Why you should consider getting your MBA while in law school
Dual degrees are becoming more popular for law students. They can help make a standard law degree more advanced, provide an edge for particular practice areas, or fulfill a desire to explore a discipline touched on during an undergraduate degree. Masters programs like business administration, public administration, industrial relations, or even graduate level degrees like PhDs are becoming viable options. Although joint degrees may not be for everyone, this article explores my decision that a joint degree in business was right for me.
Before I came to law school, I had my heart set on the MBA program. Business had always appealed to me, but I did not major in it during my undergraduate education. The opportunity to take an MBA at the same time as my law degree was an opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up.
Above all else, I think passion for the subject matter is the primary concern when considering a dual degree. Here are four other considerations when deciding whether an MBA is right for you.
The most attractive component of the MBA degree for me was the chance to belong to one of Canada’s strongest alumni networks: Queen’s School of Business. Although having an alumni network is not an essential part of law practice, I think it holds great value. Queen’s graduates of any faculty are proud. However, there is a special bond between business graduates, who tend to highly value and support their networks. Before coming to Queen’s School Of Business, I hadn’t witnessed the power of belonging to such a group. Mentioning that I was a member of the business school made some of Toronto’s business leaders suddenly accessible, available for both career advice and partnerships with our volunteer initiatives.
At Queen’s School of Business I was also exposed to young business leaders from all over the world. In many ways, business is a much more international discipline than law—although that is slowly changing. As such, a business degree may introduce you to non-Canadian perspectives outside of the legal realm.
There is no doubt that Queen’s Law has a rich, diverse, and powerful alumni network. However, you may find that lawyers are law school agnostic and are willing to help you no matter what school you are from. Belonging to a business school further diversifies the group, and creates an instant relationship between you and Canada’s business leadership community. That could be helpful for accessing future potential clients, or accessing resources you might otherwise be unable to reach.
Network aside, I think the MBA holds value as a degree on its own merits. For those of us not previously exposed to management theory and concepts, an MBA provides an excellent foundation for understanding how business managers think. This is not only important when working with future clients in business-related fields, but it could also help you manage your own practice or law firm one day.
After all, lawyers operate businesses. They manage clients and expenses so that they remain profitable whether practicing in a law firm or out on their own. Law schools still lag behind business schools as far as legal practice management concepts go. Although self-study is possible, it is unlikely that you will be exposed to cutting-edge management theory by reading popular law practice management periodicals.
While a law degree can help develop a range of skills, it does not cover everything you might require in your future practice. If you so choose, your law school experience can remain entirely within the four corners of “thinking like a lawyer,” otherwise known as legal reasoning. Although legal reasoning has its place, exam writing ability carries little value in the real world. It is also likely that your writing skills were highly developed prior to law school, and may require very little improvement by the time you start taking upper-year seminar courses.
MBA degrees, on the other hand, tend to emphasize skills that lawyers rely upon every day. These are practical skills that many people may not have focused on before arriving at law school. For example, negotiation, professional communication, public speaking, networking, and interviewing were all areas of focus during my MBA. Consider making a first impression on a client. It is easier to demonstrate your communication and professionalism than it is to showcase your powers of legal analysis. I did take opportunities to improve my interpersonal skills during extracurricular activities in law school, but it was the MBA that refined them in a structured manner.
Career Search and Self-Understanding
Getting a job is a major concern for most MBAs. The main reason most people decide to get their MBA is to change careers or upgrade their skills to become managers. This often involves a change of industry or business specialty. This means that career search and self-understanding is a primary part of the Queen’s MBA program. Although I knew that I wanted to enter private practice as a lawyer after graduation, taking part in my colleagues’ search for new careers and available options was invaluable. The self-reflection inherent in that process helped me understand myself better, including my strengths, weaknesses, and what types of organizations suited my working style.
Overall, I think an MBA helps improve self-understanding, teamwork, and communication. It is a great complement to anyone’s legal training. It is also expensive and may not make financial sense for everyone. Despite the hefty price tag, it is an experience that I expect will pay off in the years after I graduate.
Although law schools can offer the same value, we seem to be far away from such a practical focus at Queen’s Law. If you want the benefits of a MBA degree from law school, I urge you to keep asking for greater focus on career-related skill building while at Queen’s Law. Demand that more resources be dedicated to our legal clinics. Make it clear that you came to law school to become a lawyer, not a law professor. Otherwise, present and future law students will continue to be forced to look elsewhere for practical training that will be useful for our future clients.
Ivan is in his final year of the JD/MBA program and is a Columnist for Juris Diction.
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