I’m getting an MBA — Should I also get a law degree?

When deciding on whether to double your time in school (and student debt), there is one vital point you need to understand: there are no jobs designed for JD/MBAs. In the end, you will either be vying for a legal or an MBA position. Any initial pay incentive for a joint degree will be negligible. Recruiters won’t be knocking down your door. Now the truth is out, there are some great reasons (with trade-offs) to earn both degrees.

First, both degrees are extremely marketable, versatile, and well-respected. With a JD/MBA, you have the full spectrum of either career at your fingertips. In theory, should you pursue a strictly legal career after graduation, and after a few years decide it’s not for you, your MBA will allow you to explore an entirely different career (note: the reverse is not true; it is very difficult to get a traditional legal job if you begin your career in business—law firms want law school fresh in your mind). This form of career insurance is probably not a salient, stand-alone reason to invest in a joint degree. Entry-level positions and recruiting in both careers are geared toward recent graduates. Also, you won’t realize the full value of having a joint degree until contending for high-level positions (i.e. not entry level). However, both degrees provide unique opportunities … and you’ll have access to both.

Second, even though nobody recruits JD/MBAs, there are a few career paths that are well-suited for the combination. On the business side, HR, investment banking, private equity and venture capital tend to hire JD/MBAs. On the legal side, firms that have large corporate law practices (M&A, finance, securities, etc.) will value a JD/MBAs ability to communicate with clients. The value of a JD/MBA is more visible to MBA recruiters. In some cases it can also be a liability. My observation is that a law degree may actually hurt when trying to sell your ingenuity and creativity to a marketing recruiter. The perception of lawyers being risk-averse and inflexible is a stereotype you have to live with. However, there are no restrictions. The “joint degree” is a misnomer because both degrees are awarded separately—you’ll need separate frames to hang your degrees on the wall. In other words, you earn an MBA and JD, giving you the same educational tools as any other exclusively MBA or law student.

A third advantage is time. If you are uncertain about what you want to do with your career, you have two years to experiment and two years to pursue. It’s disturbing how many law graduates hate practicing law. You can spend the first two years of the JD/MBA trying to find out if you would even like being a lawyer. That’s what I did. The answer was clear “no.” That experience allowed me to unreservedly pursue an MBA internship for my third summer. This advantage comes with baggage. The likelihood of finding well-paid internships for all three summers is small. In fact, you’ll probably experience a net financial loss those first two summers.

Fourth, your network as a JD/MBA is much larger. You not only have friends and classmates on both sides of campus, but you also overlap with more graduating classes. I will have been in law school for four years and the MBA program for three. That means my potential exposure to classmates from those extra years will be significant. The downside is that I won’t always graduate with the same people you start with.

These four advantages all have trade-offs. That’s the nature of the joint degree. It’s a tough decision. Even if you decide to pursue both degrees, you’ll probably live with some regret. It may be years, if ever, before you see tangible evidence that the JD/MBA benefited your career.

As a final note, the order you complete your JD/MBA can be done three different ways:

The “best career track” column is a loose general rule for the type of career you plan to pursue when you enter the program. There are plenty of pros and cons to each. Your choice will affect the types of internships you’re competitive for in the first two years. There are more legal internships available for those not graduating the following year. Also, note that some schools allow you to begin mixing the coursework during your second MBA semester (for options 1 and 2), but your first year of law school will generally be strictly law courses.

There are many other considerations not covered in this post. For example, you will find your attention and priories divided between the two worlds. Also, because there are few  JD/MBAs at any given time, the faculty and career service offices in most schools aren’t well equipped to meet your unique needs. While sometimes it’s good to be the exception, in this case most schools’ resources are focused on the mainstream.

In making your decision, my best advice is to ask your chosen MBA program to help you contact recent JD/MBA grads.  Ask them which companies/firms were interested in their credentials.  Find out whether the joint degree helped them get their first/current jobs.  For MOST MBAs, a law degree is NOT worth the extra time and investment–at least not initially.  While I’m very glad I did it, if I would have had all the information at my decision point, I doubt I would have chosen to take this path. The JD/MBA helped me figure out the exact job I wanted, then helped me get that job.  Even so, I will be working side-by-side with pure MBAs and earning the same starting salary.

Tim Young

4th Year JD/MBA Candidate

Brigham Young University

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