Dual Degrees and the case for the JD/MBA

By Jay S. Edited by Lemon Law School

Many law schools now offer exciting dual degree programs. The opportunity can be appealing to the ambitious law student who may have interests at the intersection of different domains. Pursuing an additional degree can certainly open up new doors, but the value can be difficult to assess, while the costs and time commitment must be paid up-front. In the following sections, I talk about the dual degree decision, with a particular focus on the popular JD/MBA.

Dual degrees, broadly

There are a seemingly endless number of dual degree options for JDs. This is especially true of law schools that are part of a larger umbrella university. Here is a sample of the combinations offered at Georgetown University Law Center:

  • JD/MBA
  • JD/MPH
  • JD/PhD
  • JD/MPP
  • JD/MPA
  • JD/LLM
  • JD/MA

The list goes endlessly on. While Georgetown seems to be a particularly prolific offeror of dual degrees, many other large universities have similarly long lists. 

Interested in policy research and legislation? This JD/MPP dual degree offered by a collaboration between NYU Law and Harvard Kennedy School might be your ticket to a high powered degree in government. Are you a community activist interested in racial justice? UCLA Law has an exceptional critical race studies program and a JD/MA in African-American studies. 

In general, the concept of a dual degree program is the opportunity to graduate from both programs in less time (and potentially less money) than it would take if you attended each school independently. This is possible through cross-registration and shared credits across both schools.

Be aware that a dual degree program will almost certainly require more credits and will likely be an academically rigorous, time-intensive period of your life. You may be taking 1-2 more classes than your classmates in each semester and you could potentially be adding a year or more of study to the traditional JD curriculum.

For summer internships, the dual degree program can actually expand your opportunity to try new careers if your program includes another year or more. This could be a great time to sample different career paths that you otherwise may not have had a chance to look at. In that sense, a dual degree can be a very effective means of career exploration.

The final and perhaps most important aspect of the dual degree program is the career opportunity. No one wants to study harder and longer just to be told that their employment will look the same. This is more of a case-by-case analysis, but from anecdotal observations, it seems to me that adding a degree to the JD will not have an immediate impact on your employability unless you choose to forgo a legal career. In the long-term, it seems that the second degree does lend credibility and, paired with your legal experience, can open doors for you earlier than your peers. 

From here on, I’ll talk about one of the most popular dual degree options that a handful of JDs opt into every year: the JD/MBA. Incidentally, this is also the degree program that I graduated from.

The JD/MBA

 Is a JD/MBA worth it?

Whether a JD/MBA is worth it will depend on your career goals, academic interests, and ability to stomach more schooling beyond the JD. The most profitable career available to lawyers is generally in BigLaw, a profession that provides counsel to corporate entities and wealthy clients. As such, business fundamentals are concomitants to a successful career in BigLaw. Perhaps that is why the JD/MBA is probably the most popular dual degree for JDs keen on making a living in that industry.

Learning accounting, finance, marketing, and other soft skills like managing a team and leadership principles with a cohort of people that will resemble (or perhaps will become) your clients is probably one of the best ways to prepare yourself for a BigLaw career in transactions, M&A, or any other number of fields that implicate businesses.

That’s not to say that those not pursuing JD/MBAs are lacking in any way. In fact, many law schools offer business classes to its law students, in addition to clinics and experiential coursework that can equip them with everything they need to be successful. In that sense, a JD/MBA is, strictly speaking, not necessary at all for BigLaw purposes. 

You can see this play out in the recruiting game. From what I observed, those in the JD/MBA program did not get more offers from higher ranked firms or even receive more offers in absolute terms. Moreover, you can see that JD/MBAs are not overrepresented (or even well-represented) among law firm partners, indicating that this is by no means a necessary degree for success at the highest levels of the profession. 

On the other hand, perhaps the reason that JD/MBAs do not end up as law firm partners is because they find even better alternatives. Here are a few stories from alumni who graduated with a JD/MBA from different schools:

Among this impressive group of ~10 JD/MBAs, there is a General Counsel, an investment fund partner, a COO, a CEO, several founders, and a law firm partner. While this is not a large sample size, my sense is that this is in line with the career outcomes of JD/MBAs of leading schools. If that kind of career versatility seems appealing to you, think about doing the JD/MBA.

If you feel unsure about what you want to do, I suggest exploring all of your options and thinking hard about whether it lines up with your skills and ability. Chances are that you have some general roles or industries you are curious about – use LinkedIn advanced search to identify people in those roles and look at what they have done to get there. Do the same thing for alumni from your law school. Is there anybody you identify with in particular? Perform a deep dive into those people to understand what they did to get where they are today and try to emulate it. Will a JD/MBA will help you get there?

Simply put, if you see yourself as a JD first, you will likely start a career as an attorney and go through the gamut of junior attorney training. The benefits of an MBA may start to appear when you recruit for in-house or business side jobs in five years but until then you are unlikely to be differentiated from your friend who took a couple of business school classes in law school.

Program Prestige Matters

Consider the individual value of an MBA degree from your school before making the jump. In most cases, the value of the MBA is in the networking, recruiting, and brand recognition. This might not be relevant for someone who just needs a routine MBA for career progression, but that is probably not the case for someone opting to pursue a JD/MBA. If your MBA institution is significantly lower in rank than your law school, I would seriously reconsider whether the additional degree will add value to your JD. Where the reverse is true, I would strongly suggest going for it.

As an example, I’ll pick on George Mason University. GMU’s Antonin Scalia Law School is a Top 50 school under the (understandably dubious, but nevertheless generally correct) US News ranking. This is an objectively decent school with two-thirds of graduates employed as lawyers following graduation. On the other hand, GMU School of Business is unranked and frankly unimpressive. Even though they offer a joint three-year JD/MBA, I would recommend not pursuing it since it’s unlikely to significantly benefit you. The additional brand recognition and networking opportunities coming from the joint program is simply not worth the cost or the time. 

Here is a sample of the most prominent and recognized JD/MBA programs, per US News & World Report rankings:

  • Harvard: business school (6), law school (3)
  • Stanford: business school (1), law school (2)
  • University of Chicago: business school (3), law school (4)
  • University of Pennsylvania: business school (1), law school (7)
  • Northwestern University: business school (3), law school (9)
  • UC Berkeley: business school (7), law school (9)
  • Yale: business school (9), law school (1)
  • Columbia: business school (8), law school (4)

Program Structure & Academics

There are a few different program structures, but generally the JD/MBA will either be a three-year or four-year program. The three-year program structure usually includes a very credit-heavy schedule, and many schools like Cornell even require classes during your 1L summer. This would essentially eliminate your ability to find summer employment during that time, but it has the benefit of saving a year off your graduation. Note that these programs are fairly directed – there may not be time to explore different electives, but you also have the benefit of graduating with your 1L cohort, which is nice. 

The four-year JD/MBA programs seem to be more common. Most of these programs follow a structure of two years in law school, a year in business school, and a mixed year. The credit requirements are still significant but the time pressure is not there so you have more time to explore elective courses. 

Three Year Programs: 

  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Yale University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Southern Methodist University
  • George Mason University
  • Northwestern University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Georgia
  • Temple University,
  • Belmont University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Richmond
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Boston University
  • Cornell University
  • University of South Carolina

Four Year Programs

  • College of William & Mary
  • Harvard University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • New York University
  • Stanford University
  • Georgetown University
  • Northeastern University
  • Pepperdine University
  • Villanova University
  • Elon University
  • Liberty University
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Houston
  • University of Utah
  • University of Wyoming
  • Santa Clara University

Note: This list may not be exhaustive. 

Regardless of your program structure, the initial year(s) in law school will likely be the most challenging, particularly 1L year. There is a lot already written on the difficulty of law school, but suffice to say it is a challenging and largely individual endeavor. In a traditional JD, the following years would get easier as you get in the flow of doing law school, but in a JD/MBA you have to keep the pedal on the gas because you have to contend with more classes and another school experience. 

The MBA part of the program, which likely comes later, will be a completely different experience both in terms of substance and experience but it will also be challenging. This may come as a surprise to laypeople and law students who view the MBA as a relaxed experience for networking and schmoozing, but the reality is that a graduate education in business is rather challenging. In your first semester, you will almost certainly have to contend with multiple group projects, quantitative problem sets and financial models, as well as several presentations. Doing all this while also recruiting for summer jobs can be exhausting and difficult to balance, but ultimately will be very rewarding. 

One of the benefits of the MBA is the general flexibility of the structure. As you proceed through the program, you’ll have a wide array of electives to choose from, all of which vary in difficulty. At this point, the MBA is more of a choose-your-own-adventure program where you can choose to learn hard quantitative skills or build your public speaking and management chops. To be frank, if you elect for multiple easy introductory or soft type classes, you can float through business school without any real difficulty. 

Recruiting and Summer Internships

The other immediate benefit of doing the JD/MBA is the access to recruiting and summer internships. It’s not unusual for a JD/MBA to have a summer internship schedule that looks like this: 

  • 1L Summer in Public Interest
  • 2L Summer in BigLaw firm
  • 3L Summer in Investment Bank
  • 4L Summer bar study or start work

The appeal of this is obvious – you can build a wealth of experience and connections in several industries before you graduate. Furthermore, the first year of any MBA program is essentially an extended recruitment and networking process where you will have the chance to explore different roles. You’ll have the chance to attend multiple industry conferences, corporate presentations, as well as participate in the formal interview process dedicated to that school. 

Another immediate benefit for those in the four-year program, is that you are effectively given another chance to participate in the BigLaw recruiting during your 3L year. In many cases, your school may give you a second chance at EIW/OCI. You would then have the option to forgo a 3L MBA internship for another chance at BigLaw. 

What will my social life look like?

The community of friends you build during your JD/MBA is probably one of the appealing aspects of doing the program. Your professional network effectively doubles and your social friend group also increases significantly. 

My personal observation is that I seem to be closer to my law school friends than my business school friends. This is probably attributable to the law school environment that encourages you to commiserate with others as a form of survival. In all honesty, the difficulty of the 1L year is such a bonding experience that you will probably make long-term friends as a result. 

In comparison, my MBA friends are close but we lack that core sense of having been “in the trenches” together. This is also likely a result of the varying career paths that come from the MBA. Other than a few required classes, I was unlikely to attend class or work on projects with anybody pursuing real estate or marketing because that was an area I was not interested in. Much of the socializing comes from outside the classroom – through recruiting events, group travel, and other co-curricular activities. The MBA was certainly a great experience where I made great friendships but a lot of it was a result of connecting outside of the academic experience itself.

Perhaps the closest cohort of friends you will have are the other JD/MBAs in your cohort. The unique nature of the dual degree program makes it so that only this group of individuals really understands what you are going through. Going through this experience will absolutely create a great community between you and the other JD/MBAs that will lead to enduring friendships.

In general, even though your academic requirements will be significantly higher than everybody else, you will still have plenty of time to build a community of friends. It will come naturally as part of the process, so don’t fret.

Final thoughts

Obviously, I decided to take the plunge and do the JD/MBA. As of now, I don’t regret the decision – going through both programs has taught me a lot. I can see the tangible difference between how business leaders and lawyers operate and I feel comfortable jumping between both worlds. I’ve also developed a diverse network and social group that I value and enjoy hanging out with. I can say with certainty that this network will be open to me when I want to pursue new opportunities. 

Today in my legal practice, I know that the MBA training has influenced how I think about my work. I can realistically see the objectives and the risk appetite of my clients who are trying to get things done. I’m more capable of credibly working towards those interests, while other attorneys get lost in the weeds and end up frustrating the process because they either can’t or simply are not used to putting business interests first. Overall, the skills that have come from my experience have been boon to my professional career.

I hope this write-up was helpful for future JD/MBAs and those considering a dual degree. If you have any questions shoot me a message or write a comment below!

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