A New Wrinkle in the JD-MBA Decision

Law School Admissions
We talk to a lot of JD-MBA applicants … or at least a lot of graduate school candidates thinking about those two degrees. Ultimately, most of the clients we work with wind up choosing one or the other, after we put them through a thorough analysis of all the pros and cons of the joint degree path. You can read about many of these considerations in this space, including:
finances, opportunity, short-term career goals, and long-term career goals.

For many, once they go through all of the various pluses and minuses, they wind up deciding to stick with one program. However, there is another, more strategic, reason that many of our clients wind up going with either the MBA or the JD, rather than both: applying to both schools can hurt your chances of gaining admissions at either program.

This is a wrinkle that most people don’t consider in the JD-MBA analysis, but is something that is worth thinking long and hard about. Positioning yourself as a JD-MBA applicant has consequences on how your application will be reviewed and how a decision will be rendered, at virtually every program.

Let’s start with Northwestern, which is the standard bearer in the JD-MBA space. Part of the reason Northwestern is so advanced relative to other dual degree programs is that they committed an entire process to reviewing JD-MBA candidates, complete with a coordinator assigned to this pool of applicants. The application and interview process hew closely to those of Kellogg, but they also incorporate Northwestern Law School. In other words, by applying JD-MBA instead of just to Kellogg, you are automatically bringing another opinion to the table. If you are a younger applicant with a monster LSAT score and can get the law school in your corner, then maybe you stand a better chance than if you had just applied to Kellogg. However, if you are a strong “traditional” MBA applicant with a high GMAT score, great work experience, and so forth, you might be introducing added risk by having someone from the law school weigh in. This is also true at Duke (three-year program with a dual application) and NYU (four-year program with a dual application).

For all the other schools – even Wharton and Yale, which offer three-year programs – students are required to apply “separately but concurrently.” This is where it starts to get really tricky and before we explain why it can be costly to apply to both the business school AND the law school at an elite university, we have to discuss a concept called “yield protection.”

Yield protection is basically the school’s attempt to secure a certain percentage of admitted students as enrolled students (its “yield”) by managing that consideration throughout the admissions process. For most candidates, an admissions officer will consider whether the student might enroll as part of a decision, because it helps them protect their yield rate (which is crucial for many reasons, most notably how it impacts the rankings). Often, if the officer sees a red flag on potential yield, he or she will pass on an otherwise qualified candidate.

One such red flag goes like this: “Candidate X wants to get a JD-MBA and we’re not sure the law school will admit him.” Even worse: “Candidate X wants to get a JD-MBA and we KNOW that the law school won’t admit him.” Now you have a business school that wants to admit you, but won’t, because the admissions committee either thinks or knows the corresponding law school will not. What is the likely result of this scenario? You will not be admitted to either program. Because the business school (in this scenario – it all works in reverse as well, of course) is afraid you won’t attend (because you won’t have the opportunity to pursue both degrees), they will pass in favor of someone else.

In other words, reaching for the additional degree can hurt your chances at the program you most desire. Nearly every candidate considering a JD-MBA has a “lead horse” in that race and the question I always ask is to consider whether the reward of getting into both programs is worth the risk of potentially being denied at your preferred program.

To be sure, this is another wrinkle in an already complicated decision-making process. We encourage all prospective JD-MBA students to really study the considerations at play and to make decisions with not just the ideal outcome, but the most realistic outcome in mind. More to the point, if you are wrestling with the JD-MBA, we encourage you to give us a call at (800) 925-7737, and we’ll help you sort some of this out.

Pros and Cons of a JD/MBA – Part 3

Part 3: Short-Term Career Goals

The following entry is the third part of an ongoing series exploring the pros and cons of the increasingly popular JD/MBA degree path. Part 1 explored finances and the many costs and benefits to securing dual degrees in one educational experience. Part 2 analyzed the good and the bad with regards to opportunity — what are you gaining by pursuing both of these degrees simultaneously and what are your chances of successfully doing so?

Today, for Part 3, we focus on the impact that a JD/MBA can have on your short-term career goals.

JD vs. MBA Student. As always, any analysis of a single JD/MBA factor must first address the disparity in student “type.” Simply put, law school students and business school students often have very different considerations and in almost all cases, one program is driving the JD/MBA interest more than the other. In the case of short-term career goals, the pros and cons are often more extreme for a traditional law student adding an MBA. The reason for this is that adding a JD to a typical MBA career progression is usually seen as a minor development – potentially interesting, potentially unnecessary, but rarely make-or-break. On the other hand, as we will discuss below, adding an MBA to a law school education can move the needle quite a bit, both for better or worse.

Legal vs. Non-Legal. The easiest way to add some clarity to the short-term career analysis is to split the jobs into “legal” and “non-legal” categories. Legal careers include general counsel work, public interest work, academia, and, of course, practicing at a big firm. Non-legal careers are basically anything else. A good rule of thumb: if your job does not require admission to the state bar, it is non-legal.

Pros, Legal. As discussed last time in the “Opportunity” breakdown, pursuing a JD/MBA will naturally limit your practice area options. You basically set yourself on a path toward a transactional practice, eliminating litigation or any other type of motion practice as a consideration. That said, most people who would want to pair a law degree with an MBA are unlikely to have a strong desire to litigate, so that may not be a huge issue. So long as you are headed in the right general direction, there are several basic advantages to adding the MBA to a legal career.

The first is that it softens the learning curve. Many corporate attorneys will tell you from firsthand experience that this advantage is short-lived as you quickly acquire the knowledge you need, but there is no denying that a new associate can come out of the gates with more confidence and can perform tasks more quickly if they have a solid understanding of the business principles in play. Merely possessing a comfort level with the vocabulary can make a world of difference. There is nothing that feels worse than having a senior associate explain mezzanine loans to you or map out an org chart on the back of some scratch paper. Again, it is really only relevant during the first 18 months or so of your practice, but that is increasingly becoming a good chunk of a corporate attorney’s shelf life.

The second big “legal” advantage to adding the MBA is attorneys with extensive business school experience are often more conversant with their clients. Almost all clients are ultimately business people (even if the voice on the other end of the phone is general counsel, that person still reports to someone) and being able to anticipate their needs, empathize with their challenges, and speak their language makes an attorney far more effective. And making clients happy is a skill that never goes out of style.

Finally, a JD/MBA is shaping up to be the perfect degree path to a career in corporate governance or financial regulation. Business is booming in both industries due to the scandal, fraud, and negligence that has led to the collapse of the financial markets. It is no surprise that the response to “little-to-no oversight” is “more oversight.” Regulation of securities is likely to be ushered (at long last) into the 21st Century, companies are investing more resources in the governance of their own behavior, and there stands to be tremendous growth in both the public and private sectors when it comes to general regulation of financial markets. Lawyers of all kind will be staffed in these roles, but specifically those attorneys with a grasp of financial instruments. A JD/MBA is a great way to both acquire and – more importantly – to signal such a grasp.

Cons, Legal. The biggest downside to securing an MBA on the road to a legal career (beyond the financial and opportunity costs outlined in previous posts) is the perception it might create among potential employers. Simply put, a JD/MBA is often seen as a “red flag” at law firms, due to increased flight risk presented by the JD/MBA applicant. That said, this stigma is starting to go away and for good reason: there’s nowhere to fly off to. Law firms have been waging an intense retention battle over the past decade and many of the recent changes at the associate level (salary increases, bonuses, training programs, mentorship, pro bono opportunities, etc.) are the direct result of BigLaw’s fear that their most talented people will simply leave and go work as investment bankers, hedge fund managers, or private equity fund managers. And for good reason! Top lawyers were watching their MBA counterparts make anywhere from two to 10 times as much money while working on similar deals. It came as no great surprise that those attorneys were jumping ship.

Now, however, many of those lucrative counterpart jobs have dried up. So while a JD/MBA is still looked upon with some measure of suspicion by many BigLaw firms, the fear that they are hiring a banker-in-training is starting to go away.

So if there is no red flag (or at least a diminution in the fears of law firms that you will bail), does that mean there is no downside? Not exactly. The other “con” to a JD/MBA is that it can put you a year behind your peers when you receive your degrees through a four-year program. This is critical because a legal career depends more on “year of entry” than virtually any other profession. The people from your class will dictate your quality of life at your firm, your opportunities for professional growth within the industry, and even your chance to move or advance. Falling a year behind your friends and peers from law school is a risky proposition that may or may not be offset by the “pros” listed above.

Pros, Non-Legal. Pairing a JD with an MBA can be a great way to entice a variety of potential employers. Financial industries have long shown a certain curiosity toward MBA students with a JD in tow and you could probably spot check any number of “random” industries – from entertainment to energy to media to health care – and find examples of dual degree holders who enjoyed an advantage in the job market. However, for the most part, there is only one traditional MBA career path that consistently rewards and appreciates the JD/MBA degree: management consulting. Many elite consulting firms prefer law students over their business school counterparts due to the critical thinking, logical reasoning, speaking, and writing skills that are often produced at top law schools. However, the downside with a JD is that he may or may not know the first thing about business. Therefore, adding an MBA – and the presumed quantitative skills that come with it – is an easy way to put those fears to rest and present a “best of both worlds” scenario to consulting firms.

Some would add “entrepreneur” to the list of pros, but there is less certainty that a JD/MBA adds a great deal in this area. Basically, two schools of thought compete here: 1) “Pay Now or Pay Later,” which says that you can either pay for legal knowledge to pair with your b-school experience “now,” in the form of extra tuition, time, and lost wages, or you can pay for it “later” in the form of legal fees. 2) “Maybe You Know What Questions to Ask,” which says that the best you can glean from a JD is a loose understanding of legal frameworks and a good instinct regarding which questions to ask and which issues to tackle, but that true comprehension of the legal issues that will confront your business is unattainable and you will wind up paying legal fees anyway. I would add a third notion here, which is that a JD/MBA can provide added credibility depending on the audience, as some investors/customers/business partners/employees may respond more favorably to a law background.

Cons, Non-Legal. There aren’t a lot of huge “cons” to securing both degrees when pursuing a non-legal career. The biggest is also the most basic: you may spend time and money acquiring a degree that ultimately goes unused. Since most MBA career paths are accessible simply by securing an MBA, the 1-2 additional years it takes to nab the JD could wind up being a huge waste.

For those interested in learning more about JD/MBA programs, exploring whether the degree might be a good fit, or looking for assistance with a JD/MBA application, please explore our JD/MBA admissions consulting services.

Yale Adds Three-Year JD/MBA Program

Big news coming out of New Haven, Connecticut, as Yale has announced the addition of a three-year JD/MBA program to its graduate school options.

The official name of the program is the “Accelerated Integrated JD-MBA Program,” which is certainly a literal title, as well as a mouthful. It is focused on students interested in “business law,” which sounds specific, but lends itself to all of the careers we typically see from a JD/MBA track, including transactional law, corporate governance, regulatory law, entrepreneurship, and a host of other professional paths. So the thrust of the program doesn’t sound dramatically different from the other three-year programs that are already available at elite universities (Penn, Northwestern, Duke).

However, on closer inspection, there are two significant differences between Yale’s program and the others mentioned above:

1. There is more focus on the law. At the other elite three-year JD/MBA programs, the emphasis is often on the management or finance aspects of the program. This is evident in the way the program is built, but even more so in the way the applications are set up. In particular, the application for the Northwestern three-year program is basically a minor deviation from the Kellogg application, and nearly all of the questions are about leadership, teammwork, work experience, and other “MBA” issues. In the case of Yale, it seems that the program is anchored more in the law school curriculum and I suspect that the application process will reflect that as well.

(Note: This makes sense on an intuitive level, since Yale’s law school is the top ranked law school in the country and is quite a bit more prestigious — relatively speaking — than the School of Management. Certainly, the pairing of Yale Law and Yale SOM represents the greatest disparity in relative ranking strength. In fact, in the case of Penn and Wharton, it is the business school that enjoys the greater ranking prestige relative to its peers. From this, one could surmise that the law school will also be driving the admissions decisions.)

2. No summer classes. I’m not sure how Yale is going to pull this magic trick off (early indications are the complete elimination of electives and “non essential” coursework), but the three-year program is truly three academic years (six semester). In other words, no summer course work. This is a huge deal, because it should reduce tuition costs (for more on the tuition considerations of a JD/MBA, see here), while freeing up both the first and second summers to seek out either legal or business employment experiences.

All told this is a major addition to the three-year JD/MBA options currently available to interested candidates and yet another sign (coming on the heels of Penn announcing its own program last fall) that this degree is enjoying an increase in both popularity and accessibility.

For those interested in learning more about JD/MBA programs, exploring whether the degree might be a good fit, or looking for assistance with a JD/MBA application, please explore our JD/MBA admissions consulting services.

Announcing Veritas Prep’s JD/MBA Admissions Consulting

We are pleased to announce the latest offering to Veritas Prep’s admissions consulting options: JD/MBA Admissions consulting.

The choice of whether to pursue a law degree or an MBA has always featured a certain amount of crossover and the convergence of those two professional degrees has become even more of a nexus point this fall in light of the current economic climate. For many, the choice has become both, rather than one or the other. Given the rise in popularity of the JD/MBA, it makes sense that a company like Veritas Prep become the industry expert on the subject.

With its team of hundreds of expert business school and law school admissions consultants representing the most comprehensive possible approach to MBA and JD admissions, Veritas Prep has created another start-to-finish process that helps candidates determine whether the JD/MBA is right for them and then assists them in crafting the best possible applications to the nation’s elite joint degree programs.

The hallmarks of Veritas Prep are expertise and level of care. Each of these attributes are on full display here as clients are paired with an expert law school admissions consultant and an MBA admissions specialist from the program of their choosing. The level of specificity provided by our “school specific” pairing model enables the client and consultant to work with unrivaled focus, strategy, and thoroughness.

If you’re interested in general law school admissions or business school admissions consulting, visit our web site to learn more!

Wharton Announces New JD/MBA Program with Penn Law

Last week the University of Pennsylvania announced a new three-year JD/MBA program between the Wharton School and Penn Law School.

JD/MBA students will spend their first year taking law courses, followed by a summer of four more law and and businesses courses designed specifically for the JD/MBA program. In their second and third years students will take a combination of law and business courses, including capstone courses in the third year. While they won’t work during their first summer, JD/MBA students will take a law- or business-related job between their second and third years.

According to the Penn release:

“We expect that all sorts of people with business experience will apply,” Edward Rock, co-director of Penn’s Institute for Law and Economics, a professor of law and an architect of the three-year program. “All of them will be able to navigate and lead in the worlds of business and of law because this is the best way to prepare tomorrow’s business lawyers.”

Penn joins other top schools such as Northwestern in the trend to provide accelerated JD/MBA options to students who are considering graduate training in both law and business.