Best Dual Degrees for Lawyers
January 04, 2023
Adding a second graduate degree to your JD can position you for a highly specialized legal career. The workload will be challenging but the payoff can make it worth the effort.
Doubling up on disciplines in grad school heightens the challenge and complexity of earning your graduate degree. Many universities offer combination programs that sound similar but differ in subtle but significant ways.
Take a dual degree vs. a joint degree, for example. Both help you develop expertise in complementary fields requiring distinct, valuable knowledge and skills. With a joint degree, you focus on the core coursework in two fields and graduate with a single degree covering two areas of concentration. With a dual degree, you graduate with two unique credentials. While a few individual classes usually count toward both degrees, you end up deeply immersed in two distinct graduate programs.
Dual degrees can be especially beneficial to lawyers looking to specialize in a particular field or industry. Developing a secondary area of expertise can help you stand out among other job seekers come recruitment time. But which are the best dual degrees for lawyers? This article explores that question and also discusses:
- How does anyone complete a dual degree?
Best dual degrees for lawyers
The law extends into almost every aspect of life, from marriage (and divorce) to public health policy, real estate contracts to corporate mergers. Because of this, virtually any field of study has legal ramifications, making a dual program potentially valuable for anyone earning a Juris Doctor (JD degree).
"Best" is a relative term dependent on your interests and career goals, obviously. Still, a number of degrees pair well with a law degree, giving graduates a strong career start. Here are some of the most popular dual-degree programs that you can pursue at a single university, preparing you for the worlds of business, healthcare, or social services.
JD/Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Business and corporate lawyers occupy a prominent position in American life, working with large corporations, small businesses, and everything in between. They provide counsel and services related to a wide variety of topics, including corporate structure, contracts, government regulations, tax classifications, licensing, bankruptcy, personnel issues, and mergers and acquisitions.
Combining a law degree with a Master of Business Admninistration (MBA) positions graduates to attack complex challenges from multiple angles. Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., touts its dual-degree program as a way to get a competitive edge in corporate law, master the challenges of entrepreneurship, and understand mergers and acquisitions from both the corporate and legal perspectives.
Cornell's business school develops skills in finance, marketing, and strategy via such courses as Financial Accounting, Data Analytics and Modeling, and Critical and Strategic Thinking. The Cornell Law School trains students in legal writing, analysis, and research; client counseling and interviewing; and oral presentation. From there law students move on to specialties such as corporate law and financial regulation; intellectual property, technology, and information; and torts and product liability.
A dual JD/MBA degree from Cornell takes full-time students eight semesters to complete–that's a four-year commitment. Students spend the first year taking law school courses, followed by a year in business school. They take a mix of both during the final two years.
JD/Master of Science in Accounting (or Master of Business Taxation)
The worlds of law and accounting frequently overlap, particularly with regard to taxation. A lawyer with accounting expertise has a significant advantage, as does an accountant with legal expertise.
"Everything from tax consequences to estate planning involves complex legal and financial principles that interlink," according to the American Academy of Attorney-CPAs. "Becoming a dually qualified attorney-CPA gives you a more well-rounded understanding of how these often abstract concepts work."
Dual-degree students at the University of Virginia start off with a year of law school, learning the fundamentals in classes such as Contracts, Criminal Law, and Legal Research and Writing. From there they can take a combination of law and accounting classes until they have fulfilled their requirements, with some classes applying to both fields. The program is designed to allow students to earn a dual degree in seven semesters, one fewer than if they earned the two degrees separately.
UVA's McIntire School of Commerce trains students in accounting basics as well as critical thinking, team leadership, and executive-level presentation skills. Graduates specialize in either Financial Reporting and Assurance or Tax Consulting. Potential classes include Judgment and Decision Making in Accounting, Federal Taxation, Communicating Effectively as an Accountant, and Data Management and Analytics for Accountants.
JD/Master of Public Administration (MPA)
Would you like to make an impact on the world around you while taking a leadership role? A dual degree in law and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) will launch you on the right trajectory.
New York University offers this dual degree through its Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, which "prepares students to become future leaders of public and nonprofit institutions as well as private organizations making a public service impact." The program offers "foundational training in management and leadership, public policy, quantitative analysis, and financial management," sending its graduates into the world "with the skills needed to confront society's most pressing problems."
Required courses include Statistical Methods, Microeconomics, Management and Leadership, Financial Management, and Introduction to Public Policy. NYU offers six areas of specialization:
- Advocacy and Political Action
- Financial Management and Public Finance
- International Development Policy and Management
- Management and Leadership
- Public Policy Analysis
- Social Impact, Innovation, and Investment
Twelve credits from each sphere count toward the other in NYU's dual-degree program, which typically takes four years to complete.
JD/Master of Health Administration (MHA)
The complex world of healthcare needs people with legal expertise and administrative skills, whether they're practicing law or working in the C-Suite of a hospital or other medical organization. A dual master's degree in law and health administration prepares you to address those complexities at the highest levels.
"The relationships between healthcare service organization administration, practice, and policy and law is increasingly interconnected, and it is not unusual to find individuals with legal training and experience in top administrative and policy positions in a variety of healthcare service organizations and governmental settings," according to the University of Oklahoma. "Given the growing number of healthcare administration problems in need of solutions, the demand for lawyers—especially at the policy level—with solid administrative training is critical."
On the health administration side, Oklahoma offers courses such as Managerial Epidemiology, Financial Management, Healthcare Quality Management, and Marketing of Health Services. On the legal side, students take courses such as Healthcare Law and Ethics, Constitutional Law, and Legal Research and Writing.
Obtained separately, it typically takes three years to earn a law degree from Oklahoma and two years to earn a Masters of Health Administration. The dual-degree program confers both in four years.
JD/Master of Public Health (MPH)
The COVID pandemic highlights the critical need for effective public health measures. Few arenas find rights and responsibilities intersecting like law and public health. A dual degree will prepare you to navigate those turbulent waters.
"Just as law is central to protecting public health, knowledge of public health disciplines is essential to today's health law practice," according to Boston University. "Protecting and enhancing the health of populations, as well as individuals, demands multidisciplinary training to identify and resolve complex problems of major social and economic importance."
BU provides that training through its School of Public Health. It teaches such skills as identifying the causes of illness, evaluating the ability of laws to address public health problems, and interpreting and applying scientific and statistical information. Core public health classes include Quantitative Methods of Public Health and Leadership and Management. On the law side, courses range from Globalization and Health to Biotechnology Law and Ethics.
Some classes apply to both disciplines, allowing full-time students to complete a dual degree in seven semesters or a minimum of 3.5 years.
JD/Master of Social Work (MSW)
Caitlin Beck wants to redress unfair legal punishments and other systemic injustices. She decided the best way to position herself to effect these changes was to earn a dual degree in law and social work from the University at Buffalo.
"In order to write policy well you need to be part of the system you're writing policy for," Beck says. "I'd like to 'get my hands dirty,' and then I'd like to see what I can change about some of the policies which I find very frustrating."
Buffalo's dual-degree program grounds students in both disciplines, with a strong emphasis on social justice and human rights. On the social work side, students learn "to intervene with individuals, families, groups, communities, and in systems of care and institutions using trauma-informed and evidence-based practice." Core classes include Social Welfare History and Policy, Theories of Human Behavior and Development, and Diversity and Oppression.
Students have a choice of beginning in law school or the School of Social Work; Buffalo encourages them to start with social work. Classes in law cover the basics, such as Civil Procedure, Contracts, and Legal Analysis, Writing and Research. The disciplines converge in the third year with classes such as Advanced Intervention and Perspectives on Trauma and Human Rights.
Some classes count toward both degrees. The program takes full-time students four years to complete.
How does anyone complete a dual degree?
Dual-degree programs aren't for everyone. They're challenging and take years to complete. For anyone with the resources and discipline to successfully pursue a dual degree, however, the rewards of cross-discipline skills and knowledge can pay off dramatically in the professional world.
Daniel Waldman laid out the pros and cons of seeking a dual law-business degree in a piece for Yahoo! Finance. He concluded, "Having a JD-MBA dual degree puts you in a unique group of educated individuals and opens a lot of doors and somewhat unusual career paths, but also requires tremendous willpower and dedication."
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