A JD/MBA degree can open many professional doors. However, candidates must carefully weigh their decision to pursue this degree because the investment of both time and money can be significant. Whether a JD/MBA makes sense will strongly depend on the long-term view of its ROI; the degree will pay varying dividends over time as one progresses into more senior roles at large law firms and companies.
When deciding whether to apply to a top JD/MBA program, prospective candidates should keep these eight key considerations in mind to understand the costs and benefits of obtaining this degree:
1. Cross-Functional and Complementary Skill Set
The JD/MBA program will develop a complementary skill set that can be leveraged throughout disparate professional careers. Success in law school depends upon one’s individual performance and strength in areas such as writing, oration, information synthesis, and logical reasoning. Answers to questions are often nebulous, ultimately warranting a conclusion that is based on analogy and inference.
Business school, on the other hand, typically involves a more objective approach to problem solving by leveraging empirical evidence and using past performance to develop current solutions and predict future results. In addition, students build upon their soft skills via team-based assignments and experiential learning opportunities.
In a professional context, lawyers can employ their aforementioned skills to understand current problems by analogizing them to precedent, which facilitates measured decision making and risk mitigation based on past consequences. MBAs have the ability to leverage a team and interpret data to efficiently make decisions based on calculated risks, breathing life into new ideas. Applying these complementary skills will lead to dynamic decision making, positioning an individual to make substantive impact.
2. Independent Work and Teamwork
In law school, one primarily takes a more individualistic approach to learning. Academic success is contingent upon the student’s ability to do well on a final examination at the end of each semester. Conversely, business school employs a more balanced approach to learning where students are evaluated on their ability to work in teams, in addition to independent projects and final exams. This diverse approach strengthens a student’s adaptability as a future employee; for example, it may be essential to wear different hats in the entrepreneurial or corporate context, where one’s own unique contribution is paramount, or to work as part of a team, where one’s contribution is part of a greater vision to execute a particular project or goal. Employing and reinforcing this versatile work style in the JD/MBA context will prepare students to succeed in diverse work environments.
3. Added Value for the Client
Business and law are integral when managing day-to-day operations and executing transformative transactions such as leveraged buyouts, mergers and acquisitions, and capital raises. Understanding the regulatory framework under which clients and employers work, as well as the legal ramifications underlying certain decisions, will give students a broader perspective when later developing solutions for all relevant parties and striking the appropriate balance between risk taking and being risk averse.
4. Diversity of Coursework and Overlap
The JD/MBA program is an intellectually rewarding experience because of the sheer number of challenging and diverse courses in which one may enroll. As students progress in the JD/MBA program, they will begin to notice certain topic areas that are common to both law and business. For example, if one enrolls in tax law courses, knowledge of finance and accounting is invaluable. Although course experience in finance and accounting is not mandatory to enroll in tax law courses, having previous exposure to these areas enables students to reinforce and retain what they learn, thereby strengthening their academic performance and providing value-added impact during summer internships.
The JD/MBA opens doors to building a robust network that can facilitate academic development during school, strengthen symbiotic professional relationships, and develop career prospects in the future. Joining a large community of both JD and MBA graduates can also be a strategic decision leading to future business development opportunities. For example, when a lawyer is evaluated for a partnership interest at a large law firm, their ability to generate a book of business is an important consideration. Gaining access to and building rapport with Fortune 500 key decision makers, who may also be fellow MBA alumni, can be a strong competitive advantage.
This also holds true when networking with lawyers. Lawyers are clients’ trusted advisors who are often consulted from business inception to exit. Positive recommendations from lawyers can generate new business development opportunities for MBAs who are seeking new clients, partnerships, and other revenue-generating relationships.
6. Legal Employers’ Value of the Degree and Potential Reward for JD/MBAs
Some law schools encourage their students to enroll in foundational business courses (such as accounting and finance), as these topics are a common language among clients and third parties (such as investment bankers, consultants, and accountants) with whom lawyers frequently interface. Learning the business language can instantly boost a lawyer’s credibility among clients and subsequently lead to more responsibility at law firms. In addition, some law firms award a JD/MBA associate a signing bonus to help defray educational costs.
7. Power of the Pivot
Although many students enroll in graduate school to transition into a new career, many career trajectories are not linear upon finishing the program. Industries may become obsolete or professional interests may evolve that could warrant restarting a career in a new industry or job function. The JD/MBA can facilitate this ostensibly difficult adjustment, such as the transition from business professional to lawyer or vice versa. Because of the wealth of opportunities for which the degree qualifies students, the JD/MBA offers an adequate hedge, providing downside protection if one must make a post–graduate school pivot into another field.
8. Time and Cost
Time and cost are also important factors when considering the JD/MBA degree. When evaluating graduate programs, one must factor in the foregone wages and time spent each year in school. Although it was not the case several years ago, many top institutions now offer three-year programs that ultimately save a student two years of educational and opportunity costs, further boosting the degree’s ROI.
In an increasingly global business environment, the JD/MBA degree can offer students a unique perspective and the requisite knowledge to tackle significant industry challenges while leveraging complementary and interdisciplinary skill sets developed during the program.
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