JD/MBAs: Who’s Crazy Enough To Get Both Degrees?

JD/MBAs At Top Schools: A Rough Portrait  JD/MBAs, Class of 2016 JD/MBAs, Total 
Northwestern 27 70
U. Penn 14 45
Harvard 10 35
Stanford 21*
Columbia 15*
Duke 5*
UC Berkeley 1*
*Admissions’ estimate

More of a JD or an MBA?

Generally, people get law degrees to become lawyers. It’s simple. Even with the more flexible MBA, there are a few standard paths: finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, et cetera. But there’s no formal place for JD/MBAs. “My sense is that students in general who are pursuing dual degrees are interested in having multiple options over the course of their careers,” says Jayne Mulcahy, assistant director of admissions at Kellogg, Northwestern’s business school.

Colleen France, associate director of JD/MBA programs at the University of Pennsylvania, outlines the two main types of applicants she sees. Type one is a JD first and an MBA second. He has a background in public interest, and on Capitol Hill or in the White House, he’s seen a lot of policy decisions being made by people who have law degrees but lack serious business credentials. He gets the JD/MBA with the intention of returning to D.C., armed with the technical skills and network an MBA provides.

Type two is more of an MBA/JD. She comes from a private equity background and works with lawyers all the time, to the point where she’s basically teaching herself JD material. She gets the JD/MBA not because she wants to take the bar exam, but because she wants the lawyer’s analytical skill set and a better understanding of the laws she deals with.

According to Mulcahy, five years ago, most people who pursued both degrees went to law firms, got clerkships, or took public interest roles. That’s no longer the case. “We’ve seen slightly more than half looking more at what I would consider roles where the MBA is more of the primary degree,” she says. Aside from getting jobs in private equity and consulting, these graduates are heading to startups and getting involved in entrepreneurial ventures. “My sense is that in some cases, hiring trends do tend to reflect the market,” she adds, referring to the tough times law graduates have been facing.

Hsia has seen a similar split. “Maybe a decade ago, most of the JD/MBAs went the law route,” he says. “But I think in the past few years, a lot of JD/MBAs are more interested in the business side. And that is something I’ve definitely observed here—at least among my Stanford classmates”

As for himself? “In the short run, I want to do something in business,” he says, naming an interest in “the sweet spot of the Venn diagram” of tech and media. “That’s to pay off the loans,” he explains. “That’s to take care of the financial security of my family. But in the long run, I’d like to do something in the public service realm.”

While studying for both his law and business degrees, Hsia has already launched Service to School, a non-profit that helps veterans make the transition from the military to higher education. “After getting into both the law school and the business school, I said, ‘Hey, what am I good at?’” he recalls. “I figured I’m pretty good at applying to schools.”

Drake confirms that the split exists at Duke, too. “Of the five of us, two of us are going to work at firms after school,” Drake says. “Two are going to investment banks, and then there’s the fifth who’s going to work in the marketing department of a major company.” Though he’s taking the law route now, he’s worked at a real estate company before, and he can’t say with certainty that he won’t go back to business. “I think on the one hand, that’s always something that’s kind of singled out there as a possibility you have because you have a JD/MBA,” he says. But he notes that “sometimes it’s hard to break out of the mold, is what I’ve gathered.”

Fortunately, his end goal isn’t specifically rooted in either side: it’s “always being kind of actively engaged with super creative people who want to do cool stuff. Gosh, that’s really vague,” he adds with a sheepish laugh.

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