The once clear boundaries between the disciplines of law and business are being blurred, prompting a growing number of business and law schools to team up and create courses that tackle this convergence.
Professor Karen Brenner was appointed by New York University’s Stern School of Business and the School of Law as director of law and business, acting as a bridge for the two disciplines. “Business and law are inextricably linked,” she says. “Corporations are legal entities; the law provides the context in which business operates and combining the degrees allows students to see how the two disciplines interact.”
She oversees the JD/MBA dual degree taught in partnership with the two schools that builds students’ foundational skills for careers in law and business. It’s one of a number of double degrees being offered by business and law schools, which are forming more alliances. Most recently, this year, the University of Chicago established a joint MBA/JD program.
These crossdisciplinarity classrooms are fertile ground for peer learning between participants, according to Brenner. “Students who have multiple perspectives and are studying in different domains enhance the academic experience for all students.”
Law and business are natural bedfellows: Jill Fadule, director of joint degree programs at Harvard Business School, says the disciplines interact in the important areas of intellectual property, privacy, business formation and mergers and acquisitions. Executives can hire lawyers and vice-versa, but she says dual degree students “are arming themselves with both sets of skills for maximum impact”.
Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School offer a joint degree program in law and business, with prospective JD/MBA students applying to both institutions separately. They see the value of a JD/MBA in a fast-changing world that is becoming more global, innovative but also regulated.
The two disciplines go hand in hand, says Amit Schlesinger, executive director of bar prep programs for Kaplan, a test prep company. “In the US, for example, such a degree can help lawyers assist businesses in things like SEC filings, or to make sure that marketing campaigns abide by FTC regulations,” he says.
He adds “there are things that you study and learn in business school that simply don’t exist in law school”, including field studies, focus groups, financial modeling and market research. “In law school, you receive a very theory-focused education; there are calls to make it more practical,” says Schlesinger.
On the other hand, business leaders face legal decisions on a daily basis. “From customer liability to human resources to contract disputes, law and business are intertwined, and that is not going to change,” adds Schlesinger.
Post-JD/MBA roles: corporate lawyers, political leaders, more
NYU’s course attracts students who are interested in corporate law, especially lawyers. “A business degree helps law students deepen their understanding of the economic, global and social impact of business, enhancing their ability to collaborate in addressing business challenges and opportunities,” says Brenner.
However, graduates usually start practicing law on graduation, but within five years transition to business roles in law firms, corporate counsel offices, investment and accounting firms, nonprofit agencies and government institutions.
At Harvard, Fadule says some students “aspire to be future political leaders, while some want to start their own business and understand the legal and managerial challenges involved”. Most graduates accept an “MBA level role” mostly in the finance or consulting functions of the investment industry, working with hedge funds, venture capital and private equity firms, which are heavily regulated.
Kaplan’s Schlesinger says a dual business and law degree is a good investment for someone who wants to leave their career options open. “For example, if you decide to start your own law practice after passing the bar, an MBA background may give you the know-how to run a business,” he says. “You won’t learn about spreadsheets and P&L in law school.”
On the flip side, if you plan to run your own enterprise, knowing the law, including liability and employment law, may be useful for businesspeople. And indeed, many students on the JD/MBA dual degree program at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania create their own companies in addition to working in consulting, finance and the public sector.
However, Schlesinger adds that plenty of graduates succeed with just one degree. A dual degree will take longer than a JD or an MBA on its own — and it’s more costly. “But in general, a joint degree can give you a strong competitive advantage in the job market,” he says.