Mentor corner: Law school or business school?

I recently answered a LinkedIn question from a young lady asking whether an MBA or a JD was a better choice. (I won’t link the question since most of the responses were utterly misinformed and won’t even accidentally spread that nonsense.)

I get asked this question, and questions about choosing law schools, pretty often. My closest friend, Prof. Tom Nonnenmacher, is at Allegheny College (where we both went to school), and so it’s a natural chain from student to him to me.

What I tell students who are trying to make this decision is “think education, not vocation.” Except for those jobs that literally require a JD, the real questions are:

  1. What education are you getting?
  2. What opportunities does it create?
  3. What problems does it help you solve?

And then, you should bounce all of that against the real question: what types of problems do you like to solve?

That’s how employees, professionals, independent contractors, and businesses create value for others: we solve their problems, big and small, expensive and cheap, trivial and monumental.

Career planning should start with that end of things: what do you like to do as a way of bringing value to others? Then, what education or other skills do you need to do that well, better than most? Then, how do you get from where you are to having those skills?

I tell people who are dead set on law school to get a joint degree. In most cases, it can make you a far better lawyer by helping you understand what your business clients are trying to do: those answers are seldom found in cases and statutes.

Finally, there is reasonably helpful literature describing the cost/value curve for various MBA programs (Forbes does this regularly). The same is woefully lacking for law schools, but there is much more criticism these days of the high cost of law school for all with the relatively low value for most. This post on starting salaries will point you in the right direction. You simply MUST read the chart that shows the bimodal salary distribution. It is CRITICAL information. I really can’t stress that enough.

And, the question you didn’t ask [yet]: absolutely go to the best law school you can get into; the cost difference will not likely be that much, but the difference in rewards will very likely be much higher.

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