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27 Holiday Gifts for Law Students That Are Under $25

Written by Brett McKay

With Christmas just a month away, its time to start Christmas shopping. If you have a law student in your life and are having trouble coming up with frugal holiday gift ideas, here’s 27 thoughtful gift ideas that cost less than $25.


A box of pens. Every semester I buy a box of Pilot G2 Mini. By the end of the semester, I’ve used them all up. The G2 mini writes well and are small enough to carry around in a pocket easily. This would make a great stock stuffer. Cost:$5 for a pack of four.

Highlighters. Law students read. A lot. And they go through highlighters like gangbusters when reading. Office Depot sells a big tube of 24 highlighters for about $15. This would definitely last the entire year.

Thumb drive. Thumb drives come in real handy at law school. Law students use them all time to transport digital files to other computers. Cost: Varies on the amount of storage space you buy. You can get one with 2GB for about $13.

A yearly planner. Part of effective time management is writing things down. Help your law student start the year off right by buying them a planner for the new year. There are tons of planners to choose from. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Cost: $10-$20. At-A-Glance makes great planners for about $13.

Stapler. My mother-in-law gave me a stapler last year as a stocking stuffer. It was one of my favorite gifts I received. I use it all the time in law school. Cost: $10. Swingline always makes a great stapler.

Personalized stationary. This past semester I wrote a lot of thank you notes after my job interviews. It would have been nice to have some personalized letter head or thank you cards to send to my employers. Over at VistaPrint you can get 30 custom made thank you cards for $20.


Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Success in law school depends on effective time management. Getting Things Done by David Allen is a great book that sets up an efficient and effective time management system. The idea behind GTD is clearing your mind of all the stuff you got going on in your life and capturing it somewhere else. Once you’ve collected all your information, GTD sets up an efficient system so you can process it all and get things done. I got this book last year and found it to be extremely helpful. Cost: $8
Law School Confidential (Revised Edition): A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience: By Students, for Students. This a great book for the soon to be law student. The author covers every aspect of the law school experience-taking the LSAT, surviving first semester, internships, the bar, and finding a job. In addition to describing what the law school experience is going to be like, the author gives practical tips on what a student can do to succeed in law school. For example, the author has a section in which he gives advice on how to study for exams. Cost: $10.
What Can You Do With a Law Degree?: A Lawyer’s Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside & Around the Law. Some people aren’t meant to be attorneys. Many find this out while in law school. This book suggests tons of career options one can take with a law degree that doesn’t involve being an attorney. If you know someone who’s in law school, but doesn’t want to be a lawyer, this is a great gift for them Cost: $10.
Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text With Exercises. Good legal writing is supposed to be so simple that any non-attorney could read a lawyer’s writing and understand it completely. That’s hard to do. This book can help. In addition to the great tips it gives, it also has exercises you can do to help lawyers write more clearly. Cost: $10
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. Success in the legal profession requires effective networking. This is probably the best book I’ve read on networking. Lots of great practical advice. Cost: $14


I’m suggesting if you by DVDs, buy them used. There’s no need to buy new. They won’t care. Prices on used DVDs vary on Amazon, but generally they’re about $5.

Legally Blonde 2 – Red, White & Blonde (Special Edition). Reese Witherspoon plays a stereotypical blond who gets into Harvard law school. Hilarity then ensues. This is a fun movie to watch when your brain needs a break from studying. Cost: $5 used
The Paper Chase. This is a good movie to give to soon-to-be-law student if you want to scare the bejesus out of them. The Paper Chase is about a Harvard law student who finds himself the adversary of the school’s most harsh professor. The professor tears students to shreds with the Socratic method. The story becomes more complex when the student learns he’s fallen in love with the daughter of his nemesis, the contracts professor. I haven’t had any law professors like the one in the Paper Chase, but I think the movie does a good job in showing how engrossed law student can become with the law. Cost: $5 used.
The Rainmaker. The Rainmaker, starring Matt Damon and Danny DeVito, is based on the John Grisham novel of the same name. This is your typical David v. Goliath story. Matt Damon plays a young attorney who, having just passed the bar exam, represents a family whose son is denied treatment for leukemia by their insurance company. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Cost: $5 used.
A Civil Action. A Civil Action, starring John Travolta, is actually based on a true case. The story revolves around industrial pollution in a New England town that has contaminated the drinking water. Consequently, children start getting sick and die. John Travolta plays the attorney who takes on the polluters. The movie does a good job portraying how civil procedure can be used win or lose a case. Cost: $5 used.
A Time to Kill. A Time to Kill another movie based on a John Grisham novel. The film stars Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey (I think he keeps his shirt on the entire time during the film), Samuel L. Jackson, and Kevin Spacey. Set in Mississippi, Samuel L. Jackson plays a father who takes justice into his own hands and kills the two men who raped his daughter. Sandra Bullock plays an idealistic law student who assists Matthew McConaughey in defending the vigilante father in this racially charged court drama. Of course you can expect Samuel L. Jackson to yell alot, because that’s what Samuel L. Jackson does best. Cost: $5 used
The Pelican Brief. Hey! What do you know? Another lawyer movie based on a John Grisham novel. A law student (Julia Roberts) discovers evidence of a conspiracy to kill two Supreme Court Justices. She teams up with an investigative reporter (Denzel Washington)and the two are hunted down by those who don’t want the plot revealed. If only being in law school were this exciting. Cost: $5 used
Rounders (Collector’s Edition). Matt Damon plays a law student who likes to play high stakes poker. He tries to quit so he can focus on law school and his girlfriend, but we know that’s not going to happen. Cost: $5 used
Inherit the Wind.This is a classic lawyer movie about the Scopes Monkey Trial. It’s a fictionalized account of the trial, so you can expect some over dramatization. Lots of good actors in this one: Gene Kelly, Fredric March, Spencer Tracy. Even Daren from the classic TV show Bewitched is on it! Yeah! Cost: $8 used
12 Angry Men. This is a dramatic tale of standing up for what you believe in, even though everyone else is against you. Henry Fonda plays a juror who somehow convinces his fellow jurors that a murder suspect should be acquitted. In the process, Henry Fonda breaks the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Cost: $5 used
To Kill a Mockingbird. Movie based on the popular novel by Harper Lee. You can’t help but get pumped up to defend truth and justice after watching this film. Atticus Finch is the man. Cost: $5 used
Runaway Jury (Widescreen Edition). This movie’s got a stellar cast. John Cusack, Gene Hackman (the man), and Dustin Hoffman. The story is about jury manipulation in a gun case. Cost: $5 used
The Client. Brad Renfro (what happened to that guy) plays a kid whose life is in jeopardy after witnessing the death of a Mob lawyer. An attorney (Susan Sarandon) decides to look after him. Cost: $5 used
The Firm. Tom Cruise plays a recent Harvard grad that takes a job at a prestigious firm. Associates at the firm start dying and the Feds ask Cruise to spy on the partners. Begin suspense. Cost: $5 used

Just For Fun

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney If your law student owns a Nintendo DS, then get this game for them. The games consists of five cases that Phoenix takes on. Present findings from the investigation, listen to testimonies, examine witnesses, and determine the truth to prove your client’s innocence. Cost $20 used.

5 Cubes of 24 Pack of Diet Mountain Dew. I love Diet Mountain Dew. It’s the nectar of the gods that keeps me going in law school. I’ve noticed that a lot of other law students enjoy drinking it as well. What better gift than to give your law student boxes of the drink they love! You can buy a 24 pack of Diet Mountain Dew for about $5 each. With our $25 budget, you can buy 5 cubes. That’s 120 Diet Mountain Dews! That’s enough to last an entire semester if your law student just drinks one a day. Awesome. Cost: $25.

Magazine subscriptions. Law students do a lot heavy reading during the day. Every now and then its nice to read the fluff you find in magazines. You can find some good deals on magazine subscriptions on the internet. Here’s a quick list of places you can check:

Once you make the subscription, go to book store, buy a copy of the magazine, wrap it in a box, and put in a note telling your law student that you’ve given them a subscription. You’ll be their favorite person. Cost: $10-$25

Any other frugal gift ideas for law students? Law students, what kind of gifts would you like to have sitting under the Christmas tree? Drop a line in the comment box!

Free Book Giveaway!

Written by Brett McKay

ChambermaidHow would you like to win a FREE copy of Saira Rao’s newest book Chambermaid? My regular readers will remember a while back ago, I had the opportunity to interview Saira about her book and how she saved money while in law school. Saira was kind enough to send me a copy and I read it during my trip to Vermont. Chambermaid is about a young federal judicial clerk and her experiences with a psycho federal appellate judge. Think The Devil Wears Prada for law clerks. I really enjoyed reading Chambermaid and thought I would share the joy with my readers by giving it away to some lucky person.

All you have to do to enter is write a comment on this post giving one topic you would like to see The Frugal Law Student write about. I’ll be taking entries until September 13. After that, I’ll randomly draw the winner.

Personal Finance Books That Inspire Personal Finance Bloggers

Written by Brett McKay

What personal finance books most inspire our favorite personal finance bloggers? I set out to answer that question in today’s post. I wrote several of the biggest personal finance bloggers in the blogosphere and asked them which personal finance books inspired them the most to turn their life around financially and why that book inspired them the most. Here are their responses.

Leo Babauta, Zen Habits

Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence
“The book came at a time when I was re-examining the values in my life, and helped me realize that to be “successful” doesn’t necessarily mean having a lot of money and a lot of stuff, as I am trading away my life
(the time I spend working for that money) in return. It helped me realize that my happiness and how I use the few years I am given here on earth are more important than the stuff I can buy with money. And
so it taught me the true value of money, and the time I spend to earn it. That alone has taught me that frugality is more than just sticking to a budget. ”

AgentSully, Life Learning Today

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns (Little Book Big Profits)
This book gives you all the proof in the world that simple investing is best. What a relief to know that you’re not missing out on great returns because you’re using mutual funds.
For busy people this is great. I used to be a stock broker for over 10 years and so I know that it is difficult and time consuming to invest in individual stocks. I recommend using mutual funds and this books backs that up.

Trent Hamm, The Simple Dollar

Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence
I used to lay awake at night worrying about money. Reading this book didn’t automatically end that, but it showed me that my idea of the money I had available and the money I was making was completely wrong. Once I made that adjustment, suddenly it was as if a cold grip released itself from me.

Even more, I started believing that my life controlled my money. I began to see my life without the weight of debt and the need to chase a paycheck because I actually understood the path to get there. Without this revelation, I would never have started The Simple Dollar and I would have never had the courage to start really chasing my dream of becoming a writer. If that’s not a life changer, I don’t know what is.

Silicon Valley Blogger, The Digerati Life

Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence
This book is one of those classics that didn’t become a classic till after I’ve owned it a while… I purchased a first edition copy of this book and was an “early adapter” of the principles shared in it. I loved how it explained the tradeoffs between time, energy and money and how it appealed to both my right and left brains. It is primarily a behavioral finance book but also one that gives you a thorough analysis (based on some simple calculations) of how much spending and consuming can really cost you. It changed how I viewed spending and it really caused me to change my shopping habits. I owe my first decade’s worth of savings to this book.

Julie Rains, Wise Bread

Gone with the Wind
“Gone with the Wind,” especially when Scarlett says “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” Scarlett O’Hara is not necessarily my hero but survives hardship and is driven to become an astute businesswoman by her difficulties. I was a business/finance major in college and moved away from home a few months after graduation so between the academic training and very practical experiences of being broke and then finally having some money several years later, I learned about PF.

Linsey Knerl, Wise Bread

Pushing the Envelope All the Way to the Top
It’s probably cliché, but I got alot from “Pushing The Envelope” by Harvey Mackay. It got me through a lot of the boredom that business can bring, and is still a good read if I find myself needing a little motivation. It also gives those of us who aren’t on the “get rich quick” boat some sense of worth.

Paul Michael, Wise Bread

Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money–That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!
Written in a way that is easy to understand, it has humor and gives out some great advice. Not all of it is completely accurate, I’ve talked to a few PF gurus that say he over-simplifies things. But generally, it made me think hard about my future and my finances. A great read.

Ben, Money Smart Life

The Millionaire Next Door
I think the first personal finance book I read that really got me excited about the power of frugal habits combined with long term savings was the Millionaire Next Door. I like to think our family follows the basics of living frugally and saving/investing money as described in the book.

Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner
I also enjoyed Smart Couples Finish Rich. Not so much because of its unique content but because it’s a personal finance book I could get my wife to read. Obviously having both partners in a marriage on the same page is necessary for successful financial planning and execution.

One last comment on personal finance books; it’s not enough to just read them, you have to put the practices you learn about into place to make a difference. It’s easy to get pumped up about saving or making money after reading one of these books, it’s another to get out there and make it happen. I’d say you’re much better off just reading one or two books about money then taking the time to make changes in your life than it is to stay up on the latest personal finance best seller. If you’re interested in reading about how we spend our time practicing smart personal finance you can subscribe for daily money updates in your feed reader or by email.

Thanks to all the participants for your awesome responses! Make sure to go buy these bloggers sites to poke around and subsribe to their feed so you can get even more amazing personal finance info. If you’re a personal finance blogger and would like to contribute your most inspiring personal finance book, drop me a line in my contact form. If I get enough, I can create another post.

Top CEOs Don’t Read Getting Things Done

Written by Brett McKay


The New York Times ran an article about the books that sit on the shelves of America’s Top C.E.Os. Surprisingly, there’s not many business or productivity books like Getting Things Done or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Instead top C.E.Os fill their libraries with fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Take Apple CEO, Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs has an extensive collection of works by William Blake, an 18th century mystic poet and artist. Michael Moritz, the venture capitalist who took PayPal, Google, and YouTube public, reads T. E. Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom.’ The article reports C.E.Os with an interest in climate change aren’t reading Al Gore, but rather books from the 15th century about the weather, Egyptian droughts, and even replicas of Sumerian tablets recording extraordinary changes in climate.

Why C.E.Os read fiction, poetry, philosophy, and biographies

It teaches you how to think. Most business books set everything out for the reader in a step-by-step fashion which doesn’t require much mental participation. Fiction, on the other hand, requires the reader to actively take part with the author in order to synthesize the message. The same is true with philosophy or poetry.

New ideas. Reading fiction or the classics from antiquity can help C.E.Os make idea connections they couldn’t make just by reading business books. Perhaps Aristotle could shed light on how to lead or maybe Crime and Punishment can give a marketing director an idea for a new ad campaign.

Learn success from the lives of successful people. If you want to be successful, read about the lives of successful people. Biographies are the original self improvement books. From biographies you can learn how history’s most successful people thought and worked. Take what you read from biographies and apply it in your life.

This article reminded me of the value of reading fiction and other non-business/financial books. I think reading fiction and other genres of literature will help me get new insights for law school and my blog. Perhaps Ovid has something to say about personal finance or maybe Joseph Heller has an insight on how to succeed on law school exams. It’s time I go to the library and find out.

Hat tip my wonderful wife Kate for the article.

Why Personal Finance Books Suck

Written by Brett McKay

The first half of my summer I had absolutely nothing to do while I waited for my background check to clear at the US Trustees office. I filled the time by going to my local library and reading every single personal finance book they had. Seriously.  When I finished the ones at my local branch, I started doing inter-library loans to get more. After reading so many personal finance books, I’ve come to the conclusion that personal finance books suck.

Why personal finance books suck

Personal finance books suck because all personal finance books are pretty much the same. OK, my use of the universal quantifier “all” is an overstatement, but after reading over 60 personal finance books in the past two months, it sure does seem like they’re all the same.

The biggest problem with writing for the personal finance genre is that there isn’t much to say about personal finance. The principles of personal finance are actually quite simple. How much more can be written about saving or being frugal or earning more money? Not much. Personal finance authors could try to present this information in a unique and different way, but most don’t. Why should they when it’s just easier to reproduce what others have said and slap a new catchy title on the cover?

Kumbiya my David Ramsey, Kumbiya

Another thing that irritates me about many personal finance books is the new agey, schmaltzy, touchy feely stuff about money. I hate it when an author devotes a majority of a book talking about overcoming your emotional issues with money and why people spend more than they have and then only devoting a chapter about practical things one can do to fix their finances. I think what most people need is someone to explain how they can solve their problem. Most people who read personal finance books probably have enough self awareness to understand why they have a financial problem. If they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t be reading the book in the first place. What they’re looking for are answers to solve those problems.

Authors assume all readers are in their 40’s, married, have 2.5 children, and mortgaged

Most of the personal finance books weren’t relevant to me, a young married student. I’m not at a stage in my life where I’m worrying about mortgages or paying for children’s college. I also don’t have a job, so I can’t contribute to a 401(k). Unfortunately, most personal finance books devote a large portion to these types of subjects. What can I do to save money while in school full time? How can I get the best deals on rent? Their really aren’t many personal finance books geared towards young people.  The best I’ve read was Suze Orman’s The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke.

How you can avoid sucky personal finance books and still get the info you need

So, personal finance books suck. But how are we supposed to get the info we need to make good financial decisions. Here’s two things that I suggest:

  1. Read personal finance blogs. Blogs have been my number one source for personal finance info. What I like about blogs is the variety of them that are out there with a personal finance theme. I’ve been able to find blogs with financial information relevant to my life stage, so I’m not wasting my time reading books that aren’t relevant to me at all. Personal finance blogs also seem to offer more practical advice. I love being able to read a quick top 10 money savings list or a how to on personal finances. I get the info I need quickly and efficiently.
  2. Read The Simple Dollar’s book reviews. If you must read personal finance books, make sure to head by The Simple Dollar. Trent has done extensive reviews for tons of personal finance books. Read through them and if a book looks like something you’d like, go and read it.

What do you all think? Do you like personal finance books? If you do, what do you like about them? If you don’t, what’s your beef against them?

Interview With Saira Rao, Author of Chambermaid

Written by Brett McKay


Today we are fortunate enough to hear from Saira Rao, former attorney and author the new book Chambermaid. Saira was kind enough to take some time from her very busy schedule and answer these questions. Please join me in welcoming Saira to The Frugal Law Student!

1. How did you go from attorney to author?

I wrote and edited most of Chambermaid while still practicing. So technically, I was lawyering and authoring at the same time. I’d write early, from 6 to 9am every morning before leaving for work, then put in long stretches on either Saturday or Sunday. I think back to the two years I stuck, robotically, to this schedule and remember feeling like an automaton and such a pill.

2. Tell us about your book. Where did you get the inspiration for it? Is it autobiographical in some ways? How do you think federal judges will react to it?

Chambermaid is a comic tale told from the trenches of the federal chamber—the most elite and secretive institution known to the judicial estate. Even the Vatican is more open. The inspiration? I did, in fact, clerk for a court of appeals judge but it is not autobiographical. I’ll leave it at that.

I think (hope) anyone with a sense of humor — federal judge or not and lawyers and non-lawyers — will get a kick out of Chambermaid. Before the book was even released, some people in the legal community expressed outrage over its mere existence — as though having a federal judge as a character in a novel was inherently wrong. Although I think it would be fine for a former law clerk to write a memoir about his or her experiences clerking, Chambermaid is not a memoir. That said, I understand what all the scandal is about. Serving as a law clerk is considered to be the most prestigious job in the legal profession — a gift. Like anything else in life, some people have great clerkships, others have hideous ones. Chambermaid is the dark flip side to an otherwise shiny coin.

3. What are your future career plans? Have you made a permanent move from the practice of law? If so, why did you want to stop practicing?

I am working on a second novel. I decided to stop practicing not because I hated being a lawyer, but because I discovered that I loved to write. Really, it’s the only sort of work I’ve ever done that doesn’t involve me checking the clock every 15 minutes, wondering how much longer until I get to go home (that could also be attributed to the fact that I work from home).

4. Have you started writing your next book yet?

I have. Aside from one somewhat tangential character who is a former lawyer, my new manuscript is law-free (for the moment at least).

5. Now, for the law school finance questions. How much debt did you incur while in law school?

I did take out loans to pay for half of law school. But I was also deeply lucky to have parents who paid for the other half.

6. Have you paid off your debt yet? If not, do you have a goal of when you want to pay it off and how do plan on reaching your goal?

No, I have not paid off my debt. The rate on the loan is too low right now to pay it off.

7. What was your biggest financial mistake during law school?

Spending weeks on end in denial that I was in graduate school and behaving like a member of the gainfully employed. I’d eat out (a lot!) at the same restaurants as my friends who were investment bankers and very solvent. I tried to pretend I was someone-anyone—but a drab grad student.

8. What did you do to mitigate your debt load while in school?

Momentary shame spirals that entailed denial of basic things. These typically lasted hours, not days or weeks. As such, not much was mitigated.

9. Any parting advice to law students about saving money or choosing a career?

Law school is expensive. For some reason, most of us don’t quite grasp that until after the first loan repayment bill arrives. Unfortunately, my best advice is for the prospective law student-know what you are getting yourself into before going law school. Understand that most law graduates end up working at law firms. This, of course, is not at all a bad thing. It’s just the reality.

Thanks, Saira, for that awesome interview. Go and check out Saira’s new book, Chambermaid, available in bookstores now. (You can also purchase it through Amazon using the convenient link in the sidebar.)

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