What I’ve Learned as a JD/MBA Candidate

“Time, money, and fear. If you could throw those three things out the window, would you do the program?” I was caught off guard. I had just told my mentor my decision to forego an MBA in favor of completing my law degree in three years. He nailed the exact reasons why I did not want to enroll in the JD/MBA program – the extra year of schooling, the increase in financial loans, and uncertainty if I will ever utilize the degree. As I stood in silence, he immediately noticed my hesitation and eased my concerns. He went on to tell me, “time will fly by in the blink of an eye, the loans will be paid off faster than you think, and the MBA will be your greatest asset as a business attorney.” Thanks to my mentor’s push, I have not a single regret.

Most people enter law school with the belief that being a lawyer means you will be arguing murder trials in front of grand juries, fighting for civil liberties, or at least are in a courtroom on a regular basis. While this may be a path for some, the large majority of lawyers spend only a small fraction of their time in a courtroom.

There are two types of lawyers: litigators, which is what most people envision, and transactional attorneys, who may never set foot in a courtroom, but serve a wide variety of out of court needs. I would argue that 75% of students entering law school have little frame of reference for the distinction. The primary focus of a legal education is to prepare future lawyers for life as a litigator, which deprives students of the education and understanding of the other possible career paths. A colleague of mine once said that he firmly believes a lawyer either has the personality for a litigator or a transactional attorney. After a period of experimenting, my type became clear – I prefer the transactional aspect of law. Given the lack of business education in law school, I found that the best way to develop the necessary business acumen for life as a transactional attorney was through the JD/MBA program.

A dual JD/MBA degree has a certain stigma attached to it. It gives the impression that a person does not know which career path they want to pursue – a lawyer or businessperson? What most people do not realize is that the two do not need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, a 2015 Forbes article describes cross-disciplinary studies as expert generalists, arguing that “there is a surprisingly strong link between diversity of relationships and knowledge (being a generalist) and career success. Many people fail to become successful generalists because schools and society tend to encourage focus on a single expertise.” Now, I am yet to put this theory to the test, but I am certain of three key points that have been of benefit so far:

Think like a businessperson, act like a lawyer

From a legal perspective, having an MBA is certainly not a requirement, but it serves an extremely useful purpose for some areas of the law. The combination of the JD/MBA can build a bridge between the business and legal worlds. I like to envision a business attorney as a liaison – if you can understand the legal concepts that go into a deal, but think like a businessperson, you can better serve your clients’ needs. For example, most young attorneys find it difficult to interpret a company’s balance sheet or understand how certain financial assumptions can influence a company’s valuation. The JD/MBA program brings together these two worlds, each with their own culture, terminology, and way of thinking. Simply put, it jumpstarts a lawyer’s understanding of the business world and creates a value add for potential employers and clients down the road in life.

Molding of cultures

Most people would agree that the legal profession is dominated by type A personalities. To be a successful lawyer, you must be driven, competitive, and highly productive. Law school plays on these strengths by pinning students against one another based on a GPA curve – the goal is to outperform your class members. The higher your GPA and class rank, the better employment opportunities available. Almost all work is performed individually, and the course load teaches you how to think critically, analyze issues, and comprehend large amounts of information.

In contrast, MBA programs focus their development on team-oriented activities requiring collaboration, communication, and project management skills. In addition to quantitative skills, these programs help students develop “soft skills” that are required for life in the workforce. This includes the ability to work within the context of a diverse team, develop leadership abilities, and hone professional presentation skills.

For me, one of the greatest benefits of the JD/MBA program is the contrasting learning environments. The law and MBA schools complement one another in a way that has been crucial for my development as an individual. It has taught me how to adapt my type A, analytical personality to fit in a team environment of diverse personalities. As a result, the JD/MBA program has made me a more well-rounded individual both professionally and personally.

Three summers, three internships

For most people, the extra year of schooling is a large turn-off from the program. After spending four years in a graduate program, you might as well get a medical degree. However, one major overlooked benefit is the extra summer available to explore career paths.

Internships are an extremely important aspect of law school and MBA programs. For law school, the place you intern at for your final summer is almost certainly the firm you will work at after graduation. I took an unorthodox route because I knew that with an extra summer, I had an opportunity to experiment with an MBA internship.

My path took me out to Estero, Florida where I interned at the Hertz Corporation headquarters in a Finance Leadership Development program. This was an invaluable experience from a legal perspective because I had the opportunity to interact with business leaders, develop business acumen in the professional setting, and understand how this large corporation approached its objectives and problems.

Moving forward, I anticipate this 10-week experience will contribute to an understanding of future clients’ problems from an entirely different perspective. The additional summer provides an opportunity to jump into a new field or role, at a high level, and experience that career path as well. It forces you outside your comfort zone and diversifies your professional experience. Many of my JD/MBA colleagues at Michigan State University have followed similar paths, interning at large corporations such as Boeing, Dow Chemical, L’Oréal, General Motors, and GE Consulting.

For any individual considering a dual degree program, careful consideration needs to be placed on the opportunity costs, tuition, and necessity for the program. Every person’s situation is different. The key to determining if the program is right for you is a critical look at what “gets your juices going.” Ten years down the road, when you wake up in the morning, will you be excited argue a court case in front of a judge, negotiate a business merger, or be high level executive at a large corporation?

The frustrating secret is that the only way to answer that question is by trying it out. That’s the value of internships. The even more frustrating yet beautiful part about all this is that the worst outcome is you choose something that you do not like. Even so, sometimes, the most valuable lesson learned is figuring out what is not right for you.

While three of the benefits of a JD/MBA program are highlighted above, there is ultimately no right or wrong decision. It comes down to what you want in life. My advice for all those considering a JD/MBA program is thoroughly weigh the pros and cons of the program, envision what you want your future career to look like, then go out and test that career path early on to determine if it is the right fit for you.

Tariq Abu-Akeel
Tariq Abu-Akeel

I am a third year JD/MBA candidate at Michigan State University. My parents are first generation Egyptian-Americans, and I have been lucky enough to grow up with four brothers. This past summer I worked as a finance intern at the Hertz Corporation headquarters in Florida. The summer prior, I worked as a legal summer associate at Warner Norcross & Judd’s Southfield, Michigan office. As of now, and barring any coronavirus problems, the plan is that I will be headed to Baker McKenzie’s Chicago office for a summer associate position in May.

In 2016, I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Brown University. There, I was a four-year starter on the Varsity Men’s Soccer Team and was fortunate enough to make one NCAA tournament appearance in 2012. From 2016-17, I spent my time pursing a professional soccer career in St. Louis, MO and Valkeakoksi, Finland.

1 Comment

  1. Jonathan Nomamiukor on December 26, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    Interesting journey,
    now I see clearly my part to future carrier

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