After Law School, B-School: The Rise of M.B.A.'s Among Attorneys

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<<While an M.B.A. program usually commands a rigorous two- or three-year commitment, some business schools are recognizing the need for a business education among established professionals. Custom-tailored M.B.A. programs are offered to business executives, C.P.A.'s, and now attorneys, making it easier for attorneys to learn about business. "When I came to Suffolk, I got to meet a lot of alumni who were attorneys," said Richard Torrisi, Dean of Suffolk University's Sawyer School of Management in Boston and creator of its Accelerated M.B.A. for Attorneys Program. "It became obvious that they were struggling with developing enough business and management skills…and that more and more practicing attorneys were needing to develop those skills."

In designing a program that would be attractive to attorneys, Torrisi looked at the university's law and business curricula and noticed some overlap. "I thought, maybe we could create an M.B.A. program that allowed attorneys to leverage their law degrees in a way that would reduce the length of the program and also avoid the 'cookie-cutter' curriculum that [other M.B.A.'s] take," Torrisi explained. The school's regular 18-course curriculum was shortened to about 13 courses and offered part-time in the evenings to fit busy attorneys' schedules. Classes are taught at multiple locations for added convenience, and enrolled attorneys may even take courses online. In addition, the school waives its GMAT requirement for attorneys. The result: a program tailored to attorneys who often have little time to go back to school and brush up on their business knowledge. "It builds on the same skills that a good attorney would have, such as analytical and communication skills, but applies them in the context of business and management, which is very different from [a legal education,]" Torrisi said. Other business schools are also considering unique M.B.A. programs for attorneys, and several already have them in place for experienced business professionals.

Of course, attorneys don't need that J.D. in hand before enrolling in B-school: joint J.D./M.B.A. programs are becoming increasingly popular across the country and allow students to graduate with top-notch business skills and knowledge of the law. "A lot of students are looking to combine a J.D. and an M.B.A. to market themselves a little better," said Patricia Hite, Director of Academic Programs at Cleveland State University in Ohio. "Law is a popular major, and the M.B.A. is a very marketable degree." Most joint programs take about four years to finish, often encompassing the traditional first-year law school curriculum and then combining the two fields of study in later years.

Hite sees mostly young candidates who don't want to decide between law and business, but says some attorneys come back to school on an executive M.B.A. track. Torrisi says most of the candidates he meets tend to be out of law school for 5 to 15 years, although he's encountered attorneys with more than 25 years of experience looking to get a business degree. The reasons for going back for an M.B.A. vary, but many attorneys choose to do so because of previous demands on the job. For example, "they'd been asked to deal with issues that require them to be knowledgeable in areas like finance, accounting, or corporate governance," said Torrisi. Other attorneys opt for a business background as they get ready to become self-employed. "If you're going into private practice for yourself, you're an entrepreneur," explained Hite. In large firms—particularly those specializing in corporate law—and corporations, an M.B.A. may also give an attorney an edge over other candidates vying for positions and promotions in a largely competitive market.

Whatever the reason for going back, J.D.'s and soon-to-be J.D.'s offer a unique contribution to M.B.A. programs. "People with J.D.'s bring another perspective to the M.B.A. classroom, [with] issues that an accounting or marketing person would never see," stated Torrisi.

Please see the following articles for more information about law school, the bar exam and succeeding in your first year of practice:

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