In recent years, there has been a new sub-stratum of graduate students on campus: students in the Francis J. & WM. Polk Carey JD/MBA Program. Begun in 2009 and formally launched last year, the Carey JD/MBA program is a dual degree program that allows students to graduate with degrees from both Penn Law and the Wharton School in only three years, as opposed to the four that it takes students in many other JD/MBA programs. Penn Undergraduate Law Journal deputy editor Griffin Hyde recently spoke with program director Colleen France to learn more about the genesis of the program, as well as what it offers to and asks of its students.
Griffin Hyde: What makes this program different from four-year options, in terms of the content that students learn and the experience they undergo?
Colleen France: There’s actually a huge difference in the three-year program versus the four-year program, both here and more broadly across law and business schools. That said, our Carey program is even unique amongst three-year programs. Our three-year JD/MBA program, from the outset, is completely integrated, so our students apply through one application process and they come into Penn as JD/MBAs. Even as Penn Law first years, they’re given their Wharton accounts and they have the ability to join Wharton clubs and get involved in the Wharton community. They essentially are able to take advantage of both schools for all three years during the program.
Further, the summer program component that we have in our Carey JD/MBA program is designed for and taught specifically to our JD/MBAs. They were the only students here on campus this summer. The faculty that teaches in the summer program are tenured, dedicated faculty, so we’re not just finding people who happen to have time to teach. The classes are taught at a pace that takes into account the fact that the JD/MBAs are coming in with a quantitative aptitude that typically most JD students don’t have, and so federal income tax goes really quickly, because there do not need to be those few weeks of catch-up to get into the concepts. We do a lot of social programming, both with the faculty and with the cohort. We also have an academic trek in the middle of the summer. Last summer we visited Washington D.C. and went to the Department of Justice, the D.C. Circuit Court, and the Federal Trade Commission. We went to a law firm and had dinner with alumni in the area.
They then start their second year at Wharton. Because the two schools are located three blocks away from each other, because Penn as a whole is very interdisciplinary, it sets itself up well. One, there’s the physical proximity, but two, our academic calendar is the same, our block schedules are the same, and so students in the second year have the ability to navigate between both schools. That is true academically: we have our JD/MBAs take a law school class each semester, which keeps them plugged in with the law school. It also allows them to more easily navigate and fulfill their credit requirements for the Bar exams that they want to sit for. And then it also helps them on the social, club, and extracurricular levels. So students who are doing law review can find themselves in the law school library doing their cite checks and then running up to class at Wharton.
Then the third year of the program is a mix between the two schools, except that in our program we do have a JD/MBA capstone, which is required of all JD/MBAs. It’s project-centered; students come up with their own projects and we have industry experts who sort of lead the discussion during the year. The students love it because it gives them the opportunity to come back together as a class and as a cohort and take a class specifically designed for them, specifically focusing on the intersection of law and business.
At other schools it doesn’t look like that. You take a traditional three-year program that Northwestern has had for 25 years: their law and business campuses are 45 minutes away from each other. You take Columbia’s program: the students apply separately, they get into each school or they may get into one and not the other, and they go through the program as law students and business students, whereas our students go through the program as JD/MBAs. So the way that we approach it, pedagogically and programmatically, is that it’s two degrees, one program. And with that comes the benefit of any three-year JD/MBA program of our students starting and finishing with their law school classmates, their business school classmates, and their JD/MBA cohort. So they’re essentially going out into the market with three distinct and really powerful networks.
The other unique thing about our program compared to other schools’ programs is even my role. I have a joint appointment between the law school and Wharton. I serve on both schools’ admissions committees. I work with both schools’ academic affairs offices, both schools’ alumni programs, and both schools’ career offices. I think the real value there is that when students have a question about their academics or their paths or career options, and they come to me for an answer, that answer is vetted at both schools. That way, they’re not getting two different messages about what their credit requirements are. It makes it pretty seamless for students to go through the program, because they’re not left to navigate the nuances of getting two degrees (essentially five years worth of degrees in three years) on their own.
GH: I would imagine the structure of the program really creates a sense of community among the students in it.
CF: Exactly. With four-year programs, which Penn has had since 1974 and has long graduated anywhere between two and ten students per year, for those students, their MBA classmates could have graduated two years prior and their law school classmates at least one year prior. So if you think about one of the reasons for going to graduate school, especially business school, is access to a network. In the four-year program you somewhat lose access to that network when your classmates have graduated two years before you and you’re still finishing up law school.
GH: We talked a little bit about the idea of a cohort for these JD/MBA students. I’m curious what type of identity that comes with and their dynamics as a group.
CF: Going back to that summer program, because they are the only students here on campus all summer, they really form a very close bond with each other. We’ve had siblings in the program, we’ve had come out of the program who have gotten married; these are lifelong friends. This is really a community that we’re creating here. We have a mentoring program: all incoming students to the program are given two mentors. We also do a lot of work with cross-class collaboration. So just in the fall, we have a career dinner series. Based on what career industry you’re interested in, you can sign up for a number of dinners, focused on investment banking, private equity, consulting, law firms, etc. and first years will go out to dinner with a nice representation of second and third years. Also in terms of programming, we do a lot of all-class programming.
Because they typically come into the program with four to five years work experience, here at the law school, they’re leaders in the classroom. They’re bringing industry experience and expertise, whether they’re coming from government, military, private equity, investment banking, or public service, they’re bringing a level of professionalism that Penn Law doesn’t see in our full-time JD class. Over at Wharton they’re bringing a level of analytical and intellectual curiosity that, because they have spent their first year at the law school, they’re now looking at business problems through the lens of a law student. So when valuations are brought up in a finance class, the JD/MBAs are coming into the Wharton classes and saying, “Well wait a minute, from a legal and regulatory perspective, here’s how you should look at it.” Maybe it’s legal, but it’s not ethical, or being able to look at transactions or private equity deals, mergers or acquisitions, or starting your own company from this legal and regulatory perspective that brings a really unique lens to the Wharton classroom.
GH: You mentioned the backgrounds of some of the students, so maybe you could talk a little about the students who are in the class right now.
CF: I think that’s one of the most exciting things about the program right now is the diversity of the students: One, in the international exposure that they have and two, in the industry exposure. Here are some of the industries of just our first years: private equity entrepreneurship, military, consulting, art law and transactions, international consulting, private equity, technology, and consumer products. I think that that’s the most exciting thing, because if you go back to 2009 when we launched the program, it was purposeful. We had just walked, somewhat, out of the recession and we realized that there was not this intersection between law and business, and had there been we probably would not have had a mortgage-backed security crisis, because lawyers would have been looking at the pyramid of the mortgage scheme and realized that all of the junk at the bottom was going to come to light and ruin the entire market system. So out of that was born Dodd-Frank and more regulations in the market, and the impetus for the program was really to create this next generation of business leaders who would be able to understand the businesses that operate in this economy and the legal and regulatory environment in which business now need to operate at a more stringent level.
The idea that Professor Ed Rock took, and he was sort of the chief architect of the program and a renowned corporate law scholar himself, was to get a bunch of investment bankers who have this interest in or have been piqued to regulations in the market and are going to want to come to Penn to get a JD/MBA and go do corporate law and then maybe move into a hedge fund, or maybe a private equity firm or an investment bank, maybe at a GC (general counsel) level, or maybe just rise to the top of a law firm by better understanding your clients. That was certainly true and is certainly still true for a good subset of our students, but as we’ve now evolved and have welcomed seven classes into the program, we’re seeing that this degree actually makes a lot of sense in technology, in public policy work, in entrepreneurship. I think that given the interconnectedness of law and business or regulation in industry, we’re really creating the next generation of business leaders in a regulatory landscape and that means everything across the economy. So now we’re going on nine years out of the true downturn of the market and we’re just seeing all of this potential and all of this opportunity for JD/MBAs to really be business leaders in this sense.
GH: It seems like you’re adding even more value than what Ed Rock had thought of.
CF: That was a great place to start, and again, it’s still a reach niche for us, but it’s actually surprising to see how narrow the class was that graduated in 2012 compared to what our class that graduated in 2016 looked like.
People ask: what are students doing for jobs coming out of the program? To be honest they’re doing exactly the same things that the JDs are doing and that the MBAs are doing. There’s no job that requires a JD/MBA. They’re going into corporate law firms, they are doing investment banking, they’re going into consulting, and they’re going into private equity. That said, a few of our JD/MBAs who, since they’ve graduated, have made switches in their careers have gone from doing say, IP law, to working in strategy for IBM. They’ve gone from doing investment banking to doing strategy for Google. They’ve gone from law to consulting, law to real estate, so really it’s that second job or that career job that really grabs the JD/MBA. And so we have a number of students interested in public policy who are not leaving Penn and running for the United States Senate. They’re leaving Penn, going into either law firms, consulting firms, or private equity companies, then they’re looking at a longer term career goal, to work in either public office or in the policy space.
GH: You said that this program is something that a lot of people come into with four to five years of experience. Is this something that you think, or that you’ve heard, that students are thinking about while they’re undergrads?
CF: Some of our students do come in early career. About 20% of our class comes in with three years or less work experience. I would say for that subset of students, they are definitely thinking about this long-term, but a lot of our students either double-majored in undergrad or did some sort of interdisciplinary degree in undergrad and so had always sort of been thinking about it that way. Or they are coming from industries in which they had thought longer about business school and they’re saying, “I’m constantly looking at legal documents and I have no idea what they say. Wait a minute, I know I’m going back to school, I should just get the JD and I can be the lawyer who reads these documents.”
On the flip side of it are people who are sort of pre-law track people who say, “I know I want a JD. I work in Washington D.C., I want to be a lawmaker or regulator; of course I need to get a JD. But wait a minute, look at the high level economic decisions that are getting made in Washington on a daily basis that affect all levels of the economy without real understanding of quantitative or business leadership, data-driven decision making experience. And a business degree will get me that.” Imagine coming back to D.C., armed with a Wharton MBA. And so they’re thinking about it through both lenses.
But I think that it’s not the degree for people who are just saying, “I’m going to go to law school. Law school is three years, I don’t have much finance background but I should get an MBA.” I mean that’s a terrible reason to get an MBA, you can take the entire Wharton core curriculum online for free.
GH: For the Penn community, is there anything that they should be aware of in regards to opportunities or if they’re thinking about a JD or MBA, or the JD/MBA program? Looking forward, what should they be aware of?
CF: One, I would say don’t take a job post-undergrad with either law school or business school in mind as the end goal. Take the job that you love. Because that is going to come through when it does become time to apply to graduate school, more so than doing exactly what you think you should be doing. “If I want to go to a law school, should I go work at a law firm?” I don’t know: do you want to be a paralegal? And if you don’t want to be a paralegal, then don’t go work at a law firm, go do something that you’re passionate about because it’s going to go set you up for a better law school application than if you did paralegal work because you thought that’s what we want to read.
That said, I think that it’s good to structure taking the LSAT and the GMAT. Something you don’t want is to start thinking about an application to a JD/MBA program and then being faced with taking two standardized tests over the same time period that you’re getting your recommendations and putting together your application. The closer you are to undergrad, the fresher your study skills are. It’s probably a good idea to get at least one of those tests out of the way.
Also, continue to build your network. Your letters of recommendation don’t always need to be your direct supervisor. If you had a much better relationship with somebody in your last job, you’ll want to use that one as well. Further, you’re here at Penn, so the network is amazing anyway, and so to not take advantage of that network will be a regret.
I think that having this in the back of your mind as you go through the early stages of your career: stay plugged in with the program. We do a lot of work on social media, I am pretty active on Twitter, and I do a lot of events, and so if you plug a little bit of data into Wharton’s admissions website, and if you click the tab “Interdisciplinary,” anything that I’m doing on the road or that I’m writing about, you’ll get plugged into that network. So go to these network events, most of the information sessions that I run I will have alumni or current students with me. We do current student coffee chats. You don’t need to do all of your due diligence in applying to graduate school during the cycle in which you’re applying to graduate school. At that point it might even be a little too late.
GH: I’m sure our readers will be interested to hear that. Thank you very much for your time.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.