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Let Passion, Career Goals Guide Law School Decision

Shawn P. O'Connor

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q-and-A, a monthly feature of Law Admissions Lowdown that provides advice to readers who send in questions and admissions profiles.

If you have a question about law school, email me for a chance to be featured next month. This month, I answer questions from applicants who have acceptance letters, but are having second thoughts about attending law school.

Dear Shawn: Like you, I have a passion for business and for law and hope to use both in my future career. In a previous article, you made the point that admissions boards would be wary of an applicant wanting to pursue a dual degree. I have heard that many potential employers share the same fear that the candidate may be distracted, unclear about their goals or drawn away by the other profession.

I have been accepted to the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, and am preparing to take the GMAT with the hope of being accepted to its business school as well. Your degrees had the large "H" stamped on them that made them extremely credible and marketable.

Had you attended a lesser-known school, would you have invested in a dual degree, or waited until you had a taste for law to apply for business school? -Dual Degree Decisionmaker

[Weigh the costs of a dual degree.]

Dear Dual Degree Decisionmaker: Many J.D./MBA applicants have similar concerns. I think that it is essential that applicants have a clear rationale for attending law school and an equally compelling reason for attending business school.

In my case, I have always been an entrepreneur and wanted to open my own firm. That dream made business school attractive. I also am deeply passionate about public policy and lawmaking which led me to the law school.

Since I had a clearly defined reason for pursuing both degrees, I would have undertaken the J.D./MBA even if I had not been fortunate enough to attend Harvard Law School.

As your main concern is that employers might be turned off by your interest in both law and business, I would ask you to consider your potential career path when deciding whether to invest in an MBA in addition to your legal education. If you plan to work at a law firm, then you likely do not need an MBA.

But if you plan to practice corporate, securities or bankruptcy law, an MBA could really differentiate you from other young lawyers and help you land the law firm job you covet.

[Learn what jobs are out there for J.D.s.]

If you plan to embark on a career path at the intersection of law and business such as in real estate, mergers and acquisitions, or regulation, you would definitely benefit from a J.D./MBA. But if you expect to be a litigator, an MBA could prove much less useful.

You are correct that admissions committees want you to be dedicated to their program of study and can be skeptical when you apply to both the law and business school, but if you lay out a clear career path that requires both degrees in your essays, as we help our J.D./MBA applicants do at Stratus Prep, I am confident that your application will be competitive -- assuming you have the requisite grades, scores and work experience. -Shawn

Dear Shawn: My daughter has been accepted to a law school in the top 50 and one in the top 100. However, due to the cost and our concerns regarding postlaw school employment prospects, she is having second thoughts about attending law school. Do you have any information or pointers that can help her in this decision? -Second Thoughts Parent

[Take a look at the top law schools.]

Dear Second Thoughts Parent: Congratulations on your daughter's acceptance into law school!

I very much understand her concerns about the rising cost of law school and the potential challenges finding a job after graduation. Still, I am a strong believer in the value of a law degree as it can prepare you to work not just in law but also business, finance, the nonprofit world, real estate and journalism, among many other fields.

I would suggest that your daughter select a school in the area where she eventually hopes to practice as this will help her increase her chances of landing a law firm job through networking (if that is her dream after law school). Your daughter should also vigorously negotiate financial aid. I wish you luck in helping your daughter make this decision. -Shawn

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