Negotiating Tuition: Can It Be Done?

Negotiation – the hammer of the metaphorical legal tool box.  Used more often than most other skills taught in law school such as in contract law, mergers and acquisitions, and even criminal proceedings.  Why not learn how to negotiate early and begin with the payment of your law school education?  Thanks to an article by The Windsor Star, I stumbled upon a brave law student who attempted to do just that.

Canadian law student, Chris Rudnicki, examined the tuition costs at the University of Windsor law school both now and in the early 90s and compared the rate at which tuition rose with the rate of inflation.  He calculated that the cost of tuition today would be $3,500 if it had risen at the same pace as inflation.  The law school’s dean responded that the amount of financial aid the school disperses had increased from $50,000 in 1999, to $1.7million today, making it an important factor that was missed in Rudnicki’s report.  Unfortunately, Rudnicki lost the “negotiation.”  He and his classmates will be paying over $15,000 in tuition this fall. (Click HERE for the article.)

After reading this article, the dean’s statement stuck with me.  She’s right – the financial aid is an important factor, maybe the only factor.  If the law school would limit the amount of financial aid it offers, wouldn’t that solve all of the problems?  Fewer students would be able to attend law school without financial aid; thus, decreasing the oversaturation of the market, providing more job opportunity and tuition would cost less (based on her reasoning).  Of course, the other side is that only the rich could afford law school and the legal industry would potentially lose bright minds who couldn’t afford the education.  To put it bluntly, those bright-minded students are unlikely to afford the education even after they complete law school, based on the current job market and average salary. 

It’s doubtful that the law school would change its stance, which begs the question – can students truly negotiate the cost of tuition?  Maybe not an individual, but students as a population might be successful.  Like a negotiation for a price of a car, the buyer usually says, “Nah, I wasn’t that interested anyway,” and turns to walk out the door.  The car salesman quickly gives a lower price just to get the buyer to turn around, thinking a smaller sale is better than no sale at all.  As more students opt out of applying to law school – turning their back on the deal – law schools will begin to lower its tuition rates to get them back.  But if you really, really want that car, are you willing to walk away from it, taking the risk that you won’t receive it at all?  Alternatively, maybe if you leave and come back later a newer, better, more affordable car will be there for the taking.  No one said negotiation would be easy.

Law schools aren’t the only entity to negotiate with.  Try negotiating with lenders on their interest rates before signing by showing credit scores or other information.  Negotiate for scholarships before signing your acceptance letter.  As applications decrease, students have more bargaining power than they think.  If one school is offering you a scholarship, but your dream school is not, it doesn’t hurt to tell them you’ve been offered another scholarship and ask if they would do the same.  Negotiate summer associate salaries in order to pay on interest or part of your tuition.  Negotiate with yourself – do you really need the most recent technology, the trip to Vegas, or a fifth cup of the $7 Starbucks coffee?  Spend less and you won’t need to rely as much on loans to get through your legal education.

-          Jenny L. Maxey
Author of Barrister on a Budget


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