Business and Law Go Hand-in-Hand

Students can hone an invaluable skillset by pursuing a joint M.B.A. and law degree.

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If you're a prospective grad student torn between pursuing a law degree and an M.B.A., you just might find the best of both worlds by choosing a joint J.D./M.B.A. program that can open up an array of career opportunities in less time than you think. After all, it's a rare business these days that doesn't need some guidance to navigate the intricacies of our legal system.

The February issue of Graduate Management News spotlighted a handful of new programs at the intersection of management and law. Columbia University's business and law schools are among the latest to launch a fast-tracked dual degree with the creation of the Columbia Three-Year J.D./M.B.A. Program, announced in December. Accepting its first class in the fall of 2011, this accelerated course of study gives students the opportunity to earn degrees from both schools. The existing J.D./M.B.A. dual-degree option, which is completed over four years, remains in place for students interested in a broader course curriculum and who aren't in a hurry to enter the workforce one year sooner.

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Dean David M. Schizer of Columbia Law School is featured in the piece, and he says the rigorous style of thinking that lawyers learn is valuable to leaders in all contexts. Also, lawyers today need specific skills such as quantitative analysis and teamwork that business schools teach well, Schizer adds.

"I think we are bringing value to both sides," Amir Ziv, dean and professor of accounting at Columbia Business School, tells Graduate Management News. "Lawyers who are trained in business are better lawyers, and business people who are lawyers are better business people."

The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University offers both three and four-year joint J.D./M.B.A. degree programs. Munirpallam Venkataramanan, associate dean of programs at the Kelley School, is also featured in the piece, and he says the school's efforts to engage in emerging markets has lead IU's Maurer Law School and the Kelley School to a collaboration with O.P. Jindal Global University in India to create the school's new dual master's degree.

"Collaborations going across business and law have been going globally from some time," Venkataramanan says. Whereas business is becoming a common global language, certain aspects of law are locally based, he explains, adding that as global entities, businesses must operate with an understanding of local laws and ethical norms.

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In France, meanwhile, INSEAD and Paris 2-Panthéon-Assas, the law school at the Sorbonne, have partnered on a new master of laws degree program. When the news broke, Louis Vogel, president of Paris 2-Panthéon-Assas, told the Financial Times the partnership will combine the strengths of France's top law school and a top global business school, with the goal of equipping France with the top-level lawyers who will go on to become chief financial officers or managers of big companies. For its part, EMYLON Business School is working with the University of Lyon 2 for a joint program through which students will earn two masters degrees, in business and law.

So what will you do with a joint J.D./M.B.A. degree? The job prospects and possibilities for advancement are strong, whether you choose to work in mergers and acquisitions, business consulting, contracts, regulatory compliance, or other areas with applications in both business and law. In an MBA Podcaster piece dedicated to deciding whether to pursue a joint J.D. and M.B.A., featured guest David E. Van Zandt, Dean of Northwestern University School of Law, believes the benefits outweigh most considerations.

"I still think long-term, the best business people, leaders I know, are well-versed in law," he says. "Unless you just wanted to do trading, or just wanted to do, say product management, you ought to think about doing both degrees."