Can I Get an Order of JD with a MBA on the side?

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!

5 thoughts on “Can I Get an Order of JD with a MBA on the side?

  1. YES! I agree that these questions must be asked or you’ll end up with too many options without a way to intelligently make a decision.

    But I think whether a person “needs” the JD/MBA (or either degree for that matter!) isn’t the right question, as you seem to allude. Let’s be real – the MBA is about signaling and networking, and less about picking up actual skills that one needs to do well in business. This is what people who seem to be doing b school right say. And generally (and sadly), the people doing top MBA programs are the very people who don’t NEED it, but do it because they are maintaining their place in this world that accepts shortcut indicators of prestige and potential. Now, if you’re a person doing an MBA to move into a different world (career, network, echelon), then doing a top MBA should make you much more likely to kill it in the short term and in the longer term. In that sense, why deal with the term “need”? Instead, I’ll ask what choice will BEST set me up for what I want to? What school will give me the highest likelihood of getting me within reach of X opportunities? Now a JD is obviously different for practicing law, but is more similar or sometimes substitutable to the MBA in terms of politics and social sector hob-nobbing.

    Also, I feel strongly that top-15 and top-15 (really 14) law schools are not as comparable as it seems. I think there’s a lot of room between top 5 business schools and the rest of the pack, and a lot of variance in outcomes/quality for those latter 10. Whereas, I think law schools are clustered at a strongly defined top 3, then top 4/5 through 8, etc with a lot LESS variance in outcomes. In other words, I think there are more choices for a top law school than a top b-school if top means more than rankings but getting the best jobs, salaries, prestige, and long-term career success. If you want to get far in a particular or exclusive industry, look at top management and see where they were educated. And look at where people end up in summer internships and FT offers. Don’t just see that your ideal job is represented there – look at the rate! If you know everyone and their mom is going for McKinsey or Goldman or JPM, but only 2 of 300 graduates from that school got it, you probably shouldn’t bet on that!

    And just logistically, it’s not always possible to apply for one and wait, at least for 3-year programs anyway. You can get into YLS and wait to apply to SOM with much less difficulty, but Kellogg/Northwestern and Penn’s 3 year programs require either a joint or simultaneous application. I’d take the GMAT anyway and see how you do to keep options open for other business schools that won’t just accept your acceptance to law school or your LSAT score. I think you choose the school combo based on whether your “primary degree” and potential network will work best for your career plans (if you’re more interested in law then you’d choose a stronger law school and deal with a slightly less prestigious b school, and vice versa) and where you want to work in the future.

    I’m curious Dre why your advice is to go with the stronger law school? Is it because it’s very unlikely to sensibly pursue an MBA with a JD on the side? And, if money is no thang or you thought through your investment wisely, I would strongly suggest considering doing your JD and MBA at different places if you want the strongest combination you could acquire.



    1. Hi Cee,
      Firstly, thank you for your insightful and well thought out commentary. I have to pay homage for being the first to comment on any of my posts. And I agree with you completely. I think for me I equate “need” with “what will help me kill it in the short and long-term.” That’s the definition of need, because if it’s not going to help you kill, it’s not worth it.

      To your point on law schools, I also agree with you. I could have been more transparent, but do notice my examples are Penn, Columbia, and Yale. The lowest ranked law-school out of those three examples is Penn, whose rank is 7. I personally don’t subscribe to a t-14 notion, because it really is t-7, and even then the struggle bus could be very real without a solid academic performance, especially in the 1L year. In terms of career choices for top law schools, I believe choices are a function of exposure. Most law schools, regardless of rank, do not do an outstanding job of presenting JDs with a host of career functions outside big law and clerkships, which leads a lot of JDs to seek solace in an MBA during the 1L. The MBA does a good job because there is no profession really outside the scope of the MBA besides clinical and legal practice. It arms JDs with a career exploration toolkit that JD programs have yet to really develop. (Now you got me doing what I didn’t want to do, which was advocate for JD/MBA or not. Lol. I’m still neutral!) Remember if your career aspirations are clear as day and you believe the JD is what you “need,” (Remember the new definition of need is career critical, financially savvy, and ensuring you bout to kill it), get that JD. I can’t be too mad at the law schools though. They need to ensure the strength of their pipeline by continuous encouragement of pursuing firms and politics.

      As for your law school assessment, I can agree somewhat. Let’s use your very poignant point of looking at the rate at which schools are placing candidates into firms (Even though to me that makes the school less attractive, because if 50% of your classmates are pursuing banking, to me that means it’s just very competitive to do banking at the school. You want to find what I call the “sweet statistic,” enough where your chances are strong but not unnecessarily competitive). HLS, NYU, and CLS lead the pack in pumping law students into firms, and that’s only a function of volume. Those three schools are bigger than their peers, so that’s why you’ll find them doing well. Law is also somewhat regional. There’s strong advantages conferred to a student seeking a NYC Skadden/Cravath/Wachtell internship by being in proximity to NY. (CLS, NYU). If your career choice is politics/judicial, it may require using unconventional career search mechanisms such as leveraging the alumni network. You thus may want to send your applications to New Haven, CT and Cambridge, MA.

      So I do believe in consolidation of length in school to keep the costs lower, that’s the only reason I advocate for the three-year instead of four and pursuing the couplet at the same institution. Now, what I didn’t mention in the post is some schools let you rock with just your LSAT score and you don’t even have to take the GMAT once your enrolled in the law school. Also, I do believe Northwestern has a solo JD/MBA application instead of applying to the two schools separately. I say if you can avoid taking two exams, do it. But I can also agree, if you want to pursue something niche that’s not well developed at your home university, consider management education outside that school. I’ve known people who did YLS and HBS, which ranking wise, would be the strongest couplet. I personally don’t think it’s worth the 5 years. But I won’t stop no one’s ivy swag. But again, it’s good to know where you want to be career wise to avoid unnecessary years of school and debt.

      So before I tackle this last point, which I loved because it is very important, let me remind you, this is just my opinion. I’m all about sharing opinions and experiences. So, it’s not my “advice,” just my opinion. I would attend the program with the stronger law school for two reasons. Firstly, it will always be your profession. Especially if you take the bar and practice for a few years, you will never stop being a lawyer. It’s like being a doctor or engineer, there branded professions. With MBA careers, once you leave it, you immediately become, ex-banker, McKinsey alum, former marketing specialist, but you never hear people say “former lawyer”. And since that will be your brand, you might as well have the brand equity to carry you through. Once they see you’re a lawyer, the subsequent question “where’d you go to law school?” And secondly, because the first reason is not overtly substantial, just good for street cred, plays to your point with rankings and having ultimate prestige, coins, etc. So let’s say I did the JD/MBA at Columbia. The law school’s rank is 4 and b-school rank is 8, according to U.S. News. I could have my Wachtell NYC offer and my Morgan Stanley offer, light work. Now let’s say I went with to Northwestern. I’d still have my Morgan Stanley offer from being at Kellogg (6). I don’t feel comfortable saying that about Wachtell NYC (Northwestern Law-12..remember t7). That’s really the reason why. If you busted your but to get both degrees, you for damn sure need to make sure you can get any job you decide you want.

      But please read again! Peace and chicken grease!



      1. All great things to consider. Kudos for pushing this conversation – wish I saw this back when I was applying, LSAT-ting and GMAT-ing.


      2. Also, folks should know the costs and risks of only taking the LSAT to get into a law school then waiting to apply for an MBA as a 1L: 1) you’d most likely have to take the GMAT while in law school which is a lot of work on top of an already stressful first year 2) forgoing most 3 year programs (which again require either a streamlined admissions process to both schools in one, or two wholly independent but simultaneous applications to both schools) and 3) uncertainty about whether you’ll get accepted and end up with a JD/MBA as planned.

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