Should Law Students Consider a Joint JD/MBA Before Going Solo? (Poll)

Thanks for checking in on our ongoing Lawyerist poll series.

A law student emailed me the other day (we’ll call him “Joe”) to get my advice about his law school plans.

Joe is planning to start a solo law practice after law school, but he recognizes that he lacks a lot of the business skills he thinks he needs to run his own practice.

He wants to know whether an extra year of school to get either joint JD/MBA (Masters of Business Administration) or an LLM in Tax would help his prospective law practice enough to justify the additional time and expense. (For those who take such things into account, Joe attends a school ranked by US News in the 40-60 range).


My personal feeling is that Joe should get working sooner rather than later (an added $30-60k in students loans is going to hurt a lot as a new solo). If he’s really in need of some business skills, he might consider joining the Lawyerist LAB. It’s a helluva lot cheaper than an MBA.

But who cares what I think? Joe and I want to know what YOU think.

Please take a minute to let us know by posting your advice for Joe in the comments below.

(photo: http://flic.kr/p/6ZwuPm)

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  • I worked for lawyers for many years — from sole proprietor to mid-sized firm to corporate law office — including one lawyer with an MBA in Tax from Harvard and two with CPA designations. They were excellent and knowledgeable lawyers. What I found missing in some lawyers was the understanding of basic bookkeeping for law offices (for IOLTA and operating accounts). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or lawyer) to understand it, but without some instruction in the proper methods, many lawyers get into trouble with their bookkeeping. They are not dishonest, they just don’t have the understanding to teach those who they hire to keep the books, and to spot check monthly reports/budgets. My suggestion would be to have a course in law school devoted to bookkeeping and office practice management. My daughter received her law degree and LLM. It sure didn’t help her bookkeeping skills! Just my $.02. :-)

  • As a disclaimer, I don’t have an MBA, but chalk me up as someone who says he doesn’t need it. Perhaps some more practical training as noted above would be better. If he’s passionate about getting an MBA for other reasons and can manage the cost, sure. But if it’s only for the perceived benefit(s) of going solo, I’d say no.

  • Andres Mejer

    Education is its own reward. But if Joe goes solo — I don’t see the benefit of a JD/MBA. If he wants to be an investment banker or looking for a corporate job, that is another matter.

  • Aaron

    I did an MBA and am now going to law school while working fulltime, I like the added flexibility in job selection now but as for going solo I am split on the befits of an MBA. There are so many resources online that are more current and applicable, I would forgot the MBA and network with other SOLOS to understand how to run a successful practice.

  • Jennifer Munter Stark

    I just started a solo practice less than 2 years ago. I practiced in larger firms before that. I do not wish I had an MBA. Basic “how to run a business information” and advice on-book keeping, taxes, who to 1099, etc. would be more helpful. It is an overwhelmingly frustrating part of praciticing. While an MBA might help with the bigger picture I would say forgo it, get practicing and go back at night once you assess you goals and have an income stream in place.

    Jen

  • Jennifer Moore

    An MBA would be helpful if you wanted to advise businesses. If your interest was in law office management, an MBA would probably be necessary. You need an interest in good business practices to run a good law office. You do not need an MBA.

  • Mark Cohen

    I have joint JD/MBA degrees. My take is that if you get out of law school knowing that you want to start your own law practice, it’s probably not worth the time and expense of an MBA. There are much shorter routes to learning to start a business, and that’s only a part of the MBA curriculum. (Some programs do let you specialize in being an entrepreneur, but the typical MBA curriculum is much broader). An MBA is a time-consuming route both in terms of tuition and lost opportunity costs. And, as Aaron alludes to, if you are financing your education with loans, your cash flow in the early years of your business will have to be that much greater to cover those added costs.

    I do not have an LLM, but my feeling on those is that’s not something that helps you with startups so much as gives you cred and knowledge in the substantive area that the LLM is in (e.g. Taxation). If you are indeed planning on being a tax lawyer (solo or otherwise), it may be worth the investment. Tax is highly specialized and having that credential is a good way to show you know what you are doing. Before I made that decision, I would talk with some tax practitioners to see how much advantage the added credential gives you. I would also make sure I knew tax law was where I wanted to be.

  • Andrea Hable

    It seems like MBAs are becoming much more common (sort of like JDs, liberal arts degrees, etc.), so I question the value of one anyway unless 1) you get into a good established business school, or 2) your employer/career path requires you to get one to move forward. On the first point, in addition to added cost, many of the best schools require or recommend a certain number of years of work experience before starting – something a new lawyer may not have, and without that, may not get the full benefit of school. The second is not applicable to solos.

    That being said, I don’t have an MBA and don’t know what kind of practical skills one learns from getting one (my knowledge comes from my husband’s consideration of an MBA versus a masters in his field). Mark confirmed what I know about the curriculum – that running a business is only part of it. I think you also learn about management, etc., things that don’t really matter to a solo unless you want to expand your practice down the road.

    I’ve had my practice for two years, and the vast majority of skills I’ve needed to learn are things you can pick up on your own. Especially if you are smart and like to read/learn as you go and try new things. I think that’s why many MBA programs like to have candidates with practical experience already. They have a context for what they are learning. The only classes I’ve considered taking are in accounting, but that’s something you could probably hire someone to do for you at the same cost as taking some classes.

  • I agree that an MBA might be helpful if you are going into an area of law where you will be advising other MBA’s or businesses, but I wouldn’t get one simply to plan on going solo. That’s just more education that will take that many more years to pay back. I have found, like others, that as long as I’m willing to do give up some weekends and invest in some extra books, there’s not much I can’t teach myself about the business end of the practice of law. And when my research uncovers something I am either not confident enough or simply don’t want to tackle on my own, it doesn’t take long to find an outside solution through my networking with other solo attorneys.

  • David NYC

    I have a JD/MBA (earned concurrently) and have practiced in BigLaw (corporate restructuring) for the past 8+ years, but am about to go solo. I agree with commenters who say education is its own reward, and I am glad I obtained the MBA, but its practical usefulness has been somewhat limited and would advise against incurring more debt to get it unless you are going to be doing sophisticated financial or accounting type work (including related types of litigation). I think every lawyer should know how to read a balance sheet, income statement, SEC financials and bond or loan indentures, but you don’t need to get an MBA to learn these skills. And like J. Stark said above, you’re going to be much better off learning practical business management skills than the majority of the things you’ll learn in an MBA program.

    There are a ton of free or low cost options online that will help you learn a lot of pragmatic MBA-type skills.

  • Jennifer Munter Stark

    Great book for solos-leant to me by another attorney and I still have it –FLYING SOLO, a Survival Guide for the Solo Lawyer, by Jeffery Simmons, Law Practice Management Section of the ABA.

    Jen

  • Susan Gainen

    My fear is that the JD/MBA combo may become the next very expensive strategy for “keeping options open,” supplanting just-the-JD, which has been the option-keeper for college grads for some years.

    If you hope to practice Big-CORPORATELAW and want a short-cut to begin to learn the your clients’ language, culture, strategy and tactics , an MBA — paid for by someone else — is a great idea. As a personal investment for a job that you may not get, it becomes a value proposition that you must calculate.

    If you intend to work in a small or solo practice, start now to learn all of the business management tools and techniques that you will need. The “FLYING SOLO” book is excellent.

    Ask yourself whether you really are an entrepreneur.

    Finding and learning from other solos is the smartest thing that you can do — but choose wisely. Grumpy lawyers who hate their work and their lives will not provide you the information, guidance, and enthusiasm that you need.

  • James

    I see many of these comments are from people who cannot possibly know the benefits or the pitfalls of such a choice. To make a comment that you did not need an MBA is hindsight bias to the extreme. Chances are you missed out on many opportunities.

    All we can do is speak from personal experience. In every interview I have had the fact that I have a JD and an MBA has been a positive topic of conversation. Business and law schools each teach very different subjects and they provide much more synergistic knowledge if combined.