Applicant Question: Should I Also Pursue a JD?

It’s that time of year, when people from all over the country are hearing back from graduate schools and trying to decide what to do with the next few years of their lives. Many will choose to go to business school and spend two years gaining a wide range of opportunities and learning experiences. Another group of students will choose to go to law school and spend three years reading cases, writing memos, and honing razor-sharp critical thinking skills. And there’s one final group who, in number, is only a tiny fraction of the applicant world. They will decide to spend time doing both.

The good news is that either degree on its own, especially from a top school, will look great to an employer. On the other hand, the dual degree can also be attractive, depending on your target industry, career goals, and development objectives. I recently received a question from a potential applicant with this dilemma in mind.  The applicant is leaning towards applying to MBA programs but also has questions regarding the value of a law degree.  The applicant listed out a few specific questions that I’ve responded to below.

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QUESTION FROM MY READER

Jeremy, After graduating with an economics and agri-business degree, pursuing a career in trading stocks, bonds, commodities, financial derivatives, and other forms of equity is a dream of mine. After some experience in trading, I would like to open an estate planning / financial planning firm, capitalizing on the baby boomer generation coming to retirement age as well as retiring farmers that are cash heavy and have a limited idea on how to capitalize on the markets. Feeling an MBA degree would benefit me the most, I find the JD degree is also attractive to most hiring. I have started to look into studying for the LSAT and GMAT but am not sure which would benefit me the most. I currently work full time at a top 5 financial institution working with attorneys and debtors every day trying to avoid foreclosure of their real estate properties by underwriting their loan and approving them for a modification. Here are a couple of questions that I have for you, 1. Is the JD something that will benefit me? 2. What is more valuable when applying; grades, work experience, or test scores? 3. Would my work experience be good grounds for my personal statement? 4. Since I want nothing to do with Litigation, will a JD be pointless? Thanks for any help or guidance you can relay, feedback is most appreciated, thanks! (Name)

MY RESPONSE TO MY READER

Hi (Name),

Thanks so much for your question and for checking out my blog.  I hope you find my posts to be informative and that you continue to check for new posts and articles as you contemplate your application.

In general, this is a great question, and I’m glad to see you weighing your decision early.  Many applicants rush into one program or another for a variety of reasons, but would benefit to think more deeply about it.  As I’ve mentioned before in quite a few posts, the MBA and JD are very different programs–they will test you in very different ways and will help you to hone very different skills.  That said, graduates from both program come out as well rounded professionals, smart, critical thinkers, and highly capable. Also graduates of both programs are very valued in a wide variety of fields. So the answer to this question comes down not only to your specific personal career goals but also the skills you want to develop to help get you there.

1. Will a JD benefit you?
This is nearly impossible for anyone but you to answer, but I can certainly give you my thoughts on the JD and a few thoughts on how it might relate to a profile like yours.  In general, my opinion is that the JD is a highly valued degree.  This is true across a variety of industries, sectors, and positions. And in my personal experience (which in your industry is a bit limited), it is also true in the finance industry, although this may be less so in a trading role, as traders generally don’t tend to possess JDs.  But that said, no degree is valued the same in a single industry, so I suspect that many finance firms, and even some interviewers at within the firm, may give a law degree more value than others do.

That said, you should not only think about how it will add value to your professional options but also think about how it will add value to your current skill set. A law degree is often valued because of the perceived skills and knowledge you gain while in school–the ability to identify the issues, think critically and analytically about those issues, and also organize information and communicate that information persuasively. Many employers also value legal training because it helps students to do a better job at assessing risk.  And others, because they believe it’s good proof that you are smart and can work hard. So it might also be important to assess whether these skills are important in your own development and also in the industry and companies you seek.

2. What is valuable in law school application?
My first response is to this question is that this will be very dependent on the specific school, on the skills you actually bring to the table, on the legal experience you already have, and on when you decide to apply.   Generally speaking, I think that well-rounded applicants tend to do best in graduate school applications.  That said, law schools very much value intellectual horsepower, which they usually measure based on an applicant’s grades, test scores, and other similar measurable statistics.  But it’s hard to say exactly to what extent that holds. And based on my experience, I personally think that there seems to be a trend (a very small trend) that law schools are beginning to look more broadly at applications and perhaps are giving a bit more weight to work experience and leadership qualities, as articulated in the personal statement and evidenced in your activities and recommendations. But this seems to be a pretty modern trend, not to mention a tricky topic that is not consistent across schools just yet.  And since I have less experience with this aspect of law school admissions, I’d recommend talking specifically with target law school admissions teams about that question. And my guess is that Northwestern Law–a school where work experience and maturity are highly valued–will respond differently than some of its competitors. Most schools also talk a lot about this the admissions websites.

3. Should I Include Work Experience In My Personal Statement?
Though I haven’t written many personal statements for law school, I think the answer here is definitely yes. The personal statement portion of an application is important in my mind for two reasons.  First, given that law schools have traditionally relied on statistical measures, I think the personal statement gives an applicant the chance to differentiate his or her profile a bit more, which I suspect is really important when schools are comparing candidates who look identical in terms of test scores and grades.  This is especially true because, unlike MBA programs, most law schools don’t require interviews (Northwestern Law is one exception), and so an applicant has less chance to personalize the written application.  Second, law schools generally put a heavy emphasis on writing, so your statement is a great way to convey that ability.  The ability to structure your thoughts and organize a series of complex events.  The ability to articulate a persuasive and compelling story and to narrate it in a lively yet realistic manner.  And to do both of these effectively, I think an applicant would be at an advantage to not only discuss school activities and future goals, but also to discuss substantive work experiences and how they will help you in your journey in the legal field.

4. Litigation?
Of those I know, most JD-MBAs here have not gone into typical litigation roles after graduation, and I think that is consistent with many top JD-MBA programs. In some respects this is because the MBA portion of the program adds certain business skills and knowledge, that students can leverage to do well in corporate law. And conversely, corporate firms do value the degree. Further, from what I’ve seen about Northwestern Law specifically (not JD-MBA), it generally tends to have a pretty businessy edge to it as well, as in many instances, classes here approach both the practice and the study of law with a business emphasis. And so as a result, many JDs here also go into corporate law. That said, many Northwestern Law students (non JD-MBAs) also definitely go into litigation. (To get the most accurate and up-to-date information on career paths, you should probably visit Northwestern Law’s Admissions website. The law school here does a very good job at discussing their admissions strategy and the school’s overall strategy. It should also give you some of the recent numbers on where graduates have gone to work.) In light of all the data I’ve seen, my general response here is that you definitely don’t have to want to go into litigation to make the JD useful. And that’s especially true, if like I mentioned above, you think more broadly about the usefulness of the law degree.

So in sum, my opinion is that there is more to a law degree than hopping into an industry or qualifying for a company.  And also in my opinion, the JD-MBA is a powerful combo if it’s the right fit.  But the fit question is important.  And the way to best determine fit is to gather as much accurate information as possible to make a personal decision Unfortunately, I don’t have any numbers on hand about the industries you mentioned. But one piece of advice I do have is, don’t put too much trust in websites or in people who neither have the experience working toward the degrees or the admissions experience to make meaningful remarks about the programs.  Most sites will tell you that no job needs both degrees and that employers won’t value them. And while that may be true in some specific instances, it’s quite untrue in others. And in my opinion, it’s also a bit silly, because no job really “requires” any degree to be proficient in a role.  And so while their opinions are interesting and sometimes valid, they may also add little substance to your decision.

So the real question for you, after you research, is if it’s worth it for you specifically. The cost, time, network, skills, varied experiences, and the trade-off of breadth and depth. And at the end of the day, you’re best positioned to answer that question. And considering the potential investment, it also makes the most sense for you to answer it.

Good luck!

There are important skills and values, and significant bodies of knowledge that you can acquire prior to law school and that will provide a sound foundation for a legal education. These include analytic and problem-solving skills , critical reading abilities, writing skills, oral communication and listening abilities, general research skills, task organization and management skills, and the values of serving faithfully the interests of others while also promoting justice

Saturday, February 13th, 2010 Admissions

2 Comments to Applicant Question: Should I Also Pursue a JD?

DreamChaser
February 16, 2010

Although I did not read through the whole post (since I have not much interests in law, I got a headache just by flipping through my friend’s text book :P), I am always impressed by the quality of your post. The thoughtfulness and insight you put into your answers to your readers are just phenomenal. Great job Jeremy and I am very glad to have such helpful potential classmates like you!

Jeremy C Wilson
February 17, 2010

@DreamChaser–Thanks so much for the kind comment. As I’m sure you know, writing posts can take quite a bit of effort sometimes – my most recent post took quite a bit of time. I’m glad that you mine to be thoughtful and of high quality. Thanks for the feedback!

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.

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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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