Study of Harvard JD/MBAs

Crossing the Charles: the Experiences, Networks and Career Paths of Harvard JD/MBA Alumni, by Justin Osofsky and Lynn Wood.

Law students and law school experiences have been extensively studied, critiqued and dissected, but until this study, no one had studied JD/MBAs separately. Thus, this study addresses a big gap in the literature.

The study makes three principal assertions:

1) “JD/MBAs, on average, prefer the HBS experience and have a stronger long-term emotional and financial relationship to HBS.”

2) “JD/MBAs perceive that the HBS network has more meaningfully influenced their careers than the HLS and JD/MBA networks.”

3) “While a majority of JD/MBAs in the 1970s initially pursued legal careers, JD/MBA graduates over the last two and a half decades have gravitated towards business careers.”

While some of the supporting reasons are specific to Harvard JD/MBAs, these findings are generally consistent with my personal experiences at UCLA.

The study reports on some unique hassles that joint program students (especially JD/MBAs) face, such as each school scheduling classes in different time blocks (almost always ensuring that a class in one school knocks out two in the other). At UCLA, the problem was even worse because the law school was on the semester system while the business school was on the quarter system, so it seemed like I was constantly in finals.

Nevertheless, I had a great experience in my program. Among other benefits, the study notes that JD/MBA students usually get 4 years (instead of 2 or 3) to develop their career trajectory. In my case, I was able to use the extra year (and extra summer) both to redefine my career objectives and triangulate towards the right law firm for me. If I had a shorter graduate school career, I’m not sure I would have been able to make course corrections on a timely basis.

However, that extra year came at a cost. The study notes that “many JD/MBAs report feelings of isolation during their final year of the program.” This was definitely true in my case. In both schools, I started out with the classes that graduated at the end of my third year, so I knew very few people in my 4th year–just a few joint degree program students like myself, and a few other classmates I met along the way. Sometimes I felt like a walking dinosaur, a relic of a prior era. Some joint degree students might find the last year frustrating.

While generally I had a good experience in the JD/MBA program, I would not recommend the program for everyone. In particular, the complexion of legal education has changed some over the past 10-15 years. When I was in graduate school, law schools offered a very small number of B-school-“esque” courses. Now, law schools offer a big chunk of the business school curriculum in-house. For example, at Marquette, students can take a variety of courses that overlap with the business school curriculum, including economics, accounting, finance, an entrepreneurship class (specific to starting a law practice) and other transactional courses.

Therefore, many law students can now get much of the same educational content without a separate degree. There are still plenty of good reasons to explore a JD/MBA program–the networking with a different student population, the credentialing, the extra time to explore and other benefits–but the cost is high (both time-wise and financially), so I can see the law school curriculum proliferation putting some pressure on the cost-benefit calculus of enrolling in a JD/MBA program.

While the law school curriculum has made important strides, the Osofsky/Wood study still suggests that the law schools have room for improvement. Among other things, Harvard JD/MBAs donate more to the business school than the law school and were more satisfied with their business school experience. Law schools who learn from business schools how to improve their student satisfaction may be able to reap donation windfalls in the future accordingly.

Hat tip: The Conglomerate