Using a JD to Get Into Management Consulting

Are you a current law student who is suddenly horrified by the prospect of becoming an attorney? Are you a prospective law student with designs on a career in business? Would you get an MBA but for the lack of work experience so therefore you are going to get a JD instead? Are you interested in a JD/MBA?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then you probably need to do your homework on management consulting as a possible career path. That is because the place where “JD skills and opportunities” and “MBA interests” converge is often “management consulting.” As an overarching term, management consulting is the practice of helping existing organizations (usually corporations) improve their operations through strategic analysis, recommendations, and implementations. Just as there are law firms that range from large to boutique, elite to mediocre, international to provincial, general to specialized, so too is there a broad range of management consulting firms, such as to name but one example briefly. There are so many firms that do this kind of work, but for the purposes of this post, we will focus on large management consulting practices that focus on strategy (rather than specific areas like energy, finance, and IT). That means consulting firms like McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the consulting arms of larger firms like Deloitte.

Why should you know these names and possibly want to work for them? Because, as a recruiter from McKinsey once told me, “Management consulting firms love the way law students think.” Students earning a JD – particularly from a top program, where academic concepts tend to be more esoteric and less practical in nature – often become masters in the arts of logical reasoning, critical thinking, problem solving, and articulating complex points. These are all tremendous skills for someone who is going to be working as part of a team, systematically breaking down a company’s business practices, generating solutions, and then pitching recommendations to senior executives (many of whom have 10, 20, or 30 years of experience). The very things that make someone a good law student form the foundation of a good management consultant. (Ironically, these same skills may or may not form the foundation of a good lawyer, which is a subject for another time.)

Note though, that these skills merely form the foundation. It’s not enough to be a sharp JD from a top law school – especially in a crowded job market. That’s because I left out the other half of what the McKinsey recruiter told me, which was that management consulting firms love “what business school students know.” In other words, beyond basic skills, strategy consultants need to have a working knowledge of key business fundamentals. Without a baseline understanding of finance, accounting, operations, strategy, and marketing, you can be the world’s greatest thinker and communicator and still have a hard time adding value to a real life corporation dealing with real life problems.

So what should a law student (or prospective student) do with this information? In short, put the complete sentence together. Let’s once again recall the words of the McKinsey recruiter, only this time putting it all together:

“Management consulting firms love the way law students think, but they love what business school students know.”

For a JD aspiring to a management consulting position, it is the knowledge that becomes the area of focus. Fortunately, this is fairly easy to address. First, you have all the JDs who were business majors in college, or who pursued business-related jobs out of school. Many of those individuals have the ‘”knowing” down already. Next, you have the law students who take advantage of the opportunity to pursue an MBA while in school, putting together the increasingly popular JD/MBA degree combination (in four or three years, rather than five). Again, educational pedigree basically takes care of things. Even those students who don’t have a degree or job to point to can still acquire knowledge, however. Most elite law schools allow students to take a great deal of classes at other programs on campus, allowing for a great deal of cross pollination at the corresponding business school. All top law schools have clinics and many of them focus on entrepreneurship, investment structuring, and other business-related fields. Not only that, but there are countless primers on key MBA subjects penned by famous professors. For the more creative, there are credentialing programs such as the Certified Associate Business Manager (CABM) credential – used correctly, these can display the kind of knowledge one needs to “look like an MBA.”

Once you have the “thinking” and the “knowing” down, then it becomes an exploration of fit, just as with anything else. Management consulting is an industry that requires a lot of travel, heavy hours, a great deal of “rah rah” teamwork and enthusiasm, and a certain amount of macro uncertainty (consulting can often be the first budget item cut when times get tough for Fortune 500 companies), but if someone has good communication skills, enjoys meeting people, can be passionate about ideas and making changes, and – most importantly – wants to make inroads into the types of jobs and industries usually associated with MBAs (rather than JDs), management consulting can be a fantastic career path.

As a law student, you already have the “thinking” part down. If management consulting strikes you as an interesting path, act now while you are still in school (or not even there yet) to really consider JD/MBA opportunities and “elective” courses to lock down the “knowing” as well.

Adam Hoff authored this article and is the Director of Admissions Consulting and Research at Veritas Prep. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and Pepperdine University, where he served as the Associate Director of Admissions. Adam oversees Veritas Prep’s law school admissions consulting services to ensure that Veritas Prep clients are successfully poised for admission to their select law schools.

To learn more about joint JD/MBA programs, listen to our podcast Deciding Whether to Pursue a JD and an MBA: When It Makes Sense To Go ‘Two for One’.