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Pros, Cons of Getting a J.D.-MBA Dual Degree

Daniel Waldman

A few decades ago, a lawyer was thought of as "just" an attorney, excelling in one or a few areas of the law, legal research and writing, and logical thinking. Since then, however, the role of an attorney has evolved, as evidenced by the growing emphasis law schools put on creative problem-solving, the lawyer as a team leader and interdisciplinary opportunities.

For some lines of work -- such as a corporate attorney, specifically in the mergers and acquisitions realm -- the benefits are obvious, but there may be other career avenues that could open up for someone with a dual degree. Is it worth the extra effort? That's a personal choice, but here are some pros and cons to consider about a J.D.-MBA dual degree:

-- Con: It will cost time and money.

-- Pro: You can double the networking.

-- Con: You'll sometimes be asked to be in two places at the same time.

-- Pro: You can stand out from the pack.

-- Con: Your education might be underutilized.

Con: It will cost time and money. It might be stating the obvious, but higher education is not cheap. The typical J.D. program is three years long, and an MBA is typically two years long. A J.D.-MBA is four years long. That extra year or two will get expensive fast, with around $50,000 per year just in tuition.

Additionally, those extra years are spent off the job market, so there won't be a lot of incoming funds either.

Another often overlooked aspect is that a dual degree usually requires two separate applications and two separate test scores -- meaning the LSAT and GMAT or GRE and GMAT -- and each application process requires creativity, time and effort that are unique to the type of program.

[Read: Weigh Types of J.D.-MBA Programs, Applications.]

Note: Some schools now have an integrated program that either takes only three years, has a joint application, or both, which might save you some of the legwork.

Pro: You can double the networking. In both the legal and business world, contacts are invaluable.

Much of MBA programs are dedicated to creating and expanding your contact network, which could later on serve as your gateway to generating business, creating partnerships and opening doors to other companies and government offices. Law schools don't put quite the same emphasis on networking, but they certainly encourage it. A good networker can use his or her contacts to generate business and bring in clients.

By attending both programs, you'd essentially be doubling your contact list, and more importantly, diversifying it. With a network in both realms, you'd become the rare contact point, having the business wherewithal to manage the law practice you just opened or angling for an in-house counsel position by calling up an old business school friend.

[Read: 3 Important Things to Know About Networking in Law School.]

Con: You'll sometimes be asked to be in two places at the same time. Schools will try to accommodate your needs, but law and business schools are still separate entities and will schedule events that may overlap. Worse, recruiters and even fellow students -- who don't really know what goes on in the other school -- might do the same, forcing you to choose between the two.

To make things even more complicated, in many universities business and law schools are not on the same campus, and are sometimes literally miles away from each other, so just getting from one class or one event to the next is somewhat of an undertaking.

Pro: You can stand out from the pack. As you may have heard, the competition coming out of law school -- especially for big law firms -- is tough. Any advantage such as law review or good grades is welcome, which is why having an MBA under your belt could provide you with that extra edge to secure a job.

[See: 10 Law Schools That Lead to Full-Time Jobs at Big Law Firms.]

If it's a business position you're after, having a J.D. could also become an asset, especially if the job involves dealing with regulatory details. If nothing else, even if you end up looking for a job totally unrelated to business or law, you could leverage the dual degree to show recruiters your work ethic, dedication and perseverance.

Con: Your education might be underutilized. Most J.D. and MBA alumni end up in fairly linear career path. For example, most big law M&A associates start off as junior associates, reviewing documents and completing due diligence checklists, and while they do get more responsibility as they progress to senior associates, their understanding of the business side of things is rarely called upon.

That makes sense: The less they use their MBA knowledge, the more out of practice they are, which in turn makes companies need, or trust, that knowledge, creating a vicious cycle of underutilization. So unless you end up in a very specific role that constantly requires use of both your legal and business acumen, such as a hedge fund, odds are that you'll have spent a couple of years obtaining information that will rarely be called upon.

Having a J.D.-MBA dual degree puts you in a unique group of educated individuals and opens a lot of doors and somewhat unusual career paths, but also requires tremendous willpower and dedication. Still not sure? Feel free to shoot me an email at lawadmissionslowdown@usnews.com.

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