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 (https://jointdegree.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/im-earning-a-law-degree-should-i-get-an-mba-too/). 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