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Making the JD-MBA Degree Decision – Part 1

8.5 UMass ed.PNGBy Jennifer S. Taub, JD
Let’s be clear. I am not a career counselor. I am a corporate lawyer-turned academic who teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Isenberg School of Management. I am writing this piece because I was asked to share my views on how to decide whether to become a JD-MBA.
If you are considering enrolling in an MBA program, you need to make (at least) two separate decisions. First, are the benefits of earning an MBA greater than the costs? Second, what program is right for you — full-time, part-time, on-line?
Decision One: Do the Benefits of Earning an MBA Outweigh the Costs?
If I were asked whether I thought the benefits of earning an MBA outweighed the costs, I’d have to provide you with my standard lawyer’s answer: “It depends.” The relevant factors include: (1) opportunity cost — as in, what else would you be doing with your time and money if you were not pursuing the degree; (2) do you like to learn; and (3) what are the expected benefits you hope to extract from the degree — in other words, do you wish to gain additional skills, credibility, a new career path, a promotion — and what are the costs? And what are the actual benefits, as revealed in reputable statistical data?
Opportunity Costs – What else would you be doing with your time and money if you were not pursuing the MBA degree? This is a question only you can answer. You may be between jobs, with the recent Big Law deferrals and downsizing. Beginning a degree program could make sense while waiting to start up work again. The benefit to the online environment for that situation is that when work starts again, you can continue with the program without having to re-locate. It also might be a good way to keep your mind active and engaged during your down time.
You also may be employed happily but concerned about future prospects and opportunities. Taking control of your career by ramping up your skills and knowledge base might feel better than the alternative of being just grateful to be working.
***More after the jump.

Do You Like to Learn? Once again, this is a question that you can answer. Most of the attorneys I know are always learning. We become expert in our client’s business, the facts of a dispute, the subject matter of a transaction or regulatory action. Often, in this role we have to teach ourselves. The nice thing about an organized program is that someone else selects the reading materials and assignments for you. And, with this type of learning you get recognition and a credential. Of course, you would want to look at the required courses and electives to ensure that the subject matter is both relevant and interesting to you.
What are the Expected Benefits and Costs? While you might generate a list of expected benefits and costs, relying on some outside sources is useful.
According to the folks at Veritas Prep, there is a list of pros and cons to consider before seeking out a dual degree. The most compelling benefit they cite:

“An MBA can be an ace-in-the-hole for someone looking to shed the lawyer tag and move into an executive position.”

The primary “con” is related to timing. The experts suggested that “acquiring both a JD/MBA at the outset of a career might eliminate the use of business school as a ‘reset button’ later in one’s career should legal work not prove to be an ideal choice.” Clearly, this would not apply to the practicing attorney going back to earn an MBA.
Another important concern mentioned is the additional costs associated with earning the MBA. In addition to the direct costs of tuition, fees, books and lodging, the most significant cost is forgoing one’s salary while completing the program. Once again, this consideration is substantially different when one is earning an MBA through an online program where one does not need to stop working or even relocate.
According to one academic program, the career benefits for the JD-MBA include this:

Business lawyers benefit greatly from in-depth understanding of what management and financial challenges corporations, start-ups and non-profits face.

Another program notes:

In a growing global economy, the career paths of business and law professionals have become increasingly convergent. . . . To succeed in the cross-section of these dynamic markets, a multi-faceted education is critical. A dual-degree program provides training that gives students the knowledge, skills and background they need to function in both law and business sectors.

Decision Two: What MBA Format is Right for You?
An Online MBA program differs from a Full-Time program in a few respects.
First, there is no need to re-locate. As a result, students are geographically diverse, logging in to the discussion boards and completing assignments from across the U.S. and globe (the Isenberg Online MBA program has students from all 50 US states and 19 foreign countries). Students bring an array of regional, international, and industry perspectives and experience into our discussions. In addition, many students who have career and family obligations can participate in an enriching educational experience without requiring children, partners or spouses to abandon their own commitments and communities.
Second, you can earn the degree entirely online from an accredited, reputable institution, with academically and professional qualified faculty. With online programs, you can complete your assignments at night and on the weekends, fitting around your other plans and commitments. Some may be skeptical about an online curriculum. Yet, the upfront screening of applicants yields an incredibly motivated, engaging group of students. Isenberg students include physicians who head up major hospitals, engineers and Information Technology professionals desiring to move up into the corporate ranks, top sales professionals, attorneys, small business owners and even members of the armed forces stationed overseas. The student diversity is astounding. Students are fully engaged and provide highly insightful commentary.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series – Putting Your JD-MBA to the Test…