Thank you for your Question.
This is a difficult decision facing you. Is the additional time taken
out of your working career in order to go for the dual-degree, worth
The answer is equally difficult, as it all depends... on you.
To many people, a JD is a 'professional degree'; that is, a degree
designed specifically to allow its recipient entry into a profession.
However, the degree alone does not automatically grant its holder the
right to work in that profession; instead, it simply is a prerequisite
to be accepted in the professional organization that regulates the
profession within any given jurisdiction, as empowered by legislation.
So, even if one were to have a JD, one would not be able to represent
oneself as a lawyer without first applying for, and being called to,
the bar (association/society) of the state or province that you would
work in. So, strictly speaking, there are no jobs that are available
only to a JD/MBA, and not to a 'mere' MBA, unless that JD/MBA were
also a lawyer and the position required that the candidate be able to
In that case, why bother getting a JD if you never want to work as a lawyer, then?
The common denominator between your two options is the MBA degree, so
let's set that aside for the moment. So, the question is now, what
career options are available for someone with a JD who does not wish
to practice law after graduating? We will focus on areas where
business management training would also be an asset, just to keep the
discussion on track.
First, it is interesting to note that no less an authority than the
American Bar Association has also tried to address this question in
This article, which originally appeared in the December 2002 issue of
the 'Student Lawyer' publication, has one very important point that we
need to repeat here:
"The skills honed in law school?writing, research, critical thinking,
the Socratic Method, and attention to minute detail?all are
transferable outside the legal profession."
Having earned an MBA from a #1-globally-ranked program myself, I know
all too well that most business schools would argue that they impart
similar skills in their graduates. It's all a matter of perspective,
though. Business schools train their students to think strategically
while understanding the details. Law schools train their students to
focus on the details in order to formulate strategy. It is a subtle
difference, but an important one. Again, I can speak from personal
experience; prior to going back to school to earn my MBA; I worked for
several years as a professional engineer (and am still a professional
engineer today, but focused on management rather than technical
work... and in case you are wondering, Google Answers is NOT my day
job). As an engineer, I spent many years of my life focusing on the
details. In business school, I learned how to focus on the big picture
first. Now, by combining both perspectives, I feel that I can see any
problem from all angles, giving me an edge in the business world.
So, in what parts of the business world would a JD/MBA thrive without
requiring that person to be a lawyer? Well, while one does need to be
a lawyer in order to practice law, one does not need to be a lawyer in
order to deal with lawyers on behalf of an employer. There are several
areas of business where this sort of situation arises. For example,
strategic mergers and acquisitions require someone who can see the big
picture and who can understand all of the legal ramifications
throughout the negotiations in order to ensure that the final deal is
beneficial to their side. This person should be separate from the
actual legal team drafting and reviewing the deal, in order to remain
objective and focused on the business aspects of the deal. An MBA with
a JD, would be ideal for this role.
Another example would be in labor relations. Again, this is a field
that tends to involve a lot of lawyers, so anyone on the business side
really needs to be cognizant of the legal aspects of any problems that
come up, and be able to understand the actions and recommendations of
the lawyers. This encompasses everything from dealing with unions, to
dealing with multi-million-dollar sports stars and their agents. More
and more, the executive positions in major sports team organizations
are being filled by individuals who combine expertise in two areas:
business/sports management, and contracts/negotiations. An example of
this is Peter Chiarelli, the GM of the NHL's Boston Bruins:
Yet another example of a career where a JD is a definite asset, but
not a requirement, is politics. Generally, no education is required to
be a politician (and I'll avoid the obvious opportunity to make a
wisecrack here). However, given that our elected representatives are
the ones who vote on the laws of the land, definitely a JD (and an
MBA) would be an asset in making the right decisions. Unfortunately,
unlike in the business world, success in a political career is often
not based on the ability to make the right decisions, so this is not a
compelling reason to get a JD/MBA.
On a more positive note, a JD/MBA can also - in the hands of the right
individual - fast-track a journey through the consulting world. Major
consulting firms are always looking for people who can relate well
with their clients. Whether the client is a law firm, a company
looking for advice on a merger or acquisition, or a corporate client
struggling to survive in the face of legal battles involving patents
or other intellectual property rights, a consultant who can 'talk the
talk' will often be able to deliver a better customer experience.
Again, I can relate to this, as consulting firms also hire
engineers/MBAs to work with their tech clients. It imparts instant
credibility to the consulting firm when they can send in consultants
who actually understand what the client's business actually does!
Ulimately, the dual degree can empower you in negotiating another key
contract; namely, your employment contract. It is a tangible sign that
you do not shy from a challenge, and that you can climb higher and
faster than many other candidates. Perhaps this is why we have this
positive Businessweek article from earlier this year:
With all of this, then, does this mean that you should definitely go
for the JD/MBA versus just an MBA? Like I said at the beginning... it
all depends on you.
The additional two years it takes to earn the JD on top of the MBA,
are two years taken from your prime working years. The cost of those
two years, is both the cost of the extra two years' worth of
education, as well as the lost earning potential. You mentioned that
you are about to start a management position with a Fortune 500
company. Arguably, an MBA alone will help you accelerate your climb up
the corporate ladder, with pretty much any general management position
being attainable (including CEO!). Unless you are interested in a
position where the ability to understand lawyers and to think like a
lawyer is a tangible asset, then your ability to parlay the JD/MBA
into a way to earn back the lost earning potential of the extra two
years, will be limited. However, if one of the examples I gave above
happens to match your interests, then the extra investment now, can
definitely pay dividends in the future by opening doors that would
otherwise be very difficult to even approach.
Since only you know what interests you, I suggest you think about your
ideal job, ten years after you have graduated with an MBA (forget
about the JD for a moment). Hopefully it involves something that you
are passionate about even now. For example, are you an avid golfer?
Then perhaps you are running a chain of golf resorts. Or, perhaps you
have always been passionate about defending human rights, in which
case you might be the executive director of a human rights advocacy
organization. In any case, think about the skill set that you would
need in order to excel in that position. If in this analysis you come
to the realization that any of the skills mentioned previously -
writing, research, critical thinking, the Socratic Method, and
attention to minute detail - are vital to your success, then you
should give serious thought to pursuing the JD/MBA.
By the way, if you do decide to go for the JD/MBA, the next question
you need to consider is, whether to invest an additional year (and a
lot of mental pain and suffering) in articling immediately after
graduation, and being called to the bar. This is a necessary evil if
you think that you will ever want to practice law after all.
I hope that this helps you in this very important decision. It's a bit
cliché, but the answer truly lies within you on this one. Think about
that ideal job ten years from graduation, and design your education
"nontraditional legal career"
The Non-Traditional Legal Careers Report
- a regularly updated report on non-law-firm careers for lawyers (ie.
called to the bar)
Nontraditional Legal Careers
- an article from May 1998, excerpted from "Alternative Careers for
Lawyers", a book by Hillary Mantis
Brody.com - JD or MBA? A Choice for Future Business Leaders
- yet another way to look at this question, but which brings up many
of the same points I that brought up above
Google Answers Researcher