Monday, February 22, 2010

Differences between Darden and UVa Law

So, over the last couple months, I've gotten several emails regarding the UVa JD/MBA program (I use the term "program" loosely, since it's not a truly integrated program here). Recently, I got a question from a current 1L at the Law School and potential JD/MBA student who wanted to know what I perceived as the major differences between Darden and UVa Law. I thought that sharing my answers here might be helpful to some of the rest of my readers (to whom I sincerely apologize for my blogging delinquency...again). As a disclaimer, the below represents my current perspectives as someone who hasn't finished the First Year (FY) program at Darden and hasn't yet been at the Law School at all. So feel free to take everything with a grain (or handful) of salt.

Differences between Darden and UVa Law:
Darden structures far more of your daily schedule. You will have class from 8 am-1:10 pm every day. You will have learning team each day from 7-9 or 10 pm. Between 1:30 and 3 or so, there will be speakers, company briefings, club meetings, etc. There will also be occasional meetings in the 6-7 pm time slot. That means that on any given day, you have about 3 hours of “free” time during which you not only need to prep cases before learning team, but you’ll also want to do things like try to go to the gym, schedule networking calls, run errands, try to unwind, etc. It is a really crazy schedule, and you don’t have a lot of freedom to adapt it to your personal preferences. For instance, I much prefer to stay up late to get work done, but Darden has forced me to be a morning person and to do most of my academic preparation for the next day during the middle of the afternoon (when all I really want to do is take a nap). Everyone survives this schedule, but it can be frustrating, and I understand that there is significantly more “unstructured” time at the law school during which you can control the way and order in which you get things done on your own terms. Likewise, there is more personal time vs. group preparation at the law school. I think the group work is essential to the Darden learning experience, but it’s different from the “locking yourself away in the library to read” that I understand goes on in law school generally.

The work is just different. While you do spend time reading cases at Darden (which are different from legal cases), you spend much more time building Excel models, crunching numbers, and generally fighting with spreadsheets. It requires a different part of your brain, and if you aren’t used to using Excel, it will just take some time to make the transition to thinking in terms of linked cells instead of well-substantiated arguments. That being said, as the year goes on, there are some actual writing opportunities, albeit short (think 2-6 page papers).

You may feel like you are constantly taking exams. Darden operates on a quarter system, and you will have five 5-hour, take-home, open book, open notes exams back-to-back for a week approximately every 6-7 weeks. Exam week can be both great (you can’t really study THAT much for these exams, and recruiting activities are slightly curtailed, so you have much more free time) and exhausting (25 hours of exams in 5 days). It usually feels both like exams are right around the corner again and that you just finished them. I know law school exams are typically just at the end of the semester and, at least for 1L’s, are given at school and scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays for two weeks, so there’s more ability to pace yourself and maybe focus on one course at a time in terms of studying. Of course, there are good and bad aspects to both schedules, but my point is just that there’s a pretty significant difference.

You should expect to learn from your classmates, not necessarily the faculty. So much of the Darden experience is based on learning from your peers, not just from cases or the professors (who are still absolutely amazing at leading classes and if you have technical or personal issues that require assistance). I can honestly say that I have learned more from what my classmates have shared from their backgrounds and work experiences than I thought would be possible. Because pretty much everyone has worked for at least a few years, there is a tremendous diversity of perspectives and accumulated knowledge, and Darden classrooms and learning team meetings are full of information-sharing opportunities. With case method discussions, the professor facilitates the learning process and shares some of his/her own experiences, but the prof is not the star of the show the way I understand he/she can be in law school.

You take more classes. The required FY curriculum includes the following classes: Operations (3 credits), Marketing (3), Accounting (3), Finance (3), Macroeconomics (3), Decision Analysis (3), Leading Organizations (3), Strategy (1.5), Ethics (1.5), and Managerial Communications (1.5). You also get to pick 3 1.5-credit electives in the 4th quarter, and you can go on a global business experience trip (1.5 credits) over spring break. So you’re trying to absorb a great diversity of subject matter (13+ subjects) over the course of the year, as opposed to the standard Torts, Contracts, Crim Law, Civ Pro, Property, Con Law, and Legal Writing plus a couple electives at the law school. This also means that you’ll have the opportunity to learn from as many as 20 faculty members during your first year at Darden (both cool and unnerving). Also, each quarter (except Q4), you take all your classes in the same room with the same section of ~60 people. Sections get shuffled after Q2. You end up getting really comfortable with the people in your section and the perspectives and backgrounds they bring to the table.

Everything sort of sneakily fits together. Despite the number of classes you take, the First Year curriculum at Darden every now and then really surprises me with how well it fits together. When you learn about hedging against exchange rate exposure in Finance, you also talk about exchange rate and currency risk exposure in GEM (aka Global Economies and Markets, i.e. macroeconomics). You’ll do cases about setting airfare prices in both Decision Analysis and Strategy in the same week. You’ll learn about negotiations in Decision Analysis and then negotiate a merger in Finance. You’ll talk about the connections between sales forecasts in Marketing and production capabilities and defect rates in Operations. You’ll do large “program days” or simulations periodically that enable you to draw together information from various classes in a hands-on way. Darden has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the scheduling of each class and the timing of each assignment so that you can maximize your learning. This interconnectedness is tied to Darden’s focus on the “general management” or “enterprise perspective,” or understanding each aspect of business. Maybe this sort of thing happens at the law school, too, but I’d be surprised if it is as extensive.

Recruiting at Darden is non-stop. I know during the 1L year, everyone is prohibited from contacting firms until the November/December time frame thanks to the ABA. At Darden, recruiting starts before you even arrive on grounds. No joke – you will be encouraged to attend conferences, job fairs, networking events, etc. during the summer. A large chunk of orientation is devoted to Career Discovery Forums, a business etiquette dinner, and networking tips. Companies start showing up on campus in very early September to host briefings and info sessions, and most students will be sucked into the Recruiting cyclone and spit back out (hopefully with an offer). Now, that’s not to say that everyone gets completely caught up in recruiting; some folks have offers to return to their prior employers. If you’ve finished your 1L year and happen to do law school recruiting in August and get an offer that you want to take, you can skip the whole Darden recruiting thing. If you’re focused on business recruiting, on the other hand, expect to spend a lot of time on it. I wish I could say that the JD/MBA degree is hugely appealing to companies, but depending on your background and what you want to do, you may find yourself at a slight disadvantage to your FY peers, who will be available for full-time positions a year or two before us JD/MBA folks.

So, that’s my summary of perceived major differences. There are some other differences, but they are much more minor – e.g., Darden dining options are better, the Darden grounds are slightly more beautiful, the Darden parking is closer to the school but more expensive, I think the Darden faculty offices are easier to find, corporate sponsorship is more apparent at Darden, and you get fewer emails from the Darden Director of Student Affairs every day than you do from the Law School Dean of Students (trust me – I get both sets now).

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