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March 10, 2009

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While joint degrees are still rare at law school, they are becoming increasingly common. The fall is the time when first- and second-year law students should contemplate applying for a joint degree. The most common joint degree is the JD/MBA, though others choose to do a JD/PhD (normally with a field like economics), a JD/MA (with international relations, for example), or, for the truly ambitious, even a JD/MD. Still, joint degrees are uncommon. There are perhaps five JD/MBAs in the average class at Penn, for example. Those who want to try for the JD/MBA should register to take the January GMATs now, and to line up their recommendations.

There are three ways to become a joint student: apply to both programs as an undergraduate, or apply to business school from law school in your first or second year. "It makes most sense to apply as a first year," advises one JD/MBA. "That way, you're not applying as an unknown. If you apply as a second year, it's almost like you're starting a new program after law school altogether." Those who want to hedge their bets may try to take classes in other programs. "Most schools let you take up to four or five classes in other schools or programs," says a joint degree veteran, "though scheduling conflicts or finding time can be daunting."

Is it worth getting a joint degree? "Financially, at least in the short run, probably not," says one joint degree holder. "It's true that law firms [except for Cravath and a few others] give joint degree holders second-year status and pay. But if you consider the economic cost of staying that extra year in school, you don't come out ahead." Also remember that investment banks are perfectly willing to recruit lawyers without their MBAs, meaning that one doesn't need a business degree to go into business. On the other hand, if you seek practical, real education in fields outside law, getting a joint degree is the way to go.

Certainly JD/MBAs are in high demand at law firms, especially those that concentrate in M&A and corporate finance. And while the short-term financial benefits may not be persuasive, for those who want to stick out a law career, the long-term benefits may be significant. Word has it that at the senior associate levels, when rainmaking and firm management looms closer, partners are more willing to bestow partnership upon someone with a business degree.

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