What's The Point Of A JD/MBA?

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Enrolling in graduate school today usually means you have your eye on a certain profession, and doing more school is the best route you've identified to get you to where you want to go. If you want to be a doctor, you go to medical school. If you want to be a professor, you most likely get a PhD. Lawyer? Law school. Dentist? Dental school. And for other professions, whether it be financial planning, interior design, real estate, or sports nutrition, there is almost always some sort of formal or informal training that precedes entrance into this desired profession.

The JD/MBA, on the other hand, doesn't follow this type of pattern. There are no jobs out there today that require a JD/MBA. As teens and young adults consider what they want to make out of their future professional lives, they're going to have a difficult time identifying a career where they can rightly say, "Well then, looks like I need to get a JD/MBA if I want to do that!"

So, what's the point of doing both then? If there's nothing out there that requires a JD/MBA, why do both?

Optionality
People considering the JD/MBA frequently point to the professional flexibility it will provide. In the short run, they believe it buys time; an individual may not know what he or she wants to do career-wise, and the JD/MBA is seen as a way to hedge against making an educational and career choice that may prove unsatisfactory. In the long run, many of these same individuals argue that it will allow them to pursue multiple industries and multiple roles. Unemployment risk is perceived to be lower because the JD/MBA means you know more and can do more.

Personally, I'm skeptical of how true those perceptions turn out to be when reality hits. For one, being a lawyer is not just something you can turn on and off, at least not straight out of law school. Unless you plan on hanging up your own shingle and starting a solo legal practice, if you want to be a lawyer, you'll need to practice law straight out of school. Within the legal industry, the hiring process is extremely formalized, especially out of the top law schools. For most students, they will do on-campus interviews in the fall of their 2L year (or even before their 2L year starts). This often leads to a summer internship the following summer, which then leads to being a full-time associate at the same firm upon graduating a year later. For students wanting to pursue public practice, the timeline is different, but the principle remains: legal hiring follows a regimented process. It is very difficult to take time off after law school, pursue non-legal professional activities, and then obtain an attorney position a year or two after the fact. I'm sure there is somebody out there who has done it, but it certainly stacks the odds against you if you want to practice law.

If you don't practice law as a bar-licensed attorney at some point, your legal credibility moving forward will be extremely low. You may be able to speak legalese, and as noted below, you'll be able to work with in-house and outside counsel, but when it comes to legal matters, you're not going to be an authority on the matter. You won't be able to legitimately offer legal advice, and no one will be seeking it from you anyway.

The lawyer who understands business
A more plausible argument in favor of doing a JD/MBA is for future attorneys who think the MBA can make them better attorneys. There is some evidence that law firms also believe this notion. If you take a look at NALP.org, you'll see that it's very common for law firms to provide bonuses and salary increases to attorneys that have gotten their MBA. Lawyers need to understand the business of their clients, both in terms of the operations and finances of the business itself as well as the industry in which the client competes. Having an MBA doesn't mean that you've necessarily ever been part of a merger deal in the past; but it likely means that you know the role of debt, understand the incentives of management, and appreciate all the non-legal logistics that can arise when two companies seek to become one. These things add value, not only because they allow you to hit the ground running, but because they also put you in a position to better understand, analyze, and meet the client's needs.

The manager who understands the law
For JD/MBAs who decide to go the business route right away, you could argue that the law degree can still be beneficial. In the business world, the law comes up in a variety of scenarios. From contracts -- including licenses and employment contracts -- to international regulation, there is no shortage of activities, requirements, and relationships that will invoke legal analysis. JD/MBAs will, to some extent, be able to navigate these waters more smoothly than colleagues that lack any sort of legal training; JD/MBAs will know the legal jargon, and they'll know how to work with outside counsel. But after that, it's difficult to identify tangible benefits. These managers aren't going to be asked for their legal opinion; the company will look to bar-licensed attorneys for that.

So, while it's true that a law degree can be helpful for someone who never practices the law, it's not completely obvious from the outset what sort of professional benefits it will yield. And with that conclusion in mind, people considering the dual-degree that have no intent of practicing law will need to ask themselves whether the two years of extra school (as compared to an MBA in and of itself) will provide a satisfactory return-on-investment in terms of what it means for their careers.

So then what do you get?
Though there's no clear path for the JD/MBA, and most professional benefits will largely depend on the actual path each individual pursues, the dual-degree can still offer valuable utility that JD/MBAs can take with them the rest of their lives, regardless of their career choices.

The experience
A growing professional network is one of the more significant assets that you'll take with you after completing the dual degree. Law school or business school alone offers its own powerful network, but the JD/MBA means you're doubling that network. More important than its size is the diversity and strength of that network you'll get. Regardless of your career path, having connections with people across multiple industries as a result of your dual network is an extremely valuable asset, both professionally and personally.

Law school and business school offer their own unique and ambitious environments for students. The difference in the classroom experience goes well beyond the subject material. And the differences between each program also manifest themselves in the personality of its students, staff, and faculty. In my experience, one has not been better than the other; it's just been different. But despite these differences, one constant has been the extent to which I have loved the people I've interacted with both inside and outside the classroom. These are people that are pushing me to be better, motivating me to work harder, and at the end of the day, appreciating me for being me.

As a student of both schools, JD/MBAs are able to navigate and experience the full benefits that each environment offers. Attending business lectures from titans of industries, then studying legal issues with some of the top legal scholars has been a completely enriching part of my graduate schooling. Having exposure and immersing myself in both worlds has honed and shaped my own personal knowledge and understanding.

For me, spending four years rubbing shoulders with some of the brightest young minds in the world today, having my assumptions and arguments fervently and respectfully challenged on a daily basis, and listening to today's top business and legal leaders have been my most rewarding takeaways from the Stanford JD/MBA experience.

Through my professional career, do I expect to recoup the extra tuition costs of one more year of school (or the opportunity cost of one year of lost salary)? I don't know -- probably not. It's difficult to know exactly what the JD/MBA is going to mean for me professionally moving forward. Notwithstanding, when I get to the end of my life and look back at my 20s, do I expect to regret having spent that extra year at Stanford, rubbing shoulders with the rising generation of leaders and influencers? Absolutely not.

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