The 3-Year JD-MBA
Northwestern University generated extensive discussion recently after announcing a program to let students complete legal studies in 2 years instead of 3, also done at University of Dayton. Less discussed, Northwestern has for a decade offered an alternative that lets students get both the JD and MBA in 3 years instead of the usual 4 or 5. Although analysis applicable to the speedy JD may likewise apply to the speedy dual degree, there may be some differences warranting a separate look.
We considered adapting the fast track dual degree, also done at St. Thomas University, when I was Academic Dean at Boston College . A modicum of reverse engineering was required to connect Northwestern’s bulletin description to the driving regulatory requirements. And special tailoring for specific attributes of BC was necessary. In the end, the BC faculty opted to forego the step. Yet it may work well for some schools in some locations and be of interest to many more students than Northwestern or St. Thomas can accommodate.
Demand. Not all students will find a 3-year JD-MBA program appealing, but many likely will. Northwestern, for example, reports receiving about 160 annual applications for about 25 spots it allocates to this program (compared to about 5,000 applications for 240 spots in the 3-year JD program). Other schools may infer probable demand according to their recent history in granting both degrees, either under a 4- or 5-year program. Not all schools will enjoy requisite demand or be able to meet it, but some will.
General. In general, US law school requires 3 years and MBA programs require 2, so 5 years are required to obtain both. But many universities have long allowed students to earn JD and MBA degrees in 4 years by each school recognizing a semester’s worth of credits (12-14) from the other’s curriculum. Universities can enable students to earn the 2 degrees in 3 years by increasing the level of mutual recognition and adding a summer program between a 1st year at the law school and a 1st year at the business school.
Law School. A traditional 3-year law school program meeting minimum ABA rules requires 82 credits, with 78% of these (about 64 credits) taken from instruction in regular classes held at the law school. (See ABA Standard 304(b)). Most law schools prescribe about 1/3 of these in required 1st year courses and ABA rules effectively prescribe about 10% of them from upper level courses (Professional Responsibility, Skills Training, and Legal Writing). So, under ABA rules, about 18 credits may be recognized from other sources.
Business School. A traditional 2-year business school MBA program may require about 55 credits. This often includes a 1st year of mostly required courses and a 2nd of mostly electives.
Overlap. A considerable number of business school and law school courses overlap, at least substantively and sometimes analytically. From the business school curriculum, examples of staples are accounting, economics, finance and tax, and more tailored courses like securities, international business transactions, and real estate. From the law school curriculum, examples are accounting, antitrust, bankruptcy, corporate finance, corporations, economic analysis, hedge funds, mergers & acquisitions, mutual funds, quantitative methods, secured transactions and securities regulation.
Model Details. The following model should meet formal requirements of both. Year 1 is taken full-time at the law school (with full law school credit awarded and no need or basis for business school credit to be awarded); Year 2 is taken full-time at the business school (with business school credit awarded and a need for the law school to recognize about 7 credits).
Between these years, a 10-credit summer program is taught at the law school. Three business-related law school courses are offered (say corporations, securities regulation and corporate finance or mergers & acquisitions). Ideally, these are taught by 1 faculty member from the law school, 1 from the business school (probably a JD member of the business law faculty) and 1 adjunct law professor, or various combinations year to year. All would earn law school credit; it is not essential that they earn business school credit but they would be cognizable.
The 3rd year is split between the two schools, with students taking (a) ABA required law school courses, amounting to about 8 credits, (b) 13 credits of elective courses in the law school (for which the business school could award credit) and (c) 14 credits in the business school, allocated between electives and any prescribed courses according to business school academic policy (for which the law school would recognize some 11 credits).
Financial. Students receive some 24 additional credits of instruction compared to those enrolled in the JD program alone (about 106 instead of 82). In exchange, students may be charged the equivalent of 4 years of tuition. For example, if JD students pay $34,000, then JD/MBA students in the 3-year program may be charged $43,000. Students thus pay an additional $27,000 while saving in opportunity cost a significant multiple of that (essentially equivalent to 1 or 2 years of professional compensation). Other direct program costs are summer faculty compensation, which could be paid in cash (say $15,000 per course for full-time and $10,000 per course for part-time, a total of $40,000) or teaching credits. Additional indirect costs include housekeeping and coordination of inter-school services, including admissions, placement, records, alumni and financial.
Advantages. Program advantages include: (1) intensify interdepartmental instruction and inquiry between the law and business schools; (2) meet some student demand and help students financially; (3) attract an interesting and highly-qualified pool of applicants; (4) add an innovative program in terms of time and focus; (5) add a summer dimension to a law school program; and (6) provide specific kinds of training that can aid students with specific professional and career objectives that, in turn, may satisfy employer and client demands.
Challenges. Challenges include: (1) whether a 3-year program provides sufficient breadth of exposure to law and legal analysis (a challenge likewise identified for a 2-year JD program); (2) assuring sufficient student interest and qualifications (it may be helpful to limit enrollment to students having had significant work experience); and (3) assuring sufficient enthusiasm among the schools’ business law faculty, mostly in terms of willingness to teach summer courses and provide student guidance.