Who’s Smarter? Law Or Biz Students

Tracy Branding, a Harvard law school student

Tracy Branding, a Harvard law school student

Who’s smarter? MBAs or law school students?

That provocative and tongue-in-check question was asked of two Harvard Law School students by The Harbus, the student newspaper at Harvard Business School. And the answers, though hardly definitive, were more than a little bit surprising.

The would-be attorneys–Lauren Shohat and Tracy Branding–say that business school types are much more adept with numbers and far more likely to be ‘people smart’ than their counterparts at law school. They also think that MBAs are more aggressive, certainly more willing to play hard ball in a one-on-one negotiation.


“I will say, I’m mathematically challenged so when I watch somebody analyze a financial model and quickly run numbers in their head at lightning speed, I find it to be very impressive,” Branding told The Harbus. “I wouldn’t say that makes them more intelligent, but it’s skill I don’t have so I’m constantly impressed by that. I do think that, based on my experience at negotiation workshop at the law school—which admittedly is a little more focused on interpersonal skills and more touchy feely—comparing that experience with negotiating with law students to the negotiation course here, I would say that HBS students are much more willing to play hard-ball and much more strategy-driven and aggressive.

On the other hand, they seem to think that law school students are better at digging into and understanding the dense text of documents. “In terms of who’s smarter, I would say that on average, and this is a big generalization, that HBS students tend to be a little more “people smart” in terms of social interactions,” believes Shohat, who had worked in corporate marketing for JPMorgan before going to Harvard law. “But at the same time, the law students are more detail-oriented and are better in terms of digging into the text of a document, whereas business school students are more experienced with numbers and the bottom line. The short answer to your question is that they’re both smart, but just in different ways.”

Adds Branding: “Law students are more verbal. An HBS guy in our class said he thought 30 pages was a ton of reading, whereas for us that’s not too much at all. But also mentioned he finds it difficult to read and comprehend contractual provisions.  Law school students have honed those skills and are better at it. Just the same way that I’m amazed he can run numbers in his head quickly, he’s amazed that we can make sense of extremely dense legal language.”


And then there’s looks. Both women agreed that the guys in business school have it all over the guys in law school.

“The guys are definitely better looking at the business school,” both told The Harbus “in unison.” “No questions asked. No doubt about it.”

Of course, that’s only the opinion of two Harvard law school students.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.