Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why a JD/MBA?

***Warning: this is a very long post. Consider yourself warned. I didn't mean it to be quite so long, but it ended up that way.***

Julie asked a while back, in a comment regarding my admissions options, why I had decided to enroll at Darden. I promised (also a while back) that I would actually answer that question, so here goes. However, before I can answer the “Why Darden?” question (actually, the “Why UVA?” question since my decision had to take into account the Law School, too), I need to address the “Why a JD/MBA?” question.

As context for that whole discussion, I should state up-front that I have known that I want to be an attorney for at least the last 10 years. Like most kids, I think I tried on various career options for size when I was very young. None of those options stand out in my memory, so clearly I wasn’t too committed to them. I do remember that for a while, I wanted to be a chemist, but that dream died well before AP Chemistry class (though not before I’d bought – or conned my parents into buying - all sorts of books of experiments that you could do at home and miniature chemistry sets, etc. In the end, I don’t think I was actually allowed to do much with these tools of the trade, as my mother didn’t want me making a mess, and “experiments” for kids are inherently messy). But I digress.

I decided I wanted to become an attorney during my freshman year of high school. All it took was joining the mock trial team on a whim – a few months of the nerve-wracking exhilaration as I stood in front of a “judge” and argued that the scant fact pattern must lead to only one conclusion (“Your Honor, obviously my client was just defending himself against the unprovoked attack by the man sitting next to him on the train that day!”), the edge-of-my-seat tension as I portrayed an expert witness whose testimony could be easily misappropriated by the cross-examining attorney (“I said it was technically possible that the aneurysm killed the victim before the defendant stabbed him, but that certainly isn’t a plausible explanation!”), and the frantic mental steeplechase as I jumped to my feet and scrambled to state the right objection and grounds (“Objection! Rule…um…407! Subsequent remedial measures are not admissible to prove negligence!) – and I was sold. When I grew up, I told myself, I was going to be a trial attorney. With some practice, I could even do that really cool “walk over to the jury box and look incredulously at Juror #4 as the witness says something completely preposterous” thing that Sam Waterston/Jack McCoy always does during a trial on Law & Order (believe it or not, mock trial judges actually love this move if you do it right; they swear that they don't because it isn't "realistic," but then they give you amazing scores).

So, clearly, my desire to become an attorney was based on several things:
1.) Law & Order was my favorite TV show.
2.) I was a huge mock trial nerd.
3.) I loved (and maybe still do love, just a little bit) to argue. Arguing was more than just something I did when I was mad; it was a full-fledged hobby for a while.
4.) I really loved to argue when I knew that I was right and/or that I had evidence to back up my argument.

Fortunately, even at age 14, I knew that reasons #1-3 above were insufficient grounds upon which to select a career. My ultimate decision to pursue a legal career is actually a prime example of my tendency to ensure that I am making a well-reasoned decision (which is also reason #5 to become an attorney: apparently, I kind of rock at thinking logically/analytically). So, having hypothesized that I wanted to be a lawyer but realizing that mock trial had likely not provided the best example of how lawyers actually spend their days, I subsequently set out to prove that I was, in fact, interested in a career as a lawyer. This "mission" led me to several years working at a law firm in Delaware (a "large" firm by DE standards, but mid-sized by conventional standards), where I worked my way up from working in Records to working as an administrative assistant (a secretary by any other name is still a secretary) and then to working as a litigation support clerk (read: paralegal who doesn't yet have a B.A.). It's amazing what you can do in 4 summers, 3 six-week winter breaks, a semester working part-time remotely (covertly) from Rhode Island, and six weeks between finishing college and getting a new job. :-)

During my time at The Firm, I performed a variety of tasks, some exciting, some mundane. Yes, I spent HOURS filing, pouring over reams and reams documents looking for one critical reference, photocopying, Bates-stamping, and putting together hundreds of trial binders. But, I also got to go to court, interact with clients (both individual and corporate), and gain a pretty decent understanding of the actual mechanics of filing lawsuits and conducting trials, appeals, etc. in several courts (DE Superior, DE Bankruptcy, DE Chancery, US District of DE, and US Court of Appeals- Third Circuit). I learned that pretty much every "legal" show on TV offers a horribly inaccurate representation of what attorneys actually do all day. However, I did actually enjoy most of the work, and the experience didn't convince me that I no longer wanted to be an attorney....

...so that brought me to graduation (or rather, six months before graduation, since I finished undergrad early), at which point I knew that law school was in my future but that I wanted to "take some time off" before I continued my education. I knew I wanted to move to Boston, so I started looking for jobs at law firms here, but I couldn't really find a position that I liked enough to make a commitment. Then I opened up my search to in-house legal departments (i.e., internal within a corporation, not at a law firm), and I was fortunate enough to find my current position at The Consulting Firm That Shall Not Be Named. I’ve had a great experience here, too (which I’m sure I’ll talk about in some sort of retrospective fashion before I leave at the end of the month), but what I got to see here that I hadn’t seen as much at a law firm was the real intersection between business issues and legal issues. It has been my experience at The Consulting Firm That Shall Not Be Named that convinced me that I still want to be a lawyer but that I also want to get my MBA.

The work that my Legal Dept. colleagues and I do every day isn’t purely “legal.” The pure-and-simple “legal” answer to any question may not be the “right” answer because there is some other “business” issue that causes us to modify the “legal” answer. Law isn’t practiced in a vacuum; the business environment should really shape any “legal” advice that an attorney gives, but I think at some law firms,* some of the lawyers are not necessarily good at taking the business context into consideration when they provide legal advice.

I know it’s hard to explain what I mean by the above, so I’ll give the example that I used during all of my business school interviews**: Let’s say you have a pharmaceutical company called Miracle Drug Co, and they make a variety of drugs, including Pain Drug A, Pain Drug B, Pain Drug C, and Cancer Drug D. Let’s assume that Miracle Drug Co holds patents on Drugs A, B, C, and D, and Miracle Drug Co has recently learned that Super Cancer Drug Co is making a product that Miracle Drug Co believes is just like Cancer Drug D. Miracle Drug Co. goes to its law firm and says, “Hey, Lawyer, that punk company Super Cancer Drug Co. is infringing on my patent and making a drug that only I should be able to make! They are making a drug that is just like Cancer Drug D, and I’m losing money because of it! What should I do?” Well, if Lawyer looks at the information available and talks to a few experts and looks at the relevant law and feels that Miracle Drug Co may be right and Super Cancer Drug Co could be infringing on Miracle Drug Co’s patent, Lawyer is probably going to provide the legal recommendation that Miracle Drug Co sue Super Cancer Drug Co and will work to develop a trial strategy, because that is what lawyers are trained to do: if someone is infringing on your client’s patent and causing lost profits, you help your client sue the infringer to make them stop infringing and pay your client damages. Telling Miracle Drug Co to sue Super Cancer Drug Co is probably fairly sound legal advice. But, let’s assume that there are other “business” issues at play here, too. Miracle Drug Co makes 3 pain medications and this one cancer drug. Making this one cancer drug costs a lot more money to make than the 3 pain medications together, and it requires a completely different manufacturing process, a totally separate marketing plan, and it is used by far fewer people than those that use the pain medications. Actually, when it comes down to it, Miracle Drug Co would love to stop making Cancer Drug D and focus on making just Pain Drugs A-C and developing a new Pain Drug E. But, by the time Miracle Drug Co sues Super Cancer Drug Co and wins, Miracle Drug Co will have spent tons of time and money on litigation, and they’ll still be the only makers of Cancer Drug D, which they feel obligated to make because it helps people. If Lawyer looks at the business issues here, Lawyer may actually recommend that Miracle Drug Co sit down with Super Cancer Drug Co and talk about a licensing agreement under which Super Cancer Drug Co would be able to make and sell Cancer Drug D in exchange for paying a fee to Miracle Drug Co. Then, Miracle Drug Co could get out of the cancer drug business, cut costs, and focus R&D on inventing new pain drugs, all while still making some money off the fact that Miracle Drug Co did invent and patent Cancer Drug D. This second “legal” option may actually be the better one for Miracle Drug Co, but it isn’t necessarily the one that Lawyer would have suggested if Lawyer wasn’t also listening to what Lawyer’s client was saying about the business context.

So there we have it – an attorney who is attuned to both the legal and business concerns of her clients is more likely to provide responsive legal advice that helps her clients reach their business objectives. That is why I want to get an MBA in addition to my JD. I’m sure some of you will say, “Yeah, but you don’t need an MBA in order to be a lawyer who listens and provides legal advice that takes business issues into consideration.” You are absolutely right. There are plenty of lawyers who can do this without getting an MBA. However, there are also plenty of lawyers who just can't do this at all, and law schools are not necessarily in the business of training lawyers to do this; I think business school will help give me the perspective and the training that will allow me to do this better than I would be able to do so if I did not get an MBA.

If you still think I’m crazy (and I’ve met plenty of people who think I’m nuts to pursue a dual degree, including one of the attorneys who wrote some business school recommendations for me), I’ll offer some additional justifications for the dual degree:
1.) Law firms are businesses, but many lawyers do not think like businesspeople when it comes to running a law firm. I have seen and read about several instances in which law firms have been managed in ways that just don’t make a ton of sense from a business perspective. Plus, especially if I ever strike out on my own, I’m going to need to know how to run a business. I don’t think my sociology degree has provided terribly great insight into how precisely one runs a business well.
2.) Business schools help you build networks. So do law schools, but many (though certainly not all) people who go to law school become lawyers. Business school alumnae, on the other hand, tend to go off to work at or lead companies that may need attorneys. Therefore, business school may help me build a network of potential future legal clients.
3.) I know I want to work at a law firm for a while, but at my current relatively young age, I’m just not ready to say that I want to be at a law firm forever and ever. I may want to consult either before or after joining a firm, or I may strike out on my own, or move in-house, or do any one of a number of other things. Having an MBA opens more doors.
4.) Law firms are increasingly seeing the value of hiring associates with MBAs. For instance, Goodwin Proctor is offering a $20,000 signing bonus to new associates who have both degrees.
5.) Women have made great strides in law and in business in the last several decades, but I still firmly believe that as a woman, you have to work harder to prove that you have “street cred.” Collecting degrees doesn’t establish street cred, but getting an MBA does give you a shared experience with the CEOs who are your clients, and shared experiences tend to help foster stronger relationships, which permit you to develop street cred. Getting an MBA also enables you to speak the same language.
6.) It’s an interesting intellectual pursuit, if nothing else.

Still not convinced? Check out this discussion (or this one or this one) of pros and cons, or leave some comments below. I’m happy to discuss.

*Note – this post is rife with generalizations. I know that, and I apologize. Given the constraints of blogging, please just go with it. Please do not assume that what I say is necessarily representative of all law firms, all consulting firms, all lawyers, all business, all legal issues, all business issues, etc. Please also do not assume that the examples I use are direct reflections of my experiences at either The Firm or The Consulting Firm That Shall Not Be Named.
**Again, this is a slightly contrived example, used for illustrative purposes only, not because I actually saw this exact thing happen. The people who interviewed me seemed to like this example, so I’ll use it here again.


  1. Great post! I'm sure we'll see alot of you in the future doing great things.

  2. Hey there, congrats on the JD-MBA! I'll be headed to Kellogg's joint program this fall, I suspect that we will have some of the same expeiences. Anyhow, I'm still waiting to be accepted to the Hella Blog Archive soon, so should see a bit more of my JD-MBA blog once that happens.