You are currently viewing Podcast 6: Deciding Whether to Pursue a JD and an MBA – When it Makes Sense to Go “Two For One.”

Podcast 6: Deciding Whether to Pursue a JD and an MBA – When it Makes Sense to Go “Two For One.”

Joint degree programs are proliferating and one of the most popular are the programs offering to join a graduate business degree (MBA) with a law degree (JD) for a joint JD/MBA. More and more schools are offering these combined programs in response to strong student demand driven by the potential for substantial savings of time and money. We talk to the experts to find out what the real value of these programs is, when a dual degree makes the most sense for a student, the procedures and standards for admission, what the academic challenges are, and we get the latest information about post-graduate career opportunities. Firstly, you may want to know how to get into business school, especially if it is only a ‘potential’ at the moment, check out websites such as for more assistance in this area.

Guests include:

  • David E. Van Zandt, Dean of Northwestern University School of Law
  • Edward B. Rock, University of Pennsylvania Law School, The Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law and Co-Director of Institute for Law and Economics at Wharton
  • Wendy Siegel, Director of Recruitment and Marketing, New York University School of Law, Office of Career Services
  • Pamela Mittman, Assistant Dean of Career Services and Student Activities, New York University Stern School of Business
  • John Amer, Client Partner, Legal, at Korn Ferry International
  • Blair Ciesel, Recruiter at International Consulting Firm; JD/MBA Graduate from Northwestern University Law School/Kellogg School of Mangement.
  • Rob Neal, Executive Director of Tournament Golf Foundation; JD/MBA Graduate from Emory University


Welcome to Law School Podcaster. Your source for inside information and advice on the law school application process. I’m Althea Legaspi.

To pursue a JD or an MBA, that’s the question on the minds of many potential graduate school students. But what about pursuing a joint JD/MBA? Could it be the best of both worlds? Well, it might, depending on what you want to do. From exploring the various kinds of joint JD/MBA programs offered these days, to the appeal of such programs, to what kind of career opportunities are available to those holding a joint JD/MBA degree, MBA Podcaster and Law School Podcaster have teamed up to explore the ins and outs of the joint JD/MBA, in this show, Deciding Whether To Pursue A JD And An MBA: When It Makes Sense To Go ‘Two For One‘. In this segment, we speak with deans and faculty members responsible for establishing and running the joint JD/MBA degree programs at Northwestern University’s Law School and Kellogg School of Management and from University of Pennsylvania’s Law School and the Wharton School. We get the scoop on joint JD/MBA graduates’ potential career paths from Career Service representatives at New York University Law School and the Stern School of Business and we speak with a Client Partner (Legal) at the executive recruiting firm, Korn/Ferry International, about the merits of a dual degree when it comes to long-term career goals. We also interview two accomplished joint JD/MBA graduates who share their stories on how a joint JD/MBA helped shaped their careers for the better.

First, let’s look at exactly how joint JD/MBA programs work. There are a number of different kinds offered. Most take four years, but some can be completed in three. Northwestern University School of Law‘s Dean David Van Zandt created the first 3-year joint JD/MBA program in the nation. He explains, “Ours is unique in that it’s a fully integrated 3-year program in which the students get both the JD degree, which qualifies them to sit for the bar in any state in the country, and an MBA from Kellogg. It’s integrated in the sense they apply – the single application is separate from either the MBA or the JD application. You don’t have to get accepted by both schools, you just have to get accepted into the program. We accept the GMAT. In fact, you are required to give us the GMAT score. You’re not required to do the LSAT. And then finally, we do financial aid and other things on a fully integrated basis, so you get a financial aid award, if you get one, from the program itself. Once you’re in the program, you do the first year, you start in September, doing the first year at the Law School then in the summer term of the next summer, you will start to mix some business school courses in with law courses during the summer. Then you do – you start in the fall, the fall quarter at Kellogg with your basic management courses, the required management courses. And then by the end of that year, you begin to take courses again in both schools and that goes through the third year. It’s pretty intense; you’re in school for 22 straight months. You do then get the summer after your second year – that’s the time to work for an employer, whether it’s a legal employer or business employer. When you graduate in May, you know, hopefully, in all cases you go off to get a great job. ”

The application process varies from school-to-school when it comes to joint JD/MBA admissions. For example, at New York University, which has a 4-year joint JD/MBA program, applicants may apply directly to the dual degree JD/MBA program or may apply to Stern in either the first or second year of their law school studies at NYU. Students must be admitted to both programs before starting the MBA portion of the dual degree. There is a similar application process at University of Pennsylvania for its 3-year joint JD/MBA program, which the school launched in fall 2009. University of Pennsylvania’s Edward Rock, the Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law, established the 3-year joint JD/MBA program at U Penn. He explains, “In our program, you have to be admitted separately to the Law School and to the Wharton School, satisfying the requirements of each. So, the Law School requires the LSAT. I don’t know these days exactly what Wharton requires. Historically, it did require the GMAT but I’ve read somewhere, though I don’t have any official confirmation on this, but like some business schools, they are moving to accepting the G.R.E in place of the GMAT.”

So, in some cases, applying for a joint JD/MBA program means you will have to be admitted to two separate schools, even though at the end of your studies you receive one joint JD/MBA degree. Well, how about if you are already enrolled at the school that offers a joint JD/MBA program? Can you enroll in the program in the midst of your studies? Well, that can vary too. With Northwestern, students already enrolled for the first year at their Law School may apply to the joint JD/MBA program, although because of the way the program is structured, already enrolled MBA students cannot. The same goes for University of Pennsylvania for its 3-year program. Penn also offers a 4-year joint JD/MBA program, which does allow MBA students to enter the joint degree fold. Rock explains that, while the 3-year route has its advantages, there are areas a prospective student might miss out on.

“This is a program –it’s a very, very concentrated, tightly structured program for people who know going into law school that what they want to do is business school; what they want to do is the joint program. Pedagogically, the breakthrough really was when we realized that, if you’re training a business lawyer for tomorrow, “corporate finance” is a core course. That’s a course that a business lawyer should know and that is an intrinsic part of this program. But there are courses you cannot take if you are in this program and there are other things you will end up not doing, so because it is so tightly structured, you probably will not take many courses in jurisprudence or in law and literature or in constitutional law. For people who have a broader – who want to take courses in a full range of the law, this is not a program for them. You also will not have the flexibility to do a lot of the other programs we offer in the JD program, whether it be externships, where you go out and spend a semester working in the DA’s office or teaching legal writing, where some of our students teach legal writing. And it’s also unlikely that you will, because of the time demand, it’s unlikely, though not impossible, that you will participate in one of the law journals. There is a cost, in that sense, in the focus. The benefit, on the other hand, of course, is that you get finished in the same three years that it would take you to get a law degree and, in doing so, you get both the law degree and the MBA.”

It isn’t easy to gain entry into a joint JD/MBA program and, while there are more schools and more students every year, more than ever, applicants are finding there is increased competition for these slots. While Northwestern says it has the largest, with 76 students currently enrolled, the overall number of students in a joint program is still relatively small when it comes to graduate school. Add to this that Dean Van Zandt says the number of applicants is growing. “Our applications this year for the JD/MBA [program] went up 50% and so, I do think, I think it’s partly because many people right now have been working for a while – that all of our students have worked for a while again. It’s a time in which, if you can afford it, you want to go back and invest in education before you jump back into the workforce. If you were thinking about going in and doing a professional degree in the past, whether you were laid off or whether you just think this is the right time to do it, you’ll come out of the school when things have turned up again. I think some of that thinking would explain the 50% increase in applications for this program.”

There are a variety of different programs and ways applicants can qualify. Any way you cut it though, pursuing a joint JD/MBA degree can save time and possible tuition. It’s 1 to 2 years less spent in school in comparison to if a student was to go through and get each of those degrees separately. But what about opportunity costs? In addition to a joint JD/MBA possibly not being a proper course for someone who wants to go deep in to either side of the degree, the time spent in school can also mean time spent away from earning income. Despite this, all of our experts agree that the long term asset of holding a joint JD/MBA degree has the potential to outweigh any short term earnings. It all depends on what your career goals are. The other opportunity cost that a potential joint JD/MBA student might face is the missed chance to receive a job offer directly from an internship they can participate in during a school year or on summer breaks. Pamela Mittman, NYU Stern’s Assistant Dean of Career Services and Student Activities says it all depends on the way you look at it.

“One thing to consider is that companies that are recruiting either MBAs or law firms, frankly, partly that are recruiting JDs, if they’re expecting someone to be in the summer before their graduation, which is what all MBA recruiters expect, at the end of that summer, they traditionally hope to make an offer to those summer interns for full time employment for the following year. So, if someone is in the middle of their JD/MBA program, and I think ours is structured exceptionally well to add value to the students and to the employers long term, but the student is between their second year of law and their first year of business school, they need to consider the fact that many places might focus on those students that are actually graduating the next year, not just those students that perhaps have two more years. So, I guess that would be the only thing for someone that’s coming in to realize – that after second year of law or before their first year MBA, [there] could be more of a challenge in securing traditional internships. But, because they’re pursuing the degree they’re pursuing or the joint degree they are pursuing, they will be seen as very valuable in the marketplace and great interns, it just may be in a different type of opportunity.

These are all things to consider when thinking about a joint JD/MBA. So then, what kind of potential students would get the most from a joint JD/MBA? Dean Van Zandt says the benefits outweigh most considerations. “I mean, if you are heading to law school, I cannot imagine why you wouldn’t do it. No matter what, if you want to go into public service, government, work for a non-profit or work in the private sector, you need that and you ought to do it. I think it’s a little trickier for people who are headed towards the MBA. I still think long term, the best business people, leaders I know, are well-versed in law. I think there’s a tendency again – at a young age – and this may explain why everybody doesn’t do a 3-year JD/MBA instead of a JD, I think there’s a tendency at a younger age to compartmentalize things – to think of – I’m not going to be – the professions are either doctor, lawyer or business person. I’m not going to be a doctor, because I already decided that. Either I can be a lawyer or a business person, why would I do both? But, as I say, at the other end of the process, that’s nonsensical. I think, unless you just wanted to do trading, or just wanted to do, say product management, you ought to think about doing both degrees.”

Rock adds that those that have a clear understanding of what they want benefit the most in a joint JD/MBA program. And anyone considering this degree should ask themselves some critical questions. “I think the first question you need to ask if you’re considering a JD versus a JD/MBA or an MBA versus a JD/MBA is, what do I want the other degree for? Why do I want it? Is it just because I look around and I’m little worried that it is an uncertain job market and an extra degree gives me some protection? Well, maybe that’s a good reason. I think a better reason is that I’m interested, for a student who says, I’m interested in issues that arise at that borderline and I recognize going forward, that these are going to become more important. So somebody say who is coming to business school from the pharmaceutical industry would, I think, should recognize from experience in the pharmaceutical industry, that law impacts on the pharmaceutical industry at every step of the way whether it be intellectual property law, patents, in terms of patenting pharmaceutical [products], whether it is the approval process with the FDA, in terms of getting the newly patented and identified substance through the FDA or whether it’s on the regulatory side, where we’ve seen huge cases against pharmaceutical companies for breakdowns in their internal controls in terms of the selling of their products and so forth, or, at the M&A [mergers and acquisitions] level, where we’ve seen huge consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry. Every step of the pharmaceutical industry seems to be infused with legal issues and, so I think the people who should be interested in this course, are the people who come out of the business world with the recognition of the critical importance of legal issues and legal regulation to business success. From the law side, I think what we are looking for is people who come into law school with the sense that they want to be business lawyers, either business lawyers who are practicing law or business lawyers who are over on the business side but who come in having already identified themselves as folks who are interested in going in the direction of business law broadly understood.”

All our experts also agree that, while the decision to go JD, MBA or joint JD/MBA all have obvious advantages in the marketplace, these are not decisions to consider lightly. It’s an investment in your future and the decision on what to pursue in grad school depends entirely on an individual’s career goals. As Mittman relays, from looking at the NYU joint JD/MBA 2009 graduating class, there are several opportunities in the business sector which also have legal applications. “In terms of the JD/MBA opportunities post-graduation, I think some of the roles are actually quite similar to the straight MBA but what does seem to happen is the recognition of the valuable background, educational and curricular experience that the JD/MBAs have, the network they have from the JD program, plus the network from the MBA program, is extremely valuable to them. They are also seen or they’re viewed as, obviously, extremely bright, well-rounded individuals so to add the JD background to the traditional business degree always enhances how they are viewed as an applicant. I took a look at the places that most of our JD/MBAs did end up accepting opportunities at, specifically for the class of 2009, and it reflects essentially what we are seeing, which is about a quarter of them might still pursue legal type opportunities, the others pursue more traditional MBA paths at top places. So, for example, we had some graduates that went into private equity, went to top strategic consulting firms, top investment banks. So they were very successful and, on average, it seems that they did even better than the general class in terms of the percentage of them that have secured opportunities because those that might not have pursued business opportunities were able to continue with their legal focus.”

Wendy Siegel, the Director of Recruitment and Marketing in the Office of Career Services at NYU School of Law, agrees. The opportunities are wide-raging in the legal side for those with the joint JD/MBA as well. “I think that there are innumerable opportunities that open up to a student when they embark on a joint degree process. We have students who enter into many different disciplines, including real estate, hedge fund, media, entertainment, go straight though to the traditional law firm search, consulting firms – they don’t necessarily need to do a joint degree to pursue these types of opportunities but typically the students that do embark on the JD/MBA program are looking at a number of different opportunities and we consider them sort of a ‘double threat’ in some sense. They are generally very outgoing, very personable. They are typically a little bit more savvy in terms of the business world and what the joint degree has to offer to them and we have people who opt to explore many different paths. I think that there really no boundaries in terms of what opportunities they can explore when they take on the joint degree.”

As John Amer, a Client Partner [Legal] for the executive recruitment company, Korn/Ferry International relays, those holding a joint JD/MBA are very marketable. He says positions involving corporate development and mergers and acquisition or strategy make sense for joint JD/MBA grads 10, 15 and 20 years down the line. And while those are business roles, they have a lot of legal underpinnings. And then there are positions like general counsel on the legal side of the degree. He also says, during economic downturns, it can be an advantage, “[b]ecause it’s about increasing one’s options and flexibility, marketability. If a particular sector or function is not in high demand, you know, one has the ability to sort of re-brand themselves and go in different directions.”

Amer also adds that, when thinking about the future, there are intangibles to consider, and potential students should also keep those in mind. “When we’re assessing a candidate’s level, we’re looking, we don’t assume, but people are qualified on the merits, say, by the way of resumes, so you are looking for intangibles at that point and so, as I mentioned earlier, somebody who pursued a joint degree like this, it says something about that person’s – their energy, their ability, their drive, their will to succeed and those – that’s always – to us that’s beneficial too and not just the ‘what position can I get with these degrees?'”

As you can see, there are a wide array of possibilities for those who earn a joint JD/MBA. Now, let’s explore some real world situations with those who have concrete careers and are joint JD/MBA graduates. Blair Ciesel is currently a Director of Recruiting for a leading global management consulting firm. She earned her dual degree at Northwestern and says that the degree has helped shape the position she is in today. Prior to graduate school, Ciesel worked in the non-profit sector but felt she was missing some traditional business experience, so she went to graduate school. While she was pursuing her joint JD/MBA degree, she interned in law and took and passed the bar, but ultimately decided the business sector was her calling. She interned in consulting and then took on a vice-president role at a medical association. Ciesel says her degree proved invaluable to her first senior level position.

“In addition to the powerful combination of problem solving and communications plus data analytics, it gave me a whole new benefit in what I would call a more traditional corporate role. First of all, it was the first time that I was managing a broad-based team of folks and I think that’s where my MBA skills, in particular, were incredibly helpful. So I took a lot of courses as an MBA student around management and organization, what people kind of affectionately refer to as the soft skill courses around how you manage people, how you structure teams, how you try and provide inspirational leadership etcetera. It’s interesting. I found that those were the courses that I leveraged on a much more regular basis, out managing a real world team of people, so an MBA was invaluable for me in terms of helping me to really manage people in a line role. Secondly, I think the sort of ‘stamp of credibility’ that having a joint degree like a JD/MBA provides you – really ends up mattering and you end up having a lot more capital. So, I was brought in as vice-president as a very young person and I struggled a bit because it was an organization where some of the people that I was managing had been there for 20 and 30 years and sort of thought I was a young punk and didn’t understand what I brought to the table. And, quite honestly, having that background not only gave me, from a people perspective a certain level of credibility, it frankly gave me some confidence. And then third, I think the JD/MBA was a powerful tool for me, both in terms of the problem solving and the analytics, particularly I found, in a non-profit association, which is where I worked, a lot of decisions seemed to be made based on gut or instinct or anecdote and I think that was a real value that I was able to bring to my team and that came entirely from my education and my training – was let’s actually put all that aside and let’s focus on the facts. So, let’s start by focusing on the facts at hand. Let’s figure out what’s important and what’s not important. Let’s help prioritize the team’s effort instead of trying to go and do everything at once and not be afraid to actually look at data and real facts to make decisions, and again, that was part and parcel of my training on both the JD and the MBA side.”

Rob Neal has also found that his joint JD/MBA degree directly led to his securing his career path goals. After graduating from the 4-year joint JD/MBA program at Emory University, Neal launched his own law practice which he retained for three years. He says the degree gave him an understanding of not just his client’s legal issues but broader business problems. Ultimately, however, he knew his goal was to work in the sports field utilizing his degree. He had a great mentor who guided him and gave him some valuable advice, recommending that all graduates holding the dual degree spend some time practicing law.

“When I started talking to him about the joint program, he thought that was just an absolutely fantastic idea for a number of reasons, one of which is that it gives the impression of an overachiever. I don’t consider myself an overachiever, but having the joint degree, I think, is impressive to lot of folks as they are looking at resumes and considering folks for jobs. So, as I got through the program and then started to figure out what to do with the first part of my career, he kind of knew and I kind of felt, that eventually I was going to end up in a role that was more business-oriented than law-oriented and his thought, and he had actually talked to few people in the sports business world, and they all felt that people who had gone to law school just for the legal education and had not practiced law, in fact, for some period of time, didn’t really give the impression of being a lawyer or attorney – that they had the education but hadn’t really gone out and done the work and that the impression was by going out into the workplace and kind of earning your stripes, even if you never go back, you’ve had that experience and you’ve really understood what the business of law is about and handling clients and kind of getting your hands dirty in the legal world. I followed that advice and actually couldn’t be happier about it. I do feel that having handled cases and representing clients in court and [having] gone through negotiations and done the legal research from a pure professional standpoint, having the responsibility of representing clients, has really been almost as valuable as the education itself.”

Neal is now the Executive Director of Tournament Golf Foundation, after serving in a couple of roles at the Ladies Professional Golf Association or LPGA. He says that, while he was an attorney, he cultivated some clients that were in the sports and entertainment business sector. That, coupled with his degree, has had a direct impact on him segueing from his law practice into the sports world. “Anyway, that kind of laid the groundwork for this opportunity that a friend had become aware of with the LPGA Tournament Sponsor’s Association, which was based in Atlanta. They were looking for an Executive Director and that association is a trade organization of all the ladies’ professional golf association tournaments across the country and it’s actually an international group. They happened to be headquartered in the Atlanta area. Their Executive Director had resigned, moved on to another opportunity and they were looking at a range of people with different experiences to fill that role. I had done one summer internship of actually hard labor when I was in college, at a PGA tour event in Atlanta, and that was the extent of my experience in the golf world. After I was successful in getting that job, I learned that it was pretty critical to me, in being a candidate at all, that I had the law degree and the MBA. They had some legal issues, basically, corporate, structural type issues – not litigation related. And I had been doing a lot of that. I had some non-profit clients and I had sports clients and that was all great, but those issues would have been resolved by outside counsel pretty quickly. I think what they indicated was pretty interesting to them was that I had the business background as well because they did have some financial issues to resolve and wanted to get more strategic in the way they ran the organization. And so I didn’t realize the impact of the dual degree until after I was placed and they kind of revealed some of the logic behind bringing me on board.”

Clearly the joint JD/MBA degree can open career doors. But, is there any downside and are there reasons to decide against it? Well for certain positions, it might not be necessary. Again, it comes down to knowing how you’d like to shape your career and how deep into either side of the degree you want to go. Ciesel explains: “arguably, any time you do a joint degree, you are potentially not taking full advantage of everything that people in the full-time program can do. So by design, you will have fewer internships on that side of the fence than a straight law person. So, a law student has two full summer internships because it’s a 3-year program. A JD/MBA is going to have to make some choices about if they want to do a summer internship in law or business, so they’re arguably going to want to do both, because that’s why they’re doing a joint degree, so they’re not going to get the depth of experience that just a straight law student or straight MBA student would get.”

It’s obvious that one should have a pretty good idea of what you want to accomplish when thinking about a joint JD/MBA or either degree separately, for that matter. There’s some questions you should ask yourself before pursuing a joint JD/MBA degree. Mittman recommends really strategizing about where you see the degree taking you. “I think it’s really about just that. It’s about what are their career goals and if their career goal is in the short term and the long term, they’re going to have to differentiate that as well. So, in the short term, if they want to, let’s just say, pursue investment banking, but their long term goal is, it will be very helpful and valuable for them to have the JD education and network behind them, they’ll see that dual degree as a great opportunity for them. I would say there’s many career opportunities in the corporate world that a legal background is helpful, but there’s many that it is not necessary. So, for example, if you are going into consumer package goods marketing, I don’t know if a legal background is required in any way. But, certainly in a lot of the financial services areas, like private equity and investment banking, if they are doing strategic consulting even for certain types of industry, I think that could be very helpful.”

So, it really comes down to knowing what you want before you attend graduate school and doing some due diligence researching and examining what you want to accomplish. While a joint JD/MBA provides two sources of networks from both sides of the degree, it also helps to be a good networker, even before you apply and decide what route to take. Siegel advises you use the network you already have to help you determine your graduate degree goals. “I would say – I would really emphasize the self assessment piece of things. It is an extra year of school so students should really step back, think for a bit, speak to friends, speak to family and, most of all, speak to alumni who are doing the job that you want to do. Talk to people who are doing things that you want to be doing and ask them how they got there, what skill sets they needed to develop most effectively and what it takes to get to that position . Ask them what they think about the joint degree and what it lends to the position that they are after.”

After seriously examining your motives for grad school, and with a clear idea of where you’d like to be headed, a joint JD/MBA may be the path to take. Whichever graduate school path you choose, Neal’s father gave him this advice, and they’re sound words indeed: “[i]f you have that joint JD/MBA and you are a candidate for a high level position, what you’ve done is basically eliminate lack of education as a reason for someone not to hire you. I mean, you immediately put yourself into a bracket, in what is an important category of educational background that is going to be almost impossible for anybody to top. They can beat it; you can argue a PhD, or these other things, but it puts you into that category later on in your career, I think, that just eliminates one thing that could be a negative – takes it right off the table and then you really are talking about whether can you get the job done.”

For more information, a transcript of the show or to register to receive more law school podcasts, visit Look for us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest news and insight into the world of law school. This is Law School Podcaster. I’m Althea Legaspi. Thanks for listening and stay tuned next time, when we explore another topic of interest to help you succeed in the law school application process and beyond.