The JD/MBA for the Corporate Lawyer: A Mixed Blessing?

by Vault Law Editors | March 31, 2009

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An MBA is not necessary to secure work as a corporate associate, but joint degrees in law and business (JD/MBAs) have become increasingly popular in recent years. These degrees usually take four or more years to earn. Some require you to complete the first-year curriculum of both the law and business program in the first two years, and then allow you to take classes in each of the schools for the two remaining years.

Steve McCormick notes that, while not a prerequisite, a JD/MBA gives a prospective corporate lawyer "a huge advantage" in a law firm setting. Apparently the joint degree is of great advantage to an in-house corporate lawyer. "A joint JD/MBA is very useful if you want to go in-house," says the in-house counsel of a New York media company. "So much of my work is not just pure legal work -- it's also understanding the business side and how the business side works. You're more valuable to your business colleagues if you have good business sense, and an MBA would be fantastic in giving you that. For example, if you have a good relationship with your sales people, a lot of time they'll ask you whether a deal makes sense to you. It's helpful if you can talk to them in a commercial sense and ask questions about pricing and the strategy of how to structure a deal. Business sense is also important when working with the M&A groups, since structure is so important to what they do."

A Boston law firm associate disagrees. "Unless your MBA is from Wharton, Harvard, Sloan or Columbia, don't bother; it won't help you. With MBAs there are only a handful of schools that carry any weight. Save your money and time -- you can learn how to read financial statements on the job."

One career center director at a top law school offers yet another perspective. "For a job search," he says, "both your law degree and your business degree have to come from top schools. But for actual work, a business background is always helpful. You'll not only be able to work on matters you might not otherwise be able to work on, but you'll also have a much better sense of why it has to be done, and what the client's goals are."

In the view of one JD/MBA graduate of University Pennsylvania Law School and Wharton Business School, "Some law firms have grown rather skeptical of JD/MBAs so in that sense the joint degree can be a disadvantage for pursuing a corporate law firm job. Many big law firms feel that JD/MBAs tend to leave sooner than other lawyers to pursue opportunities in business and finance, so their training investment is wasted."

Note that several large law firms in New York and other major cities give JD/MBAs an additional year's credit for purposes of seniority, pay and partnership qualification. In such firms, a JD/MBA would enter the firm as a second-year associate, as would a graduate who had spent a year completing a judicial clerkship. Check with prospective employers to negotiate seniority credit for an MBA.

Filed Under: Law

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