Consider Career Goals Before Getting a Joint Degree

Shawn P. O'Connor

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature of Law Admissions Lowdown in which I provide admissions advice to readers who send in questions and profiles. This month, I focus on individuals who wonder if a law degree in combination with another graduate degree will best help them attain their professional goals.

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Dear Shawn: Do you foresee a niche for a medical doctor who also has a JD? I am considering such a move after 20 years in private practice as an interventional radiologist. While the skill set afforded by completing law school may be interesting, I am increasingly concerned about the job market for such a combination of skills. -Dr. Career Change

Dear Dr. Career Change: Many individuals hold both medical and law degrees; in fact, there are several renowned schools that offer an MD/JD dual degree (Yale University, for example). It can certainly be useful to obtain both degrees as law and medicine are intertwined in myriad ways, from medical malpractice to intellectual property issues related to medical research and technologies.

As for specific positions in which you could apply a medical and legal education, there are very few jobs that require an individual to hold an MD and a JD. Most people who hold both law and medical degrees do not practice both professions, but instead benefit from having these different perspectives while focusing primarily in one field or the other. A couple examples of careers particularly well-suited for those with law and medical degrees include healthcare, public policy, and hospital administration.

While the legal field, like so many other professions including medicine, faces economic disruptions, spending on healthcare and thus the area of healthcare law and policy will likely continue to increase as our population ages.

[Explore other career paths for law school grads.]

In the end, the right choice for you will depend on your unique goals. If you are considering leaving your private practice, you should ask yourself what other potential careers interest you. I advise identifying a specific career or a couple of intriguing options that you might like to pursue, then speaking with professionals currently in that field before you spend the time and resources to obtain a law degree. Doing so will ensure that the skills you will learn in law school will contribute meaningfully to your new career. -Shawn

Hi Shawn: I came across your article on the JD/MBA track and its associated benefits and drawbacks. I've grappled with the idea of applying to dual programs given the time, forgone income, and competitiveness. However, I think as you clearly pointed out, the career trajectory is probably the most practical consideration.

I want to ultimately pursue venture capital or stay in management consulting. I started off in investment banking but quickly moved over to management consulting, where I've been focused on both merger and acquisitions and intellectual property (from a strategic standpoint). Part of me feels that the JD/MBA would augment both the strategic and legal perspectives critical to this work. However, many fields (e.g. private equity and venture capital) have become highly experiential, I'm not sure a particular degree will do much without practical skills and experience. -Is a JD/MBA Degree Practical?

Dear Is a JD/MBA Degree Practical?: A JD/MBA joint degree is certainly highly applicable to the career trajectory you are considering. As you clearly understand, to obtain this joint degree you will forgo three to four years of income--depending on the school and program--while incurring the cost of your education, so you want to make sure the dual degree will enhance your ability to excel in M&A or venture capital.

[Learn the 5 reasons to get a JD/MBA]

To determine how helpful a JD/MBA would be, I would look at the leaders in these fields and the degrees they hold. Many in M&A have a law or business degree or both, whereas in venture capital, most senior professionals only have an MBA.

Consider the specific work you hope to do within these fields. If you want to focus on investments related to intellectual property or highly regulated fields like healthcare or the environment, a JD/MBA would likely prove especially helpful.

I have never regretted for one day pursuing my JD/MBA and love my work at the nexus of education, law, and business. But a JD/MBA is not necessarily the right investment for everyone. -Shawn