Shout out to Adrienne Edwards, Carlton Burrell, Ignacio Saldana, and Jimmy Fowose for being the inspiration for this post.
So picture yourself at a bougie midtown NYC brasserie for lunch (because we all enjoy self indulgence on occasion). We’re skimming the menu and that Swiss Mushroom Burger looks good. But it comes with a kale salad instead of French Fries. The fries are $8 and the burger is $20 and you can’t decide between the two so you egregiously order both, knowing damn well after tax and tip you’re paying $35 for lunch and you have to go struggle at the gym doing cardio because you’re going to Carnival in Barbados next week. That’s exactly what the JD/MBA dual degree represents—hard work and an expensive, and sometimes unnecessary, taste.
And yes, I do have a flair for hyperbole since one is a life-altering investment relative to the other, but y’all can appreciate the analogistic attempt. The rationale for pursuing the JD and MBA are vastly different (or should be) and seldom are both needed. And while together they can be complimentary both like that burger and fries, most of the time, it’s not necessary. For me, necessity should be key criteria in evaluating the potential pursuit of any graduate endeavor.
Also, it just delays the inevitable—you truly deciding what you want to do with your life. Don’t wait till 30 years of age to get your life. Most people pursue the combo platter degree under the premise of “ultimate career flexibility”. “Yo with that, I can do anything.” And of course, we do have black templates for that excellence. Look at Ted Wells. He’s a Partner and Co-Head of Litigation at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, an extremely prominent law firm and regarded as a litigation powerhouse (with a black man at the helm, look at God!). Look at Ray McGuire. He is the Global Head of Corporate and Investment Banking at Citigroup. Both have JD/MBAs (from that school in Cambridge, MA) and both regarded as the most prominent black lawyer and black banker in NYC, and have obviously achieved success in their respective industries. But look at their day job. Despite the well-veiled prestigious monikers, Wells is simply a lawyer and McGuire is an investment banker. At the core of their functions, it really only required one of their degrees. Was the MBA beneficial to Wells and did the JD aid McGuire? I’m sure, as they both now manage complex business areas amidst an intense and changing regulatory climate. But, their extra degree was definitely not essential.
Am I advocating against the JD/MBA? ABSOLUTELY NOT. By now, you’ve read my bio (if not, read that and the intent page) and I’m in no position to rain on anyone’s double/triple Ivy aspirations. However, you’ll notice I’m challenging us to make smart informed decisions. I’m tryna build that ecosystem of us black folk making smart and informed career decisions. Help me in that charge by being paragons of that. I just want us to collectively think about how our pedigree can work for us—which is using it functionally in our careers. It’s really two questions we need to ask ourselves in any educational endeavor: Is it financially savvy? And is it career critical?
Is it financially savvy?
Reference Note about JD/MBA programs: They come in the 3 and 4-year variety. In actuality, the formula for the length of dual-degree programs is (length of degree 1 + length of degree 2) – 1. Now institutions (Penn, Yale, Columbia) offer 3-year programs because either their law school/business rank isn’t as high (Top 3-5). For example, Columbia Business School’s rank is 8 and Columbia Law School’s rank is 4, so they offer a 3-year to compete with Stanford’s and Harvard’s 4 year, whose law and business schools are both ranked highly (Top 3).
Well sometimes, it is financially savvy, at least comparatively to the solo pursuit of a JD. For example, let’s think about a 3-year JD/MBA at Yale. That program is usually 2 years at law school and 1 year at b-school. The b-school tuition is cheaper than the law school’s (well it’s not but a b-school is more likely to hook us up with a little financial incentive than a law school) you getting two degrees for a retail price of less than that of one degree. Here for that! However, there are four-year programs that are without a doubt more pricy than the JD or MBA as solo degrees. So the question becomes is the institutional equity of being at a particular school worth the additional one year of stress and the very tangible $100K. Sorry, can’t answer that one for you. But you know I have my opinions. Lol. Now, is it career critical? Let’s see.
Reasons to get a JD: You want to practice law. You want a career in politics. It’s really hard to play with Washington D.C. heavy hitters without a JD, which is ironic since an MPP/MPA would do a better job of equipping you with policy analysis and program implementation/evaluation competencies to navigate the government space. (But a JD/MPP is a good combo for that aspiration!) Or you simply aspire to be a judge. But, I have to stress, this JD is geared towards practicing law. And I don’t believe in going to law school unless you have a STRONG interest in practicing law. Can it give you career flexibility? Yes. McKinsey recruits law students and they successfully get offers.
Reasons to get a MBA: You want to be an entrepreneur, consultant, investment banker, in private equity/hedge fund, in government, or, you don’t know what you want to do (remember we don’t present career ambivalence on any application). The only thing you can’t do with an MBA is clinical and legal practice.
Reasons we think we need both: You want to practice M&A/Securities Law and want to understand the finance fundamentals (Even though you could leverage courses at the business school of your home university and spend a law summer at an investment bank. HLS has a Goldman IB recruiter completely separate from HBS. The JD to investment banking pipeline is gaining and will continue to gain momentum in the future). A summer at a well-articulated banking internship alone would give you the fundamentals. You want to start a business. (The MBA will give you all you need to start a business and call a lawyer friend to help you incorporate) The earning potential is higher. (Well you ain’t never lie. Can’t argue on that one. Law firms have rewarded JD/MBA degree holders with larger base salaries, however it does send a signal that you have a firm-exit strategy). And do you think these very traditional corporate law firms won’t find a way to keep our black asses seated from a partnership track? I don’t even have to answer that one.
Just think long and hard about the JD/MBA because it requires being a great student, prior to admission and all the way through graduation, to navigate it successfully. You have to be a steward of time management, and a strong sense of what you aspire to do with your life. Without clear direction of why you’re pursuing the couplet, you may end up more career confused then you originally intended.
AND IF YOU BOUT THAT LIFE, I write in vain because you are already in mental pursuit and steadfastly committed to your burger and fries. Well, like I said, I won’t stop your pedigree—just want to make sure you’re an informed consumer. But if you do it, be smart. Think heavily about pursuing a 3-year. Don’t apply to both b-schools and law schools simultaneously! Think about applying to the law school first, then apply to the b-school during your 1L and take the GMAT before your summer of enrollment. It’s much easier to be offered admission once you have the foot in the door. And lastly, always enroll at the program with the stronger law school. Once your MBA program is Top-15, you’ll have the same career options regardless of where your school falls within that 15. The same can’t be said with law. And as for the institutional equity at being at a particular school question, I think I made my opinion clear.
But ultimately, remember you’ll land where you’re suppose to. I don’t want to impose my subscription to a higher power on anyone, but I truly believe God leads us in the path he wants us to go. When I was rejected from law school, I was devastated, but I now know I’m absolutely where he wants me to be. I trust he will do the same for you. Be faithful. Sorry for the length y’all, but this topic is DENSE!