Business Administration

What Is a JD/MBA?

What Is a JD/MBA?
Executives are more effective when they understand the legal constraints under which businesses operate. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry October 14, 2020

Given the many intersections between business and the law, it's surprising that more people don't pursue JD/MBA degrees. To be fair, both degrees can be grueling; combining them requires serious determination and talent.

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The corporate world is governed by laws, which means there’s always a need for attorneys who understand business and business people who understand business law. Someone with in-depth domain knowledge in both is well-positioned to advance far in the business world.

“To structure a business transaction legally, a corporate lawyer may need to research aspects of several areas of law, including contract law, tax law, accounting, securities law, bankruptcy, intellectual property rights, licensing, zoning laws, and other regulations relating to a specific area of business,” Evan Anderson, Managing Director of BCG Attorney Search, points out in an article on Law Crossing. They’ll also need to understand the ins and outs transaction itself—no surprises there.

What may surprise you is that executives are more effective when they understand the legal constraints businesses operate under. One Harvard Business Review article suggests that lawyers might make better CEOs than MBAs and found that “Firms run by CEOs with legal expertise were associated with much less corporate litigation. Compared with the average company, lawyer-run firms experienced 16 percent to 74 percent less litigation, depending on the litigation type.”

The JD/MBA is a rare but useful dual-degree MBA option designed for students who want to be as skilled as possible in both business and law. Earning a dual Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration isn’t easy, and it’s worth pointing out that this degree isn’t associated with any particular business or law career pathways. There are no jobs that require applicants to bring a JD/MBA to the table. However, this dual MBA degree can be exceedingly useful for corporate attorneys, executives, consultants, corporate finance professionals, and entrepreneurs.

In this article, we answer the question What is a JD/MBA? and cover the following:

  • What is a JD?
  • Why might someone want both a JD and an MBA?
  • How are JD/MBA programs formatted?
  • Which schools have the top JD/MBA programs?
  • How long does it take to earn a JD/MBA?
  • Are JD/MBA programs expensive?
  • What can someone do with a JD/MBA?
  • Is getting a JD/MBA worth it?

What is a JD?

A Juris Doctor (also known as a Juris Doctorate or Juris Doctoris; JD for short) is the foundational law degree for aspiring attorneys. You can’t take the bar exam or practice law without earning a JD first. JD programs typically last three years and cover a broad array of legal theories and concepts. The core curriculum in most JD programs covers topics like:

  • Business law
  • Civil law
  • Civil procedures
  • Constitutional law
  • Contract law
  • Courtroom procedures
  • Criminal law
  • International laws
  • Legal methods
  • Legal research
  • Property law
  • Public law
  • Torts

Core courses are often front-loaded in the first year of a JD program. Law students spend the second year and third year taking electives in their areas of interest; participating in seminars and clinics; and completing a summer internship, externship, or practicum. Some JD programs require students to accomplish a certain number of hours of pro bono work before graduation.


“Should I Get A MBA?”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (source)

Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. (source)

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Why might someone want both a JD and an MBA?

Students in JD/MBA programs, which tend to be intensive, are often ambitious, hardworking, and unsure what the future holds—this is a dual degree that’s tailor-made for students who want to keep their options open. Most people get law degrees because they want to become lawyers, but many JD/MBA candidates have no intention of ever taking the bar. They’re passionate about law, but only insofar as it can help them succeed in business.

On the other hand, some JD/MBA candidates’ interest in business is strictly legal. These students are often especially interested in corporate law and believe that earning an MBA will help them excel as corporate attorneys.

Both degrees have much to offer. MBA programs help students build valuable professional networks and develop high-level management and business expertise. JD programs help students hone their critical thinking and analytical skills. MBA programs teach students to be leaders. A JD can open doors in law and other fields.

How are JD/MBA programs formatted?

At many institutions, applicants must submit two separate applications (with both LSAT and GMAT scores) to the law and business schools; be sure to read the fine print before gathering materials. Some colleges and universities allow applicants to submit a single application. Some schools have loosened their testing requirements, so program applicants only need to submit GRE scores or GMAT scores. Applying to JD/MBA programs can be a process, so it pays to save time when you can.

Once you’ve enrolled in a dual JD/MBA degree program, you’ll take business classes, law classes, and courses related to business law. At some colleges and universities, JD/MBA students take both business and law classes each semester. At others, most semesters are devoted to either law or business, and students only take courses related to both law and business in the final year of the program.

At Northeastern University‘s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, for instance, JD/MBA students take law courses in their first, third, and fourth years. These include:

  • Antitrust
  • Bioproperty
  • Branding Law and Practice
  • Commercial Law: Bankruptcy
  • Corporate Taxation
  • Corporations
  • Employment Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Information Privacy Law
  • Information Security Law
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • Intellectual Property Transactions Practice
  • Internet Law
  • International Business Transactions
  • Patent Law
  • Secured Transactions
  • Securities Regulation

Year two is entirely devoted to business administration coursework. Students take core MBA courses like:

  • Analyzing Accounting Data for Strategic Decision Making
  • Customer Value and the Enterprise
  • Financial Management
  • Innovating & Creating Futures
  • Managing the Organization
  • Operations Management & Supply Chain
  • Social Impact of Business
  • Strategic Planning For the Future

If you’re wondering whether you can pursue a joint JD/MBA online, the answer is yes. Online JD/MBA programs are very rare, however, and you won’t find them offered by any high-profile law schools or business schools.

Which schools have the top JD/MBA programs?

Unsurprisingly, the best JD/MBA programs can be found at colleges and universities that have both highly ranked business schools and highly ranked law schools, like:

How long does it take to earn a JD/MBA?

JD/MBA programs are usually four years long, though there are three-year and three-and-a-half-year JD/MBA programs at some colleges and universities. These schedules represent a significant time savings when you consider that JD programs usually last three years and MBA programs often last two years. A four-year JD/MBA might be considered a full-time Juris Doctor plus a one-year MBA, while a three-year program is essentially an accelerated JD coupled with an accelerated MBA.

Are JD/MBA programs expensive?

On paper, JD/MBA programs are pricey. Harvard’s four-year program, for instance, costs upwards of $160,000. However, you have to consider that the six-figure price tag of the JD/MBA can represent a significant cost savings over earning each degree independently (which would cost more than $275,000) or even earning just the JD (which costs about $180,000).

Why does earning a dual degree with an MBA sometimes costs less than earning a single degree? It often has to do with how colleges and universities structure tuition for dual-degree candidates. At Harvard, students pay MBA tuition during the year they take business courses and law school tuition when taking law courses. During the two years they take both, they pay a mix of business school tuition and law school tuition. Somehow, it adds up to less than the cost of earning a single degree.

Before you enroll in a JD/MBA program because it’s less expensive than earning a JD alone, consider that any money you save in tuition will be less than what you’ll lose in forfeited wages. You also have to factor in living expenses if your JD/MBA program is far from home, the money you’ll pay for books and materials, and other incidental costs. Less expensive doesn’t equal inexpensive. Enrolling in this dual-degree MBA program means making a substantial financial commitment, though students in dual-degree programs usually have access to the same financial aid as students pursuing a single degree.

What can someone do with a JD/MBA?

The simple answer is you can become a lawyer or work in business. According to U.S. News & World Report, “most JD and MBA alumni end up in fairly linear career path” because they don’t land in roles that require them to use both their business skills and their knowledge of the law with any regularity. This may be slightly disappointing to applicants who are dreaming of using both degrees to their full potential. On the other hand, there are areas of law and business where having a JD/MBA represents a significant asset. A JD/MBA can make you a better corporate layer. It can also lead to senior management positions in financial services and other areas of business.

Annette Manning found her JD/MBA useful in her career in accounting. “For someone like me who prepares taxes, it makes perfect sense to get a JD/MBA because the MBA gave me the hours to qualify for the CPA exam and the JD (whether I sit for the bar or not) allowed me to add the qualifier JD behind my name,” she said. “For a CPA with a JD, the sky’s the limit, and the earning potential grows exponentially.”


Is getting a JD/MBA worth it?

Maybe, maybe not. Unlike many dual degrees that have obvious practical applications, the JD-MBA is often a hedge. Students pursuing this graduate school degree may not know whether they want to launch businesses or help others launch them, but they can see this joint-degree program help them do both. If you want to practice business law, a JD/MBA can make your resume stand out when you’re a newly minted attorney and give you a better understanding of what your clients are going through. In a management role, this dual degree will provide you with the tools to identify legal risks in addition to financial risks. For that alone, you’ll likely be in demand.

It’s telling, however, that a study of Harvard JD/MBA grads found that most went into business, not law. A JD/MBA will cost more than an MBA alone, and an MBA from a top business school can set you up for a long, strong career.

Ultimately, JD/MBA programs are challenging and time-intensive. While having this degree will almost certainly lead to an increase in income whether you go into law or business, you’ll also spend big to get it. There are also no guarantees that you’ll have a broader spectrum of job opportunities open to you. What all this means is that the best reasons to pursue a JD/MBA may be personal ones. If you find these two domains equally fascinating and you want to keep your lifetime career options open, then you’ll get a lot out of this dual-degree pathway. If not, you should explore other ways to boost your hireability and earning potential in business or law.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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