New Joint Degree Group on LinkedIn

The Joint Degree Blog Group on LinkedIn was started in connection with the Joint Degree Blog to help connect joint degree professionals with joint degree students or those interested in pursuing a joint degree. Professionals with a joint degree can offer a certain degree of perspective and wisdom that most joint degree seekers tend to miss because of the relatively low percentage of joint degree professionals in the work force.


Here is the link to the group:   (Copy and paste into your browser)

See you there!


An Unconventional JD MBA Path

Tim asked me if I would share my unconventional JD/MBA Path with the blog world.  My experience is extremely different from most, and won’t be applicable to many potential joint degree students.  I will lay out my background and basic career objectives, my joint degree path, and my observations about the experience.

Basic background and career objectives

I completed my undergraduate degree in Business because I knew that I wanted to do business law.  (This might be the first important caveat, I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I started my undergraduate degree).  My first set of law school applications was not well received, so I decided to take a year off and work for the legal department of a mid-sized company and reapply to law school.  This experience gave me good hands on experience and confirmed that I really did want to be a business attorney (and potentially a general counsel in the future). Furthermore, while I was working, I sat in several meetings with the General Counsel, CFO, and CEO, and I realized that being able to understand both points of view and communicate effectively on both sides was a niche that I felt I could be extremely good at.  In that spirit, I took the GMAT  that summer and did very well.  I also felt that with a JD/MBA, and after about 5+ years at a law firm, I would be able to decide on one of the following career paths: (1) big law partner, (2) regional/mid size/boutique law partner, (3) in-house counsel, (4) private equity or venture capital related work, or (5) consulting (e.g. McKinsey, Bain, BCG, etc.)

My Joint Degree Path

I applied to the Business school where I was attending law school.  I assumed I was a guaranteed admit because I was substantially above the school’s GPA & GMAT average and I had some work experience.  Unfortunately, I was rejected (on the day of my first law school final). I went to the Business school and asked for clarification, and was told that I did not have sufficient work experience.  (I should also note here that I did have some interesting, non-traditional work experience before and during my undergraduate studies.  I co-managed KFC restaurants two summers, opened a branch office of a micro-entrepreneurship program for a non-profit organization, and had two years of missionary service with significant leadership experience).

When I asked what I could do to improve my opportunities for being accepted next year, (e.g. start working part time during law school, find a business related summer internship, start my own business during law school, etc) I was told that short of quitting law school to work full time or waiting to do MBA school until after I finish law school, there was little I could do.   This was extremely frustrating and I shelved the idea of getting a joint-degree.  After all, I had a basic understanding of business from my bachelor’s degree, most successful business attorneys did not have an MBA, and it would delay graduation and cost more tuition.

After surviving the first year of law school, the thought of business school kept coming back, no matter how I tried to rationalize not getting the degree.  I recognized that my passion for business school would not go away and that I needed to apply.  I started looking into alternative ways to do a joint degree outside of the university I was attending.

My first search revealed that the University of Indiana had a distance learning based MBA that would have allowed me to get an MBA degree by attending a few weeks on campus and doing the rest of the class through live online classes.  The degree itself didn’t state that it was an online degree, and Indiana is a top 50 MBA program, so it seemed fairly promising.  I ultimately did not apply because I didn’t want to lose the MBA network, and I didn’t want the potential stigma of the online nature of my degree to diminish the value of my degree.

During that time, I heard about several “accelerated” MBA programs for students with specific backgrounds. Most of the programs required an undergraduate degree in business (a minor would not work unless there were significant additional credits in accounting, finance, and several other classes), or 5+ years of business related experience (see e.g. Thunderbird).   A small group of schools allowed for students with an Engineering or similar degree (see e.g. Cornell), but I did not meet that requirement so I didn’t look into it further)

The programs varied slightly, but essentially required an intensive summer semester, in which students would cover all of the standard 1st year MBA material (which should be a refresher for people with undergraduate degrees in business).  Then, these “accelerated” students would join the returning 2nd year MBA students to complete various electives with some “concentration” or “emphasis” requirements as well.

I narrowed down my applications to the following schools (in approximate US News rank order): Northwestern, Columbia, Cornell, Emory, Notre Dame, University of Florida, Thunderbird, & Babson College.  There may be more programs, including international programs, but these were the programs I decided to look into.

I was admitted to one of these schools just days before the Financial Collapse of 2008.  I spoke with the registrar of the law school and was told I could receive a one-year deferral from law school to complete the MBA program by furnishing a copy of the admittance letter.  I also explored the possibility of receiving some credit at the law school for the MBA classes with substantial overlap or vice versa.  I was told definitively that the law school did not recognize credits from other graduate programs in other universities.  I was told that if I took a law school class at that university, I could receive credit for that, but there was no other way to get additional credits.  Because there was no credit-sharing agreement, technically, I did not do a joint-degree; I did two programs concurrently.

So I finished two years of law school and deferred law school for a year to attend MBA school for a year.  This approach had a few challenges. The first challenge was career services.  I had determined that I wanted/needed to practice law for 3-5 years in order to reach my career goals.  This made it nearly impossible for the MBA career services office to help me very much. The did try to set me up with the law school career services office on-campus, but that was problematic as well.  For example, the LAW SCHOOL career services department of my MBA school was friendly, but basically refused to let me participate in On-Campus Interviews unless there were left-over slots available after all the other Law Students had applied. (Keep in mind this is 2009, when the legal market was still extremely tight, so there were not going to be ANY extra spaces.)  My law school was somewhat helpful, but I couldn’t participate in On-Campus Interviews at my home law school because I was over a thousand miles away from law school.  So, essentially, I was free to use any “do it yourself” resources from the career services offices, but no one could really help me directly because I was  not a mainstream candidate.  (If you want to know more about my do it yourself approach to getting a job, that will require another post.)

Also, it was quite a headache arranging student loans for each school because my law school told my loan providers that I was no longer a student, so I had to submit a notice of full-time enrollment from MBA school within 5 days or I would enter repayment phase.  I ran into the same problem when I came back to law school.  My MBA loans became due in the Fall and I had to submit further proof of full-time enrollment again to avoid repayment phase again.

(Sidenote:  The decision to attend MBA school during my 3rd year (out of four) was strategic.  I knew I wanted to practice law after school, and I didn’t want to scare off law firms by doing the MBA immediately after completing a full JD degree.  I assumed that lawyers would assume that I was not fully committed to being a lawyer if I finished all three years of law school and then went to MBA school afterwards.)

My Observations

Overall, I am very glad that I pursued both degrees, though I generally agree with prior blog statements about the propriety of pursuing a joint-degree.   I tend to view myself as a businessman who wants to specialize in legal business problems.  I say that because I’m passionate about seeking out opportunities and leveraging them to create value.  The additional knowledge of business is powerful to me because of my strong interest in business and it has helped me understand the different points of view between lawyers and business.  By being able to understand and effectively communicate with both, I will have an advantage over other lawyers in the business world, which will hopefully help me develop a robust book of business.

For my interests, I think my unconventional joint degree has work out extremely well.  In fact, I would say that it worked out even better than it would have if I had been accepted into the MBA program at my law school.  First, through the accelerated program, I was able to sample all sorts of MBA electives, which would have been harder to fit in if I had done the joint degree program (which effectively shaves off 12 elective credits from both programs, thus limiting your elective choices).  Also, the MBA broadened my network of connections in a way that I would not have gotten from doing the program at the same school as my law degree.   I enjoyed the other university so much, I considered doing my last  year of law school at my MBA school. However, financially it didn’t make any sense (because of my law school scholarship v. no possible scholarship for a “visiting student”).

There were some challenges, but I think they were worth it.  Again, I realize this applies to a very narrow group of students that could qualify for an accelerated program, but I hope that it is helpful.  Please feel free to ask question via the comments on the blog.

BYU Joint Degree Survey

I’m Brad Carmack, a JD/MPA graduating April 2011.  You can contact me at bradleycarmackatgmaildotcom with any questions about this document or the JD/MPA program.

I found this 13 pager useful personally, and have used it to offer guidance to friends who have considered the joint program:

“The purpose of this survey is to provide guidance information to prospective and current law students who are considering a joint degree.  The survey was administered in June, 2007 and contains responses from over 100 J. Reuben Clark Law School alumni.  These alumni attained graduate degrees either concurrently or consecutively to their law degree.

The survey contained 15 questions regarding the costs and benefits of attaining a second graduate degree.  Though all the questions required only a short response, space was provided for the alumni to explain their answers and give comments regarding the question topic.  Additional space was provided at the end of the survey for the alumni to share open ended comments.”

To get a copy, email Beth Hansen at  I would post it but broad distribution was not one of the distribution methods the survey respondents agreed to.    Survey questions include but are not limited to:

Besides your JD, what other degree(s) do you hold?

How did you obtain your joint degrees? (jointly, consecutively)

Was your career enhanced or made more successful because of obtaining two or more graduate degrees?

Which of your graduate degrees was most instrumental in getting your first job? (legal, other)

Did your first job pay more because you had two graduate degrees?

Which of the degrees is most valuable to you now?

If you had to do it over again, would you still obtain an additional graduate degree?

How would you rate the return on your investment of time and money to obtain a second graduate degree, be it personal satisfaction or pecuniary gain?  (1 = no return, 7 = high return)

Compared to the stresses and pressures in law school, how did studies for your second degree compare?  (1 = much easier, 7 = much harder)


Perspective of an MBA Program Director

When I sit down in an admissions interview with a JD/MBA candidate, the top question on my mind is, “Why both degrees?”  The answer I hear from applicants varies from quite focussed and well informed to what is, essentially, indecision.  There is no single right answer to this question.  Still, the answer an applicant gives tells me a lot about where they are coming from and where they are headed.

Let’s talk first about the applicant who is indecisive.  A JD/MBA is a long and expensive way to decide whether you are really interested in a career in business or a career in law.  Once you decide, and focus on one career path or the other, you are hindered by the joint degree.  If you ultimately decide that you want a career in law then you have spent an extra year and a half taking business classes and finished with less law training than your law school classmates.  On the other hand, if you are ultimately interested in a career in business then you have spent an extra two and a half years taking law classes and have less training in MBA courses then does your competition.  There are students who have had very successful careers in both law and business after doing the joint degree with the intention of figuring out their interests along the way.  Each and every one, though, has said in exit interviews that they wished they had decided earlier.

What about the student who is focussed and has a plan for the joint degree?  There are career paths where the JD/MBA is distinctive and, potentially, will help you place better.  Tim Young has written a very thoughtful post about the decision making process (  I would recommend that you read that post and be sure that you understand the questions and issues he addresses.  It is always better to face the tough questions at the outset so that you will have the determination to face the four years of effort required by the joint degree.  We have had students place with venture capital firms, in investment banking and in strategic HR roles where the JD/MBA has been an important part of gaining that first job.

In today’s market, significant work experience, an established record of accomplishment, and a good plan for where you are headed are important to making the most of the MBA.  Companies who recruit MBAs are looking for people who know what they are good at and know how to make a difference.  An applicant is most credible when the pre-MBA work experience is consistent with the MBA degree and the post-MBA goals.  This is even more important for the JD/MBA.  There is the potential to appear indecisive unless you really understand the value proposition for the joint degree.  We evaluate applicants for the joint degree as if they were applying only to the MBA program.  Then, the JD portion of the application can distinguish you as more focussed or less decisive than other applicants.  If the joint degree fits your career plan, though, it can be a differentiator that allows you to accomplish your goals.

Craig Merrill, Ph.D.

Director, BYU MBA Program


MBA vs. Law School

Which is better, law school or business school?  I get asked that question (or a variation thereof) from most MBA students I meet. Surprisingly, few law students bother asking. Why? … probably because many law students already assume nothing could be worse.  My purpose here is to outline some of the major similarities and differences between the two programs.


The Princeton Review currently ranks both the Marriott School and J. Reuben Clark Law School as #4 in “most competitive students” in their respective ratings.  Having lived in both environments, I believe the meaning of “competitive” is very different at each school.  In the MBA program there is an intense competitive spirit when it comes to representing the school and trying to make BYU’s MBA program respected and top-notch. There is direct competition when it comes to vying for individual internships and full-time placement. Yet, come winter semester, most every BYU MBA voluntarily unites to combine their collective networks to ensure every student has a job or internship by the end of April.  BYU MBAs compete much like a team: doing their personal best and assisting their teammates to achieve peak performance.

Competitive at the law school has a very different feel. To a competitive law student, GPA is everything. This makes law school inherently cutthroat. Your GPA determines your class rank, which determines which law firms or clerkships will even look past the first line of your resume. Rank/GPA opens or closes doors. This single element makes law school an atmosphere of comparison and aggressive learning.  There are many top-quality, friendly people in law school, but you won’t likely find students banning together to ensure everyone has an internship or full-time offer.

Age and Experience

I was 29 when I began law school. I was an Air Force Captain, held a Top Secret clearance, and had lived and traveled in Asia for most of the time between undergrad and law school. In law school I was surrounded by students predominantly under 25 and fresh from undergrad. I believe my age and experience disadvantaged me when it came to studying and test-taking because I had been away from school for nearly five years. My experience in organizations, decision-making, and working in various cultures did not help me understand torts, contracts, or civil procedure. Eventually I bridged the gap, but it took a lot of effort. Contrast that to b-school, where I was 30 years old and relatively average in my age and experience. Guess where I felt more at home.

Classroom Environment

The famed “Socratic Method” is used in both schools, but its intensity is several notches higher as a 1L than as a first-year MBA. B-school is geared toward collaboration and creativity in approaching problems.  Professors want you to insert experience and supposition into your answers. In law school there is a ‘right answer,’ and chances are, the professor is the only one who knows it. Law students are given 15-30 pages of small-print text to read prior to each class. During class a professor will randomly call on 2-3 students to engage throughout the class period. Socratic Method in law school means you are on the hook to engage in a one-on-one discussion with the professor for 10-15 minutes. This can be extremely intimidating and daunting to a 1L who wants to look intelligent in front of classmates. But here’s the clincher: usually no more than 2% of a law school grade will be based on class participation. Experienced law students know that class preparation will have a de minimus effect on their overall performance. Thus, after the 1L year, many law students learn how to minimalize class preparation and focus on the all-important final exam.


B-school exams are not differentiable from those most of us experienced as undergrads. If anything, professors appropriately recognize the inefficacy of exams in promoting learning. More emphasis is put on deliberate practice and solving problems in a more realistic team environment.   Not so in law school. Like many aspects of law school, exams are steeped in generations of tradition and few law professors are willing to recognize the futility of lumping all evaluation into a three-hour frenzy. One of my law school friends took speed typing tutorials to improve his grades … and it worked!  After most law school exams I had a salt ring on my laptop from my sweaty palms. Law exams include a scenario(s) that is packed with nuance to the legal subject. In three hours or less, a law student is expected to identify every issue and weave every facet of relevant law—including variations in legal jurisdictions—into a brilliant evaluation of each party’s legal case. Law students spend weeks preparing “outlines” of case law to help them study for exams. I’ve seen outlines number over 100 pages of single-space bullets.


As you might expect, studying in law school is a practice of intensive reading and documenting legal rules.  My 1L year I spent so much time at my desk that I bought a cushion for my wooden chair because my legs and butt where developing a chronic ache. Fortunately a couple of brilliant law students invited me to join their study group my first semester. We would meet once a week until finals season—when we spent hours each day discussing, debating, and compiling outlines. A few professors try to integrate some team assignments into their curriculum, but most stick to traditional exams—where teamwork is purely optional.

The best and worst part of b-school is teams. Teams can suck away all your time. They breed unnecessary drama and force you to spend time with people you might otherwise avoid. Teams also enabled me to develop life-long friendships, learn from brilliant people, and cultivate vital skills that will help me throughout my career. My first semester MBA team struggled with two roadblocks. First, we spent too much time together and needed to carve out time for individual study. Second, it took us all semester to figure out how to communicate our expectations and appropriately divide work. One of the biggest differences between law school and business school is how you interact with your classmates. In B-school interaction is forced. In law school the best students learn to leverage their classmates early on.

Career Prospects

I delve into this topic in my other post, but the topic should be chief on anyone’s mind who is considering either degree.  If law school is generally less attractive and antiquated in its methodology, why is ot so popular? I think the answer is best demonstrated in this generalized salary graph below:

The answer is in the second mode of the law school curve. Top law firms pay graduates around $160k right out of school. This lures a lot of intelligent (if not misguided) people to the law. No work experience (an MBA must!) or elongated residencies (MD) required for a very attractive salary! Sure, the hours and lifestyle are horrendous, but $160,000 is a lot of money straight out of school! One of my law classmates took a job for over $180,000 in a very competitive Texas litigation firm to pay off his six-figure student loan debt in 2-3 years. He will be working 70-90 hours/week for the next three years of his life.

Unfortunately many of us were attracted to law school believing those $160k salaries would be easily attainable. Cue market collapse and the Great Recession. Corporate lawyers, in particular, live and die by the economy. This downturn created a perfect storm for many big firms. First, they were paying attorneys too much (a cost passed on to clients who could no longer afford them). Second, there were too many attorneys. Third, there was not enough business. Even many of the top 15% of my law school class struggled to get the high-paying jobs. Many were given one-year deferments on their job offers. Others had to settle for jobs in the lower salary brackets. This left the bottom half of the class to eat the remaining bread crumbs. Imagine earning $40k after three years of law school!

Even though times have been tough for MBA students, my observation is that they are much better off than our law school compatriots. Companies can live without certain litigation or deals for a few years, but most corporate leaders realize they can’t stop the stream of talented MBA recruits.

Parting Thoughts

I have chosen a career in management and my MBA experience has far exceeded that of my life as a law student. Others out there will have the opposite opinion. I continue to believe the JD/MBA will enhance and benefit my career. Certainly the legal training I now have will help me evaluate decisions, argue my perspective, and communicate my thoughts. Law school isn’t all bad. There are lots of giveaways, dozens of clubs and activities, and some amazing people. If I had to choose between the two, I would still rather invest my time and money into an MBA.

Tim Young

4th Year JD/MBA Candidate

Brigham Young University

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