I’m earning a law degree — Should I get an MBA too?

Why do perfectly rational and intelligent people choose to attend law school? For most the answer lies somewhere between “making lots of money” and “making the world a better place.” Despite the original motive, it seems most JD candidates find out their intentions are either unreasonable or unreachable. For me, I realized that even if I managed to get the big firm job of my dreams, I would probably spend every last billable hour watching the clock. Reviewing documents, writing memoranda, and crafting LexisNexis searches sounded more like torture than the career of my dreams. Fortunately for me, I had already made a great decision for all the wrong reasons:  I was concurrently earning an MBA.

A JD/MBA rarely makes sense.  I have yet to hear of a law firm or a company coming to career services saying, “give me a list of your JD/MBAs.”  As such, the joint degree is not a marketable commodity.  Don’t get me wrong, it passes a very crucial litmus test:  most people who don’t know better will tell you it’s always a good idea. It makes perfect sense to earn two extremely competitive and individually marketable degrees. The truth is that the joint JD/MBA only makes sense when certain stars align:

  1. You need 3-6 years of substantive, post-graduate work experience for you to be accepted into a respectable MBA program.  High-paying, entry-level MBA jobs for Fortune 100 companies are only available to those whose program is selective enough to demand work experience.  Thus, an MBA from schools who desperately accept anyone with a good GMAT is tantamount to getting an online degree.  You get the education, but not the brand, nor the instant network.  Most law students I’ve met have done well if they’ve worked the summer between undergrad and law school.  Thus, for the majority of law students, a quality MBA isn’t even an option.  There are always exceptions, but the opportunities are rare.
  2. Your future employer values both degrees. The underlying assumption to this rule is that you already know your future employer. As I mentioned, nobody is out there recruiting JD/MBAs (one exception:  the SEC gives an honorable mention to JD/MBAs for its Summer Honors Program, but does so in the context of recruiting JDs). This is not to say law firms and companies don’t value the “subordinate” degree, but rather they will not choose you over a better qualified candidate simply because you have the other degree.
  3. You’re willing to deal with the downside of a dual degree. Namely:  (a) an extra year of school (tuition, motivation to study, etc.), (b) a dearth of paid internships for your 1st and 2nd summers, (c) watching your law school friends graduate and earn money a year before you, (d) trying to master two trades when both are significantly different in measurable competencies (writing, analysis, etc.) and focus (e.g. risk aversion vs. profitability).

For all I’ve written to dissuade you from earning a JD/MBA, I am EXTREMELY glad I did it.  As I said, I applied to B-School for all the wrong reasons.  I wanted to be a hot-shot corporate attorney with an intimate knowledge of business. I assumed that the MBA would compensate for a suboptimal law school class rank. I believed the MBA would clear the path and allow me to, as one acquaintance observed, “write my own ticket.” Although it did none of these things, an MBA provided me with several huge assets:

  1. Time:  This is twofold.  First, I needed more time and experience to determine what I really wanted to do with my career.  After two legal internships, I determined I did not want to practice law. After taking a closer look at MBA career options, I found something I will sincerely enjoy doing–and get paid six figures to do it!  Second, the dual degree bought me an extra year to avoid the recession. This won’t apply to most contemporary readers, but I watched my law school class enter a horrific legal job market. I avoided that and will hopefully find a thriving economy when I graduate in 2011.
  2. Options:  Although firms/companies don’t recruit JD/MBAs, law firms recruit JDs and companies recruit MBAs. I could be a chameleon and act like every other law student when the firms came for on-campus interviews. I held the same credential and warranted the same look at my resume. The same applies at b-school. The difference here is that I had to act like any other JD or MBA.
  3. Distinction: Even though the JD/MBA didn’t get me more internship/job offers, it may have gotten me more interviews. The subordinate degree turns heads. It sticks out. Employers still come with their lists of criteria for an ideal candidate, but they are still looking for something to distinguish one resume from another. As of yet, JD/MBAs are comparatively rare. When I applied to 9 companies for an internship last year, 8 companies chose to interview me. In the end, I only received internship offers at companies where their candidate criteria were met during the interviews, but before the interviews my law degree made me look different from the other MBAs.

Although I haven’t been able to test this theory, I believe the true advantage of a JD/MBA comes 10-15 years down the road. For entry-level positions, law firms and companies won’t place a high premium on the subordinate degree. When you become eligible for partnership in a law firm or are considered for an executive position in business, the second degree will be a substantial differentiator (in my opinion). It’s at that point when I hope the JD/MBA pays its dues with tangible results. Just a theory.

Tim Young

4th Year JD/MBA Candidate

Brigham Young University

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6 thoughts on “I’m earning a law degree — Should I get an MBA too?

  1. Pingback: Perspective of an MBA Program Director « Joint Degree Blog

  2. Tim,

    Thank you so much for spending the time and energy blogging about your experience with your JD/MBA degree. Your experiences and the perspective you have shared have helped me tremendously.

    Reading your posts have helped me realize the importance of sincerely evaluating my reasoning for pursuing a certain graduate degree or even a certain pre-graduate degree job. Time spent now being honest with myself and realizing what type of life I want to live (work/life balance) the next few years will be time well spent.

    Once again, thank you for your efforts in writing all of your posts. I love learning from others who have already been there done that. It makes learning curves much faster.

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