution at Arizona State University's O'Connor College of Law. And these books typically aren't cheap -- he says new ones can run students between $200 and $400.

Williams encourages students to consider short-term borrowing for textbooks. "A rental of that book might be $100," he says.

Students can usually rent books from a school store or other organizations.

"Most student bar associations will also have a used book sale at the beginning of school," says Michelle Rahman, associate dean for admissions at the University of Richmond School of Law.

[Learn 10 ways to get financially ready for law school.]

Because many law schools have similar first-year curriculums, students may go outside of their own school to find discounted text books, but the books may not necessarily be the right version, says Rahman. "Make sure it's the right edition."

She also encourages students to look online for cheaper books at sites such as BookFinder.com and lawbooksforless.com.

If buying or renting all the books they'll need for a semester isn't an option, students can also share.

"Jane buys the torts book. You buy the civil procedure book. And you can share those books with each other," she says.

2. Clothes: It's common for law students to dress in suits or other professional attire. There are law firm mixers, bar association events or even orientation activities that require more formalwear.

Aspiring J.D.s should plan on buying a suit and look to discount stores for deals.

"I looked for a nice blazer at a secondhand store," says Jeremy Rosenberg, a soon-to-be third-year student at CUNY School of Law.

[Pick a cost-efficient law school.]

Rahman, from the University of Richmond, recommends one suit in a neutral color, such as navy or gray, that allows students to interchange their shirts or their ties.

"I think a reasonable budget is $200 to $400 for an inexpensive suit," says Williams, from the O'Connor College of Law, when discussing men's professional wear. "As you go through law school, eventually you're going to need more than one but at least at the beginning you can probably get by with one."

Prospective students may also find that the school they plan to attend will help them keep clothing costs low.

In October, Arizona State will have a fashion show to help students learn how to dress, and participating clothing companies will offer discounts to the law students, says Ray English, assistant dean for the office of career and employment services at O'Connor.

"If you don't look the part, it's going to be hard to get the part," he says.

3. Bar exam preparation: To become a licensed attorney, law graduates must pass a bar exam. Students often take a preparation course for the exam and the test the summer after they graduate. It's not advised, experts say, for law graduates to work while studying, which means more time without a paycheck.

"We really talk to students early about planning for how they're going to survive that period between graduation and the bar exam, and pay for their bar prep," says Williams. "The bar prep courses are expensive."

Online options may cost a few hundred dollars, but a popular bar preparation company such as BARBRI Law Review can cost students significantly more, he says. In the District of Columbia, for example, a BARBRI prep course can cost $3,495.

"It's really something they should plan for as soon as they can and start figuring out how they're going to afford it and set aside money," says Williams.

Searching for a law school? Get our complete rankings of Best Law Schools.

Delece Smith-Barrow is an education reporter at U.S. News, covering graduate schools. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at dsmithbarrow@usnews.com.