If you’re considering a JD/MBA program, the idea of being able to think like a lawyer and a businessperson simultaneously must be appealing to you; after all, it’s the very essence of what these programs offer. To see if you’re comfortable with this kind of thinking, try using both types of skills when evaluating whether these programs are right for you. Use lawyerly skills to honestly consider both sides of each issue, and then use financial analytical skills to see if the programs are a smart investment in your future.
The first issue that needs to be addressed is the big picture – why pursue a joint degree? If you’re considering a career in corporate law, M&A, or bankruptcy, the benefits may seem obvious. But what about other careers? What do you hope to use a joint degree to accomplish? Are you just trying to keep your options open, or do you have a plan? How will a joint degree affect your future earnings capacity?
Next consider the costs of the program. A JD candidate pursuing an MBA faces one extra year of school while an MBA candidate pursuing a JD faces two. Tuition and expenses for the extra year(s) are easy to calculate, generally averaging around $75,000. See http://www.businessinsider.com/qualifications-for-top-tier-law-schools-2013-7. But don’t forget to factor in the opportunity cost. For a future lawyer, that additional year spent completing the joint degree means foregoing one year of salary and bonus from your firm job, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, means just over $113,000. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm. Because an MBA candidate pursuing a JD faces two additional years in school, the lost opportunity cost is even greater. What is the value of those two extra years in terms of salary, bonus and compounding future salary increases? $200,000? $300,000? All tolled, the additional cost of a joint degree can range from $200,000 to $350,000 and up. Consider whether your career goals can support this. If you plan to advise small business or start ups, you may need the law degree more than you need the business degree.
If the cost doesn’t scare you, be prepared to apply separately to the business school while you are a first year law student. Joint degree candidates often spend their first year dedicated to law school, second year dedicated to business school, and the final two years working on requirements for both. At some schools the business school year may come first. The programs at the University of Chicago (http://student.chicagobooth.edu/group/jdmba/index.htm) and Harvard (http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/degrees/special-programs/joint-degrees/jd/mba-faqs.html) illustrate this point. Regardless, depending upon your personality this can be a benefit (allowing you to focus on one area at a time for the first two years) or a burden (because you aren’t comfortable tackling two different programs simultaneously during the final two years.)
Because one of the most significant benefits of attending graduate school is the relationships you develop, going back and forth between schools may prove to be difficult. However, it might offer extended networking opportunities if you are good at building relationships. Graduate school is tough, and the shared experience of students working through the process together creates a unique bond that lasts a lifetime. A JD/MBA candidate develops relationships with both law and business students, doubling the number of potential contacts. Yet the relationships may not be as strong, because you’re not working through the entire process with the same group of students. In other words, the law students who are your classmates during your 1L year will be in their 3L year when you return to law school (after a year of business school) for your 2L year. You’ll now have an entirely new set of law school classmates. As one recent graduate from a joint degree program said, “a fair amount of separation anxiety ensues when you realize that you’ll be taking classes elsewhere for a while and collecting your diploma with students you don’t feel as connected to.”
Another potential setback is the feasibility of staying involved in law school activities while centered somewhere else on campus. One JD/MBA graduate said her participation on a law journal was impacted by her decision to pursue a joint degree. “I was given a choice between completing my first year on journal while at the business school (thus, working with my class) or completing my first year when I returned to the law school after one year at the business school (with the class below me). I chose the former, but both choices had their setbacks. There were issues of location for me (it wasn’t always convenient to walk back and forth to the law school between business school classes for journal work – especially in the winter!) but there are also more general considerations with regard to face time with others on the journal (especially if you want to get published or take on an executive position in your second year).”
Aside from the social aspects, there may be consequences on the employment side. Having a foot in two schools means you may not be competitive for jobs on either the law or business side, and you may miss some opportunities that hiring partners appreciate. You may have to trek across campus for interviews and explain to law firms why you’re not currently enrolled in law school. Potential employers may doubt your dedication to practicing law, seeing you as dipping your two in two possible careers rather than jumping full force into one.
For the benefits of obtaining a joint degree (JD/MBA), including networking, see How to Use the JD/MBA Degree in Business and Entrepreneurship http://abovethelaw.com/career-files/how-to-use-the-jdmba-degree-in-business-and-entrepreneurship/