Business School vs. Law School

Most business school applicants are certain b-school is for them. Others though debate business school versus law school. The following is more food for thought...

In defense of lawschool
By an HLS Graduate (former USMC)

It will come as no surprise to most people reading this thatB-school is the most common choice for EASing service members, and not withoutreason.  Here is the simple truth, mostpeople who enjoyed their time in uniform will enjoy B-School more.  

I remember my first Marine Corps’ birthday in grad shool.  It was at the business school, and prettymuch everyone there was from the B-School. They were collegially chatting and having a laugh, and then there were wethree sad souls from the law school joking about how we would make a prettygood fire team.  Frankly I think we wereoutnumbered by the exchange officers from France.   And aswe mingled with the B-schoolers we all had the same reaction: We may have madea mistake.  

But as I reflect on my choice to get a JD I become more andmore certain that it was the right choice. I wont say it is the right choice for everyone, it isn’t, but I dobelieve it offers something an MBA doesn’t, and that is that it is rock solidevidence that you can sit in a chair for hours, synthesize vast amounts ofwritten information, and write an iron clad analysis of it.  And I hate to say it, but that is what eventhe sexiest civilian jobs demand.  

So with that in mind here is a framework and some seed ideasabout which graduate program is the one for you.

Cost: Time, money,and experience

Direct costs: Of course tuition+room+etc varieswildly but due to the extra year law school will be about half again moreexpensive than B-school.

Opportunity cost:That third year of law school is a year of salary you are missing out on, sothat is a cost.

Subjective costs: without giving a comprehensive listI will submit that most vets will enjoy their classes, extra-curriculars, andclassmates more at B-school than at law school.

Total cost: So with the above in mind some very roughnumbers might look like this: 120K for an MBA vs. 160K for JD tuition + 70K ofmissed salary your third year or 230K, making law school almost twice asexpensive, and significantly less pleasant.

Revenue: Reinforcestrength or be the total package

Despite the extra pain upfront I think that the combinationof a law degree and military experience is an especially powerful pairing inthe long run. Employers look for basically the same things: leadership ability,work ethic, and intellectual horse power. And for the average student and MBA covers the bases, but as a veteranyou’ve already checked a few of those boxes.

Leadership: Employers are not worried about this one,as an officer or NCO you’ve had more leadership experience than anyone elseyour tenure.  They are also not worriedabout putting you in front of clients. The military taught you to be respectful, to dress well, and to have thekind of bearing that sets clients at ease.  

Work ethic: They also know that you are a hard worker, sort of.  Most employers’ views of the military areshaped by TV and movies, so they expect that you can run, drill, and executeSaving-Private-Ryan-style missions without complaint.  But they are worried about whether you can sitbehind a desk for hours a day and crank through towers of reports or draftkiller memos. And a JD will put their mind at ease since you don’t get throughlaw school without becoming an expert at sitting and cranking.

Intellect: Finally there is the issue ofintellect.  I won’t say that a JD is moreintellectually or academically challenging than an MBA, but I will say thatthat is the perception.  To succeed onthe GMAT and in B-School you need intellect, presence, leadership, quantskills, and a lot of common sense.  Atlaw school the only one that matters is the first, and a bit of the last.  

Fundamentally I think that a veteran with a law degree isespecially attractive to the top consultancies and corporations because you checkall the boxes.  If you know you want tobe a banker and do finance then go to B-School, but if you want to consult orgo to industry I encourage you to think about how you would look to anemployer, identify any gaps, and then choose the degree that fills those gapsmost effectively.

Business School
Law School
US presidents
12 started 7 finished, 3 more became lawyers through independent study
Current Senators
CEOs of fortune 100
Business, finance, consulting
Law, business, finance, consulting, public sector, social sector
Typical early tenure salary (top 10 schools)

-Geoff, guest blogger, former Marine Officer, Harvard Law School Graduate, and currently a consultant at a top management consulting firm.