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It seems as though almost every mba program is now offering a JD/MBA program. However I was curious to know people's opinions on getting one degree over the other, not both. As most people know, many lawyers never spend the duration of their career as actual lawyers.
I wanted to list some of the "Pros" of getting a legal degree, mainly because I think most people on this forum are pretty well versed on what MBA's offer. I have always thought I would be someone to get a MBA, however recently I many of my attorney friends have really made me think....

1) It seems as though lawyers can easily work in many fields that MBAs work, however MBA's can't work in a lot of fields that JD's can.

2) In addition, many people say that if you DON't go to a top 10 MBA school, in general, you will earn more money in career as a JD. Mainly because, like getting a medical degree, a legal degree has little variation in terms of its recognized respect, and it grants you permission to practice a certain profession. While MBA's and their respectability can vary dramatically, as can their salaries.

3) While MBA's from top schools, can earn loads of money in large cities like nyc/chicago/sfran, they take a huge a paycut if they decide to move to other areas, especially outside the northeast. While lawyers can earn huge salaries regardless of where they are geographically located.

4) In general it also seems that entrepreneurship is much easier as a lawyer, as many lawyers can either start their own practice or join a small practice to become partner. For those who want to experience "entrepreneurship" and the "be your own boss" type of feel, lawyers can do this with much less risk.

Naturally, everyone should pick what interests them most, however I feel that lawyers like MBA's can cater their profession towards areas they are interested most in, they can pick particular practice areas that serve the clients that work in the industry or line of work that interests them most. Whether its M&A, healthcare, real estate...whatever your interests are, lawyers are likely involved in that field.

Comments (27)

  • tentop's picture

    i recall a similar post/discussion on this quite recently

  • thehouseguy's picture

    Hey PJ,

    I have given more than my fair share of thought to this issue. By way of context, I have worked in private equity and at a BigLaw firm (as an intern way back when) so I have some experience from which to share. And do read to the end, because it might surprise you.

    First, the MBA, and as it fits into a larger context. I did not go to a Top 10 MBA program and instead did a 5 year BA/MBA combined program. While the content was driven from Top 10 schools, people don't get their MBAs for the content - they do it for the networks. Harvard, for example, has 68,000 living alumni and 38,000 proactively volunteer to help other alumni land internships, jobs, etc.

    So, the next question is that if you don't go to a Top 10 program, is it worth it? My advice is no, it's not. Even the Top 10 program graduates right now are struggling (although I think that will alleviate once the market experiences growth again). But there are other programs that are worth it. For example, if you are interested in finance, I would focus on getting into a top master's in finance program or a specific specialty such as for real estate or marketing. I think that it is easier to get into a top specialty program than a top MBA program - that's assuming though that you have decided on a specialty.

    I think if finance is your goal, there are a myriad of ways to gain the "content" you would get from an MBA program or Master's in Finance. The CFA is one (expensive) option, but there are all sorts of ways (online, books, etc.) that you can learn what the MBA's learn.

    For the network - join some local finance groups in your city, find the finance associations nationally and attend their local chapter events.

    OK - so that's my thinking on the MBA if you don't go to a "Top 10"

    JD

    Definitely not for the timid, or those that want to have great eyesight in their older years without corrective surgery. But it's a stimulating study and discipline. People are terrified of "thinking" like a lawyer - that they will identify risks that will stop them from doing deals. The reality is that information helps make great decisions and if you are unwilling to identify that information, then you run the risk of being ignorant. Others may argue with me on this, suggesting that lawyers focus on irrelevant risks that bring down a ship that could have otherwise sailed, but I would like to think that finance/entrepreneurial minded lawyers can distinguish between a relevant risk and irrelevant risk.

    It sounds like you are of an entrepreneurial mindset. I do believe that law school can cater to an entrepreneurial mindset although I am definitely in the minority on this. Mostly because there haven't been that many data points to speak from (how many entrepreneurs identify themselves as entrepreneurs going to law school?).

    Well here's one - me. After having a pretty good run in finance and real estate, I have decided to go to law school. I am not ditching my real estate or finance career, but I am recognizing the fact that life is short and you have to try different things. This recession should clearly teach everyone that. We are going to be living in an increasingly litigous environment - meaning, more law suits. I can manage a finance professional as well as anyone but when it comes to managing lawyers, it's a whole different story. I can manage them in the sense that I can create deadlines and have them move faster and at lower fees than they probably would otherwise. But there are opportunities that I am surely missing in the marketplace because I don't have a legal background.

    Look at some of the most successful distressed funds out there and you are bound to see JD's at the top. They are willing to go after opportunities that others don't have that ability to go after because the outcomes are too uncertain. If you have ever been in or spoken with someone who has experienced the horror that is litigation, you know you don't want to have anything to do with it. The reality is that lots of entrepreneurs and businesspeople deal with it everyday - and it sucks. I would rather know what's going on than not know what's going on and more importantly, know how to solve the problem.

    Some people might argue that the reason there are JD's at the top is because they went to law school and then "realized it was bullshit and switched to business". I have to tell you that I have run into very few entrepreneurs and business people who regret having a JD. They often tell me that they can't exactly quantify the value or explain to me why it helps because it has so much to do with the way they think about problems - similar to how an engineer thinks about problems.

    So here's the bottom line: Law school is three years, a lot of time in the short-term, not so much in the long-term. Law school is expensive, but if you are willing to put in the time on the LSAT and opt for a lower ranked school, you can get a scholarship and mitigate most of the hard cost (not opportunity cost). Law school can be fun. In the market, every day can be life or death, while it might feel that way for the undergrads who don't have work experience, the reality is that a paper is just that, a paper, and it's not going to determine whether or not your institutional investors are going to make their hurdles and you could be out of your job.

    So I say keep an open mind, continue to do your diligence, and if you would like to talk more, I'd be happy to offline. There is far more to this equation (such as "are you doing this just for the money?" or "will I be working 100 hour weeks?" or "am I good at/like math/finance?"), but I hope this offers a positive outlook that many are not talking about.

    The key to happiness is mostly determined by who you are around and what you are doing. Don't let the goal of independent wealth by 25 sway you from experiencing everything life has to offer. Largely, friends, beer, women, family, and a little money from a stimulating (maybe even meaningful job) can make most people very very happy.

  • consulted87's picture

    PapaJohns:
    It seems as though almost every mba program is now offering a JD/MBA program. However I was curious to know people's opinions on getting one degree over the other, not both. As most people know, many lawyers never spend the duration of their career as actual lawyers.
    I wanted to list some of the "Pros" of getting a legal degree, mainly because I think most people on this forum are pretty well versed on what MBA's offer. I have always thought I would be someone to get a MBA, however recently I many of my attorney friends have really made me think....

    1) It seems as though lawyers can easily work in many fields that MBAs work, however MBA's can't work in a lot of fields that JD's can.

    2) In addition, many people say that if you DON't go to a top 10 MBA school, in general, you will earn more money in career as a JD. Mainly because, like getting a medical degree, a legal degree has little variation in terms of its recognized respect, and it grants you permission to practice a certain profession. While MBA's and their respectability can vary dramatically, as can their salaries.

    3) While MBA's from top schools, can earn loads of money in large cities like nyc/chicago/sfran, they take a huge a paycut if they decide to move to other areas, especially outside the northeast. While lawyers can earn huge salaries regardless of where they are geographically located.

    4) In general it also seems that entrepreneurship is much easier as a lawyer, as many lawyers can either start their own practice or join a small practice to become partner. For those who want to experience "entrepreneurship" and the "be your own boss" type of feel, lawyers can do this with much less risk.

    Naturally, everyone should pick what interests them most, however I feel that lawyers like MBA's can cater their profession towards areas they are interested most in, they can pick particular practice areas that serve the clients that work in the industry or line of work that interests them most. Whether its M&A, healthcare, real estate...whatever your interests are, lawyers are likely involved in that field.

    Ill give you my experience and knowledge regarding this matter. I was enrolled in a JD/MPH program but opted out of the law degree for various reasons. Firstly to answer your questions:

    1) Yes, JDs can work in fields that MBAs work in, however MBAs cannot practice law. This is an obvious point, but you should only want to invest your time and money into a degree that would practice. If you want to practice law, be a JD. If not, dont even consider JD.

    2) JDs dont earn what you think they earn. In fact, you will be better off with an MBA than a JD nowdays. In the United States, there are over 1.3million practicing lawyers, and over 40k graduating law school each year. The legal market is saturated in the U.S. Most lawyers practice in small 1-5 person firms, not what you probably think of big corporate firms. To get into a big corporate firm (which is like 2% of practicing lawyers), you need to graduate top law program top of your class. Of course there are those that come from lower tier schools, however its not common and not easy. Furthermore, the average lawyer salary is around 80k/yr...AVERAGE. Lawyers dont earn what they used to and you have to seriously consider the amount of debt your willing to take on for a 80k salary (something you could earn with just a BS/BA)

    3) Lawyers take the same kinds of pay cuts that a MBA would take. Typically, if you want to earn a lot of money as a JD, you have work in a major legal market where clients are willing to come.

    4) I believe that your position on this is largely based on the fact that when you think of MBA entre. you think of making major corporations. Starting a law firm is a very difficult thing to do, furthermore, you will not likely earn much money.

    Talk to people who are in law school and out of school. Make sure they are honest. Everyone likes to bullshit, but read the literature. Statistics will show that times are not that good anymore. It would help if you had a bachelors and masters in some life science field like engineering or biochemistry. If you have that, you could get a law degree and practice IP law (like patent law). Those occupations are always in demand and right now they are the highest earning lawyers. I believe the average starting salary is 130k. But theres easier ways to make money (it seems thats what your concerned about, which is OK!) than to go into law. I think an MBA is all you need.

    “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” - Albert Einstein

  • surferdude867's picture

    PapaJohns:

    1) It seems as though lawyers can easily work in many fields that MBAs work, however MBA's can't work in a lot of fields that JD's can.

    It's true you won't see MBA's an in-house legal counsel for any sort of business, but it's extremely rare that you would see a lawyer as CFO. Your point has some validity, but it's not particularly reliable.

    PapaJohns:

    2) In addition, many people say that if you DON't go to a top 10 MBA school, in general, you will earn more money in career as a JD. Mainly because, like getting a medical degree, a legal degree has little variation in terms of its recognized respect, and it grants you permission to practice a certain profession. While MBA's and their respectability can vary dramatically, as can their salaries.

    Sorry but the same is true for lawyers. If you don't end up at one of the T-14 (and these days, even if you do) your job opportunities are going to be similar to those people that do not attend a top ranked MBA program. There are thousands upon thousands of JD's who can't find work as lawyers and are barely scraping by paying down their 100k in debt by working as document editors. Check out the big debt small law blog.

    I'm not sure where you got the idea that a legal degree has little variation in terms of its recognized respect, but this is absolutely not true, ESPECIALLY in the United States.

    Just like MBA's, JD salaries can vary widely as well - Ask anyone working in environmental law.

    PapaJohns:

    3) While MBA's from top schools, can earn loads of money in large cities like nyc/chicago/sfran, they take a huge a paycut if they decide to move to other areas, especially outside the northeast. While lawyers can earn huge salaries regardless of where they are geographically located.

    Also not true. Both MBA's and lawyers on average take pay cuts working outside of large cities. Last time I checked Wachtell's office was still in New York. You don't see too many high paying law firms operating outside of major metropolitan areas, "especially outside the northeast."

    PapaJohns:

    4) In general it also seems that entrepreneurship is much easier as a lawyer, as many lawyers can either start their own practice or join a small practice to become partner. For those who want to experience "entrepreneurship" and the "be your own boss" type of feel, lawyers can do this with much less risk.

    How is entrepreneurship any easier for a lawyer? The risks are the same for everyone. The lawyers I know got into law because they were risk-averse and were TERRIBLE business people. Finally how is "joining a small practice to become partner" entrepreneurship?

    PapaJohns:

    Naturally, everyone should pick what interests them most, however I feel that lawyers like MBA's can cater their profession towards areas they are interested most in, they can pick particular practice areas that serve the clients that work in the industry or line of work that interests them most. Whether its M&A, healthcare, real estate...whatever your interests are, lawyers are likely involved in that field.

    Finally, You should only go to law school because you want to be a lawyer.

  • kafkaesque's picture

    I'm a law student in Asia (since most common law countries in Asia follow the UK undergrad legal education model a.k.a. the LL.B.), so these perspectives are those from someone at an undergrad level:

    (i) Yes, lawyers definitely have a lot more transferability than bankers. Personally, choosing law was like a safety-net for me; if I can't make it into banking, I can still gain deal experience by working in the M&A depts of law firms, and lateraling to an investment bank later.

    (ii) Your second and third points are slightly correlated; yes you can earn a lot as a lawyer even in a regional role, but that really depends on your practice area, a competent divorce attorney could arguably make a lot of dough after establishing a good practice anywhere, but it's hard to see what you would do in a small town after gaining M&A-specific expertise at a firm like Skadden. In the latter case, you would be pretty much married to Wall Street and the world of high finance for the rest of your career, like a banker.

    (iii) Finally, the ability to set up law firms would again depend on the area of practice, and your experience. In matters like tort litigation, or small-time civil disputes, you could arguably set up your own shop after you've gained some credibility in your field. But it wouldn't be as easy to open an M&A boutique without having the necessary contacts to generate adequate deal flow (similar, I suppose, to setting up an IB boutique).

    The bottom line that I can offer you is that if (a) time and (b) money are not critical factors in arriving at your decision, then go for the 3-yr JD, even if banking is your final goal.
    On the other hand, if you can't stomach the idea of having to endure rigorous studies in areas which might not have anything to do with your final career goal (which could range from criminal jurisprudence to constitutional interpretation), then save yourself and go for that MBA.

  • PossumBelly's picture

    There are few worse career options, currently, than law. If you haven't been following the carnage in that sector, specifically at the entry level (from every school, at every firm....but more pronounced at the top), I'd encourage you to start reading abovethelaw. Basically, biglaw is a nice restaurant, and every year they commit to buying certain amounts of the fattiest tuna. Then all of the sudden, they buy the tuna, but their customers stop ordering tuna. So they keep the tuna in the tank (deferrals). Then next year rolls around, and all of the fish brokers (schools) expect to sell off their best tuna, but now the restaurants say, well we can only take 10 pounds instead of 40. But they still don't have anything for the 1 year old deferred tuna to do, much less the new tuna. And on it goes....Now lockstep comp has been done away with at many firms, summer programs done away with, and hardly anyone is getting hired.

    Everyone says you can do anything with law degree, but I think it is more apropos to say that people with law degrees have done many things. Only put yourself through law school if you want to be a lawyer. Right now it is not the ticket to riches...regardless of the level.

    ex-t14, and thankful every day.

  • Bernanke23's picture

    Been having some thoughts on this issue as well. Assuming one came from an undergrad business school, what would be the educational benefit of an MBA and would it be better to get a JD to actually "learn" something?

  • D M's picture

    It really comes down to what you want, take into account the pros and cons, though:

    JD Pros:
    -You can be a lawyer if banking doesn't work out
    -Education
    -Learn to think analytically

    JD Cons:
    -3 years of school instead of 2
    -Another $180k in education cost
    -$300k+ lost in salary/bonus (assuming make about 100/yr)
    -Don't get the same network as MBA provides

    MBA Pros:
    -Networking
    -More opportunities
    -Increased earning potential

    MBA Cons:
    -No REAL education
    -Another $100k+ in education cost
    -Lose $200k+ in salary cost (assuming make 100/yr)

    That's just a real basic cost/benefit analysis. Insert your own pros and cons and weigh them as you think they're important. The legal education may be more important for what you want to do in business. The networking may not be the same as for an MBA, but there IS still a network.

    "You stop being an asshole when it sucks to be you." -IlliniProgrammer
    "Your grammar made me wish I'd been aborted." -happypantsmcgee

  • saag80's picture

    MD's are more prestigious than JD's or MBA's.

  • consulted87's picture

    there's easier ways to make money than becoming an medical doctor. besides, thats an entirely different calling. op, i would also avoid JD/MBA programs, not because they are bad, but because they may not be worth it and they are extremely expensive (~100k / yr.)

    “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” - Albert Einstein

  • indenturedprimate's picture

    Bill Gates dropped out of college and started Microsoft.

    Ergo, dropping out of college also opens up a lot of doors to riches.

  • nontargetbanker's picture

    A lot of you guys are commenting on how the legal market is saturated, and I totally agree with that, but do you think that people who graduate from a top 20 or so school and pick a less saturated area (for example, I have a slight interest in tax law and working on tax issues in M&A deals) will still have to deal with this in the long-term?

    Non-target person with high finance dreams

  • In reply to indenturedprimate
    Cmoss's picture

    indenturedprimate:
    Bill Gates dropped out of college and started Microsoft.

    Ergo, dropping out of college also opens up a lot of doors to riches.

    Winner!!

  • In reply to nontargetbanker
    drexelalum11's picture

    nontargetbanker:
    A lot of you guys are commenting on how the legal market is saturated, and I totally agree with that, but do you think that people who graduate from a top 20 or so school and pick a less saturated area (for example, I have a slight interest in tax law and working on tax issues in M&A deals) will still have to deal with this in the long-term?

    Yes. Also, if you're even considering law school, you should know the difference between top 20 and T14.

    Start reading abovethelaw, as was mentioned above, for some perspective.

    And this isn't really the best place to get info on law school - there are a few lawyers on here, but (although they can be even more douchey than WSO) xoxohth is going to have more info.

  • Password_Is_Taco's picture

    I got this from Tucker Max's website, FAQ section, (He got his JD at Duke):

    What is your job? Do you work as a lawyer?
    I am a best-selling author, which makes me a writer. I also wrote and produced a movie, which makes me a screenwriter and a movie producer. Of course I don't work as a lawyer, I don't hate myself.

    If you aren't working as a lawyer, why did you get your JD?
    I made a mistake going to law school. There was a time in my life that I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but I was terribly mistaken. I didn't know that you had to give up your soul to work in that field.

    Should I get my JD? What is your advice for someone thinking about going into law school?
    Do you want to waste three years of your life debating stupid and utterly irrelevant minutia? Then yes, get your JD. Do you want to get a degree that allows you work the rest of your life in a tedious, shitty, unrewarding job? Then yes, get your JD. Are you a boring, facile, socially retarded whore, desperate for the illusion of money and success, regardless of the cost to your life and the lives of those you love? Then yes, get your JD. Do you want to squander your existence sitting in a lifeless office, churning out ultimately meaningless paperwork? Then yes, get your JD. Listen to me people: There is a reason that lawyers have the LOWEST job satisfaction of any profession in America. THE JOB SUCKS. It is horrible.

  • In reply to nontargetbanker
    DDGM1112's picture

    nontargetbanker:
    A lot of you guys are commenting on how the legal market is saturated, and I totally agree with that, but do you think that people who graduate from a top 20 or so school and pick a less saturated area (for example, I have a slight interest in tax law and working on tax issues in M&A deals) will still have to deal with this in the long-term?

    Assuming you want to go to a big firm, it doesn't mean jack what you want to specialize in when you first get out. The only real two things that matter in landing your first job are your GPA/Class Ranking and your school ranking. If you want to be making $160K upon graduation, make sure both of those numbers are high (though, the latter is probably more important). Firms dont hire fresh JDs thinking, "Oh, we're going to need someone in tax in a few years, let's get this kid who is interested in it." Wrong! They hire they best they can and they fall into practice areas in time.

  • Chris Lowe's picture

    First off, if you don't go to a top 20 law school forget about making a cent over 60K. It isn't like medicine WHAT KIND OF A MORONIC ASSUMPTION IS THAT? Most attorneys are ambulance chasers. Even i you get into a top 20 (unless its one of the immortal 14) you still may not find a job that will pay you over 60-80k. The MBA is farrrrrrrrr more versatile. In Law school you spend your life reading cases. You get into Stanford law lets say, you nail that 174 on the LSAT. YIPPEE! Average salary for Stanford grads: 170k. AWESOME! Dream on son. Dream on. LOLOLOL. FOOL, heres a diddy about statistics, they are lies. Average salaries come from those who reply to alumni queries. The dud who can't get a job or take what they can get usually doesnt send back the query. Also, its 4 years of pain. Oh no Law school is 3 years. STFU and listen dumb kid, you need the bar or your JD is worth as much as the useless advice on this board. You have to take AND PASS the bar exam which can take a year for many. Next, LOANS FOOL. You gotta pay back 3 years at 40-60k a year. EVEN with a top tier JD your lame broke underfed starving needy virgin ass will be in debt for at least 3 years post graduation. And lawyers dont get hired outside of law until they pay their dues working as A LAWYER.. That takes around TEN years FOOL. With an MBA you can pop into anywhere you like from the getgo. Entrepreneurs ar MBAs or from money NOT JDS. I don't know where some of you FOOLS get your info from. Stop being stupid and ACTUALLY go talk to some attorneys. Put down the idiot pills too. LOLOL I doubt anyone from this forum would get into a top 50 program in either field.

    - Chris Lowe III

  • SirBankalot's picture

    Thanks Chris Lowe!!

  • Chris Lowe's picture

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