Joint Law / MBA Programs: Law or Business? Why Not Both?

A small number of schools are offering students the opportunity to pursue an LL.M. or J.D. at the same time as an MBA.

Ben Lacey wants to be a lawyer. But that's not stopping him from getting an MBA.

Lacey is one of a small number of American students that pursue a joint law and business degree each year by enrolling in combination J.D. and MBA programs or combination LL.M. and MBA programs, with the intention of using business skills to improve law firms.

"I have always seen business as an integral part of nearly everything that we do in our day-to-day transactions," says Lacey, who's enrolled at Mitchell Hamline School of Law's joint J.D. / MBA program in Minnesota.

"That transcends into the law as well in my mind. Even if I were to wind up becoming an attorney at a Big Law firm, I would still likely need to have backgrounds in things that attorneys aren't necessarily taught, such as accounting, how to lead a team, and dealing with clients and services."

Lacey isn't alone in his desire to bring best business practices to the law. Many top business schools, including Stanford, Harvard and Columbia, offer J.D./MBA programs, where students earn both a traditional law degree and a business degree simultaneously. And a small number of schools, including Northeastern University, Chapman University and American University, offer dual MBA and LL.M. programs, where students can earn both degrees within the same two-year timeframe traditionally necessary to complete an MBA.

Of course, these are niche programs, aimed at a tiny minority of students who want both a business credential and a law credential on their resumes.

The joint LL.M. / MBA programs haven't exactly taken off: American University only enrolls two or three students in its program every year, while Northeastern, which instituted its program three years ago after complicated negotiations between the business school and the law school, hasn't even received any applications.

But directors and officials say that although applicants aren't battering down the doors of these programs right now, the state of the legal profession in the 21st century suggests that more and more students might start planning to distinguish themselves from the resume pile by earning extra degrees.

"More and more, students who are coming to law school are understanding that they need to be more nimble in their skill set," says Lynn LeMoine, Assistant Director of Admissions at Mitchell Hamline. "I wouldn't be surprised to see these kinds of things become more popular. People are coming to understand that being a lawyer might not be enough. They need that business acumen that makes them a more valuable attorney to a client."

Patrick Cassidy, LL.M. Program Director at Northeastern, says that his school instituted its joint program precisely because it hoped to target business-focused lawyers who wanted to set themselves apart from the crowd with their MBA credential.

"The reason we decided to create this program is because we felt there was a market for it and the right students would benefit from this accelerated time table," Cassidy says. "In our regular LL.M. program, we have a concentration in international business. It's very popular. Probably some of the same students who are interested in international business transactions but who would like that extra MBA credential [could attend the LL.M. / MBA program]."

Brian McEntee, Associate Director of Graduate Studies at American University's Kogod School of Business, says a different group of students typically enrolls in his program: students who are on the fence between law and business and want more options, but don't want to take the time to pursue an LL.M., then pursue a business degree.

"Most students are coming from the legal side, but are not sure if they want to continue with the legal side of things or double down with what they need in the business profession," McEntee says.”

"Students who are pursuing the LL.M. / MBA like to have the MBA as another arrow in their quiver."

He also says some of his students are planning to pursue careers as general counsels in corporations.

As for Lacey, after he leaves Mitchell Hamline, he wants to work in a county prosecutor's office or as a prosecutor of white collar criminals, while applying business techniques to improve efficiency and procedure.

Students considering following in Lacey's footsteps should know that these joint degree programs aren't for academic slackers. McEntee says at his program, students spend their first year completing MBA core coursework, and the second year completing most of the LL.M. requirements while finishing up the MBA. And LeMoine says many of her students start law school interested in the joint program, but ultimately don't end up pursuing it.

Lacey acknowledges that his academic path isn't easy, but it's certainly not impossible.

"I can't imagine working forty hours and trying to do it," he says. "It takes a sort of an aggressively go-getter attitude and a lot of scheduling and balancing your time. Sometimes you just don't get a break and that can be hard, but that's the nature of a dual degree. I think it's worth it."

Law students and lawyers should remember that like law schools, business schools vary dramatically in terms of areas of strength and overall quality. The AMBA, AACSB and EQUIS accreditations are an indicator of whether a school has reached a baseline level of quality, while business school rankings are also available to help students figure out whether a school is worthwhile. Visit FIND MBA to find out more about MBA rankings and international MBA accreditation.

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