The Cornell Connection: The JD/MBA – Expectations Vs. Reality

Marisa Werner (Left) with Neale Walton (MBA ‘21) at a restaurant exploring the Finger Lake region during winter break

Three years ago, I embarked on the next big chapter of my life. I had decided to pursue the JD/MBA dual degree program at Samuel Curtis Johnson’s Graduate School of Management. Upon finishing my tenure as a legal assistant at Sullivan & Cromwell, I was excited to become a student again; I was giddy with the thought that I only had a single responsibility in school – to learn.

At this point, I naively thought I had my entire life plan figured out. After graduating from Cornell, I would return to Sullivan & Cromwell in M&A practice. I would work for a couple of years before becoming in-house counsel for one of the firm’s clients. These were the expectations that I had laid out for myself, and I was determined to do everything in my capacity to make them a reality. However, reality turned out to be slightly different than my expectations. Over the last few years, I realized that using my background in law and working as a consultant in business is a much better fit for me. In doing so, I can leverage and apply the knowledge acquired by both degrees, while simultaneously exercising my creativity.


Werner (Right) during a Sage Social with two friends from law school – David Nelkin and Sam Steiger

Obtaining my JD/MBA from Cornell has been an incredibly enriching experience filled with very powerful lessons. As I approach my final year of the 4-year program, I would describe my experience as a challenging and constant balancing act. I found that I learned key lessons in three areas: problem solving, networking, and assimilating and incorporating information from two distinct fields.

The JD/MBA has been eye-opening in that I have been able to occupy two different worlds. At first glance, law and business appear distinctly separate. However, the deeper I got into my studies the more I realized how interdependent these fields are. This past fall was my most rewarding semester. It was also the first time where I had a combination of MBA and JD classes running simultaneously. During this time, I was truly able to leverage aspects from my studies in business and law to bring a unique perspective to my class projects and participation.

One example is a project at the law school that required us to act as either prosecutors or defendants in a hypothetical court case. In my oral argument, I was tasked with defending a company, whose CFO was accused of bribing inspectors assigned to the company’s plants. Based on these accusations, the DOJ was considering shutting down the company’s plants, located in Mississippi. During my defense, I calculated the impact on Mississippi’s unemployment rate and GDP if the plants shut down, highlighting the macro implications of this action. This ultimately bolstered my argument and led to the DOJ’s decision to keep the plants open. My co-counsel for the defense was happily surprised by this argument; he told me that he never would have thought to calculate the actual numbers of the impact, which he also believed convinced the DOJ to ultimately decide in our favor. This project taught me how it is important to approach an issue with creative problem-solving and the use of data analytics. Without a solid background from my legal and business studies, I could not have arrived at my resolution without.


That doesn’t mean a JD/MBA doesn’t bring a series of challenges. The degree requirements for compliance with the law school and the business school, in addition to the American Bar Association, are time-consuming to fulfill. Sometimes, it feels like I am pursuing another degree in itself. At the beginning of each semester, a pit would always form in my stomach when I would pull up my spreadsheet to guarantee that I was satisfying the requisites necessary – in addition to factoring in time for recruiting and extra-curricular pursuits. Fortunately, the JD/MBAs are a tight-knit group at Cornell Johnson. This type of supportive networking has served in helping me cope with so many demands throughout the program. I would not be where I am today without this network and they will remain cherished friends.

Outside of Sage – Sabina Bellizzi 2020 Student Council Co-Chair (Right)

As a JD/MBA, I feel I am constantly performing a balancing act. This past semester, I was expected to fully immerse myself in completing tasks that required very different skills and approaches. Worse yet, the expectations and demands for each school are quite dissimilar. My time dedicated to the law school demanded reading dense and complicated cases, while my time for business classes involved allocating lots of energy and effort to group projects. On top of that, I was expected to participate in recruiting efforts, firm events, and practice case interviews.

To ensure that my time was being allocated properly, I would conduct my readings for law school ahead of time so that the week would be freed up for business school projects, student council meetings, and recruiting events. It took a little bit of tinkering and lots of motivation to find the proper schedule that would allow me “to complete and master it all.” On paper, I had mastered a plan “to do it all.” However, I did not consider that I would need to change my mindset when scheduling law and business obligations back-to-back. These obligations became complicated in that I would have to recalibrate and re-set the tasks at hand in a short timeframe. By constantly juggling two degrees, I strengthened my ability to multi-task, organize my work, and interact with different people and projects.

During my time in Ithaca, I have learned to reconcile both the pros and cons to being a dual-degree candidate. While the JD/MBA has been riddled with obstacles, I have grown in a way that far exceeded any expectations I had for myself. Through the program, my interests and passions evolved, which led me to pursue a different career path than originally intended. Over time, I realized that I was more excited about leveraging the JD on the MBA side through consulting, and I have been afforded the opportunity to join EY-Parthenon as a Summer Associate.


Marisa Werner is a 4-year JD/MBA candidate at Cornell University, where she serves as one of the Cornell Johnson Student Council Co-Presidents. Prior to the dual-degree program, Marisa worked as a Litigation Legal Assistant at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City following her graduation from Dartmouth College, where she majored in French, Italian, and Spanish. Marisa is passionate about leading, motivating, and mentoring others to reach their full potential. As a proud New Jersey native, Marisa enjoys putting a spin on traditional Italian recipes, discovering local wines of the Finger Lake region, and spending time outside with family and friends.

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