Wanted: Bookbag For Law School
May 1, 2007 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Help me to find a bookbag for law school.

I'm starting 1L in August. I won't be living near school. I'll be commuting via subway; and while I anticipate that some books can stay in my locker and others can stay at home, I'll probably need to carry a heavy load daily.

I'd love to hear advice from current or former law students, or specific suggestions from grad students in similar circumstances. I've been carrying this Filson for the past several years, but it may prove too small for law school casebooks. It's been a long time since I wore a backpack and I'm reluctant, but I do need plenty of space.

I've been browsing this selection of backpacks and messenger bags from Victorinox. I haven't decided whether I'll carry a laptop, but I'd like to preserve the option; on the other hand, I already own a SleeveCase so I don't need a padded pocket. I definitely don't need three pouches. I can do my own compartmentalizing. Simple is best.

Thanks in advance. I appreciate your help.

Bonus question: If you are, or have been a law student, how many books did you bring home daily? 2–3 or 4–5?
posted by cribcage to Shopping (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I use this bag for school (nursing, not law, but I need a lot of space, too) and I just love it. Lots of views and reviews there to look at.
posted by houseofdanie at 9:07 AM on May 1, 2007

Best answer: Some people find what I did to my books during 1L sacrilegious, but it worked great for me. I took all my books to a local copy place, had them cut off the bindings and drill 3-punch holes in them. Then each book went into its own binder, and I could just pull out the sections I needed to have with me. I think it cost me around $20 to do it, but it was totally worth it. It meant I carried the equivalent of one casebook around with me, but I had all the text I needed.

I had resigned myself to not being able to sell my books back at the end of the year, but I found a 1L who was thrilled to buy them from me a year later, so it worked out fine.

I only needed to do that during the first year, after that things calmed down a bit.
posted by ambrosia at 9:09 AM on May 1, 2007 [5 favorites]

The answer to your general question and to your bonus question will depend on whether lockers are available for your use.

You may also be surprised how many law students use bags with wheels on them. Consider whether this suits you aesthetically, and get a sense of whether it is socially appropriate at your school.

P.S. If you get a backpack -- which I would recommend over a messenger back -- look for a padded waistbelt, which really helps distribute the load.

P.P.S. You will be very unusual if you forego bringing a laptop daily. Not saying whether you should or shouldn't; just predicting.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:11 AM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding Clyde Minestra. You know those little suitcases with the wheels and the long handle? I knew one or two people who used those. How many books you carry will depend on your class schedule and whether or not you can run home during the day, but be prepared to need (at least) 4 or 5 some days.
posted by dilettante at 9:19 AM on May 1, 2007

I used a backpack with a laptop compartment. I also commuted, but usually didn't bring books home. I did all my reading for the next day in the law school library and left my books in my locker. I know people who had their books cut up, per ambrosia, which is a good idea if you want to do your reading at home.

I graduated in '04 and most of my classmates used laptops daily and carried backpacks. Don't know if you just don't like backpacks, or feel you've outgrown them, but there's nothing better for lugging around heavy books.

After 1L, you learn to skim and selectively not read some stuff, so the book issue becomes less important.
posted by Mavri at 9:21 AM on May 1, 2007

Rollybags are pretty universally mocked, in my experience.

Definitely go with a backpack over a messenger bag. It's way less painful.

Clyde is right, most people bring their laptops.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 9:25 AM on May 1, 2007

Response by poster: ambrosia: That's ingenious. I'll consider it.

Yes, I will have a locker. No, I won't be able to run home between classes; my commute will be about 90 minutes in either direction. I anticipate spending plenty of time in the library, which may help: The more work I finish at school, the fewer books I'll need to carry home.

I don't like wheeled bags, and won't use one. I don't have a specific objection to wearing a backpack, just that it's been a long time and I've grown accustomed to a messenger bag. But I could adapt.
posted by cribcage at 9:28 AM on May 1, 2007

I graduated in the era of stone knives and bearskins so I can't speak to laptops, but I used a huge oversized messenger bag from a company that no longer exists. Lawschool text books are big and heavy and assuming you have a typical courseload you wil have four or five on your heavy days, plus any materials you are carrying around for other work (say, if you are on a journal and don't have a carrel in a nearby library) plus whatever note-taking scheme you come up with (three-ring binders for me, maybe a laptop for you). The bag with wheels idea sounds good, but can you stand to be THAT much of a dork?
posted by The Bellman at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2007

Best answer: The greatest backpack in the world is the Tom Bihn Brain Bag. I've owned one for a few years now and I love it. I have had a ton of heavy stuff in the bag and it sits very nicely on my shoulders (even better when I use the waist belt) and I'm pretty short. My bag also has the Freudian Slip insert and the Snake Charmer. You can really fit a ton in the bag and still strap it down to a somewhat slim profile.
posted by stefnet at 9:32 AM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Per the Ambrosia suggestion, it is my understanding that some casebooks can be ordered in the looseleaf/punched format. I have no idea whether it is cheaper to do a user mod.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:36 AM on May 1, 2007

Crumpler bags are great, and come in backpacks and messenger bag styles. They're tough as old boots. I've got a small shoulder bag and an overnight bag, and they're both really excellent.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:39 AM on May 1, 2007

If you carry casebooks around in a messenger bag (with or without a laptop), you will be very uncomfortable. Get a good sturdy backpack. And skip the wheelie. You don't want to be one of those people.

I found that, depending on my schedule, I would generally keep some books in my locker at school and others at home, so I would typically carry my computer* and one casebook back and forth each day-- sometimes two casebooks.

*But I also found that I took better, if less legible, notes writing on paper. YMMV.
posted by andrewraff at 9:41 AM on May 1, 2007

I'm not a brand person, but for backpacks I firmly believe in Timberland. I carry the heaviest loads (including multiple law books) and barely notice the load. It's all in the straps, which should be heavily padded - NOT those kind of "structured," curved but only lightly padded straps that look fancy, or straps with defined seams that can cut into you. I had one of those and they cut horribly into my neck and back with the kind of weight I was carrying. My Timberland also has a laptop compartment. No joke, my life changed after I got it.

Also, tearing apart your books and bringing excerpts in binders will help a lot. Law books should be sold that way to begin with. And bear in mind that you may not need to bring every book every day. If you know, for example, that you will not be on call, you can look on with someone else on some days.
posted by walla at 9:46 AM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Rollybags are ridiculous and will earn you some teasing, but the option is there. A lot of law students carry two bags; one backpack filled with books, and a messenger bag or tote with the laptop. That's what I did, and it hasn't broken my back yet. I graduate in a week!!!!

As far as how many books you need to carry around daily, it depends. My law school is careful to schedule no more than 3 classes per day for 1Ls, so you would have those 3 plus any supplements you need. But, if you are the type who is unable for whatever reason to get work done at home, then you might need to carry around a lot more (books for today's classes plus books to prepare for tomorrow's classes).

Honestly, rocking an oldschool Eastpak or Jansport is the best since its just a big sturdy empty bag, and then use your Filson for your laptop and any extra junk you end up needing. You'll look like a crazy nomad but so does every other law student.
posted by gatorae at 9:48 AM on May 1, 2007

I'm a law student. I carry a huge messenger bag, and often find myself uncomfortable and worrying about the future health of my back.

I really like ambrosia's idea, but if you end up carrying multiple full books + computer you definitely should think hard about the ergonomics. Rolly bags are common here (slightly moreso among girls, I think). I would probably recommend a backpack above a messenger bag (distribute weight between both shoulders), but carrying so much in an ordinary backpack is likely to be bad for you, too. You might consider looking at a backpack designed for overnight camping (ask for help at EMS). You'll look a bit unusual, but those bags are designed to safely and efficiently carry big weights.
posted by grobstein at 9:49 AM on May 1, 2007

What's your objection to wheeled bags? If I had to lug those books on my back, I'd be paralyzed by now. My sister made fun of me, as did many of my classmates, but by 2L year when they all developed sore shoulders, backs and necks, they all had one. I found the large cargo bags sold at luggage shops to be the best with the sturdiest wheels.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 9:50 AM on May 1, 2007

Wheeled bags are really dorky but it does save you the back pain. (FoxyBrown: You're right ... no 1Ls ever have the wheeled bags, it's the 2 and 3Ls who now know better.) Even with lockers, there's probably days when you'll be hauling 3-5 books around with you (depending on whether your library provides you with a study carrel and whether you use said carrel.)

I got a TimBuk2 messenger bag and have always regretted it. Sure, I look snazzy but I get headaches from all the pressure put on one shoulder or the other. So whatever you do, don't get a messenger bag if you can help it.
posted by Happydaz at 9:55 AM on May 1, 2007

If you will just be commuting on the subway the weight isn't as much of an issue, but if you will be walking around with twenty some pounds worth of books make sure whatever you use distributes the weight properly to avoid issues with your back. I know people who did what ambrosia did and it really allows you to travel light.
posted by caddis at 10:02 AM on May 1, 2007

Response by poster: stefnet: My bag also has the Freudian Slip insert and the Snake Charmer.

Are those separate, removable items that fit inside the Brain Bag, or are they actually sewn into the bag itself if you order them as add-on options?
posted by cribcage at 10:07 AM on May 1, 2007

I used a standard LL Bean bookbag with a laptop sleeve embedded in the smaller of the two compartments. It worked perfectly.

I followed ambrosia's method for a semester or so and found it very convenient, with two caveats: (1) if your prof skips around a lot rather than follows the book from beginning to end, this could be a PITA, and (2) casebooks have tremendous resale value on Amazon after you're done.

You will quickly find that some casebooks are useless, and/or the professor doesn't care if you read the editor's notes. In such instances, you are paying $110 for badly edited public domain material. As a 3L I saved a lot of money by borrowing the book from the library, copying the case citations, and going to town with my free Westlaw. But I'm a nerd and do time-intensive things out of principle, so YMMV.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:09 AM on May 1, 2007

cribcage, they're removable add-ons. I can't say enough good things about Tom Bihn's products.
posted by desuetude at 10:34 AM on May 1, 2007

I used the Land's End Medium Tote with a zipper top. It's big enough to carry your stuff, but not so big that it injures your arm or shoulder. If it gets overfilled, you're carrying too many books. Remember that you can leave the casebook at home and check one out from the library as necessary. (If you're really poor, Lands End often has bargains on bags returned because of a mistake in the stitched-on initials.)

For the first year, I kept all my notes in a giant 3-ring binder. Then I got smart and got half a dozen small (1/2") binders, a different color for each class. They're plenty big to hold your current materials.

Find a quiet corner in the library stacks or a seminar room and read and brief the next day's assignment there. If you brief your cases right, you can leave the casebook in your locker. I brought home casebooks or statute books only on the weekends, or when I had a big reading assignment (e.g., in constitutional law) to prepare.
posted by KRS at 10:56 AM on May 1, 2007

I'm a current 1L, and I bike commute every day with a Chrome Metropolis. I lurve it. It's bombproof and waterproof; both important features. I don't agree that a messanger bag can't be comfortable; if I get everything aligned right it fits fine.

A wheelie bag will draw snarky remarks from your classmates. Trust me on this one.

If you went for a backpack, I'd suggest a messanger backpack from Chrome.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:20 AM on May 1, 2007

My study habits likely make me an oddball amongs law students, but I leave my books at school. There are too many books, the books are too heavy, and then there are the rules booklets, course suppliments, and study aids. Sheesh. Instead, I try to do all my reading while in the building. The result is that I spend a lot of time in the library, but when I'm home it's nice to not have to look at a law book.

One thing to consider is that your law school will likely have lockers in the building, so consider two bags -- one large one for comfortable transporting from your place to school, and then a messenger bag to cover your (likely) minimal needs for every class. No need wheeling in some monstrosity when you just need your laptop and a civ pro casebook. Plus, it saves you from being tied to a suitcase-esque bookbag as you traverse the building during the day.

Good luck! 1L stinks, but it process gets easier the second time around...
posted by herc at 11:20 AM on May 1, 2007

The bag linked to by craven is almost exactly what I used, and I second the fact that, if you fit and wear it right, it will not be uncomfortable or cause back pain. There's a reason that people who carry heavy packages on their backs all day for a living use these things.
posted by The Bellman at 11:43 AM on May 1, 2007

I love my Waterfield Cosmo (I slip a Sleevecase in when I want to carry my laptop). However, if I had to do major schlepping, I'd go for a backpack. Much better weight distribution. For business school I found a great Jansport backpack on sale at Linens n Things. If you want a backpack, I suggest going to a store like REI and just trying them on - a lot of what you like will depend on your body shape and size.
posted by radioamy at 1:24 PM on May 1, 2007

I'm a law student, and for two years I've carried all my books and my laptop in a backpack. I tried a messenger bag for a couple weeks, but my load weighed in the neighborhood of 35 lbs, so that solution didn't last long. I have a timbuk2 datadump now and it's the best I've found. The 4-5 casebooks and my laptop are pretty comfortable on my back, though I'm a big guy. There are a few roller-bags (mostly international students) but most students who don't want to carry everything all the time just run back and forth between lockers or simply don't have all of their classes one after another like I do.

All my books come home with me, but then I'm only at the law school 2-3 days a week.
posted by jaysus chris at 2:08 PM on May 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Rising 3L weighing in... (just finished my last exam of the year. Yay!)

I have a very boring, normal bookbag. I did my work at law school and left it in my locker. I never took home more than one or two books.

Although I am giving some serious consideration to Ambrosia's idea for next year... that's genius.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:48 PM on May 1, 2007

I pretty much did what ambrosia did, only I was too cheap to go to a copy place so made do with an exacto knife and some binder clips. Saved me a lot of weight.

You could always just leave the books at home and download the relevant cases from quicklaw onto your laptop for easy access at school.

Or just don't buy the books in the first place. Between quicklaw and the library you probably won't be missing them all that much. Your wallet and back will thank you.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:37 PM on May 1, 2007

I use a Samsonite roller - in fact it is this bag. It holds 4 books and my notepads (I handwrite notes) as well as highlighters, a phone and a bunch of other stuff. It has a place for a laptop, but then you would only be able to put a couple books in it. I love it and i don't know how I lasted a year and a half without it. I started law school with a normal bookbag and found that I could only fit a couple books in it, otherwise my back would start hurting. You may differ, but I find that the last place I want to be is at the law school, so I bring all my books hoem with me so I can study in my own office, far away from annoying people. I generally have at least 4-5 books a semester. If you are worried about what your classmates will think, just look around the first week to see what they are carrying. I would say about 25% of my class uses roller bags.
posted by miss meg at 6:11 PM on May 1, 2007

Clyde Menestra's got it. That's what I did. You will be bringing your laptop every day.

Jesus, there are so many lawyers on this site.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:42 PM on May 1, 2007

stefnet: My bag also has the Freudian Slip insert and the Snake Charmer.

Are those separate, removable items that fit inside the Brain Bag, or are they actually sewn into the bag itself if you order them as add-on options?

This was already answered well above, but yes, they are separate, removable items. You also mentioned that you have a sleeve already for your notebook, but I can highly recommend the Vertical Brain Cell for the Tom Bihn Brain Bag as well. It clips into the bag, so your laptop is suspended.
posted by stefnet at 3:35 AM on May 2, 2007

Response by poster: I e-mailed Tom Bihn and got this reply:
The Brain Bag is definitely big enough to swallow several dictionary-sized books. Many law students use the Brain Bag.

Check out this link to our discussion forums where a law student posted about their experience using the Brain Bag. They also included pictures showing what they were able to fit inside of the Brain Bag.

I hope that helps - let me know if you have any further questions. Feel free to post my reply to you on MetaFilter if you think it would help other members.
In the meantime, I checked three stores trying to put my hands on a Victorinox backpack. Bloomingdale's, Macy's, and the London Harness Company all carry the Victorinox line, but none stock any backpacks.

There's also a Timberland store nearby; and I found another company, Spire, which seems comparable to Tom Bihn. I'll keep looking; but it seems that if I want to examine the bags, I'll have to order a couple and return the rejects.

I'll update when I pick one. Thanks again for everybody's help.
posted by cribcage at 7:12 PM on May 3, 2007

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