I’m Deciding Between a JD and an MBA

I’m choosing between a full ride as part of UCI’s inaugural class or a full ride MBA at Carnegie Mellon.

I want to be a lawyer.  But not enough that it is a calling of mine.  What I ultimately want to do is start a business, which you don’t really need a degree for.  Any thoughts you could impart?

What you’re really asking is: Should I go to law school rather than business school to learn how to become an entrepreneur?  Does it make sense to spend three years studying legal topics rather than business topics if you want to become a businessman? 

Answer: HELL NO.

Despite popular belief, going to law school does not help make someone a businessman.  In law school, you study law, not business.  Not only that, you learn how to “think” like a lawyer, which means analyzing risks and identifying issues.  You focus more on what might go wrong, rather than want might go right.  This way of thinking actually hinders one’s ability to become a successful entrepreneur since risk-taking is such an integral part of starting a business.  In other words, a seasoned lawyer is far more likely to convince Howard Schultz that opening a chain of coffee shops named after some vague aquatic creature is idiotic rather than brilliant. 

So, if your goal is to start a business some day, then the answer to the question is simple: Go to business school, dude.  Don’t listen to your uncle, your father’s rich friend or your roommate’s second-cousin.  All of them will no doubt say something like, “A law degree is versatile.” Or, “Law school is a great training ground for business.” Trust me, they’re wrong.  Law school is a great training ground for being a lawyer.  Beginning, middle, end of story.  Those lawyers who end up becoming great businessmen do so in spite of—not because of—their legal training.  For the most part, anyway.  Sure, knowing the law helps a little bit on the margin, but it doesn’t make you a businessman. 

Years ago, I had an interview with a prominent New York investment firm. The first question the Boss asked was, “Why’d you go to law school?” With a hollow, confident smile, I said, “I thought it would be a great education and help me get into business some day.”

The Boss just stared at me for a few moments, and then cracked a contemptuous smile.  “That might be the dumbest fucking reason for going to law school I’ve ever heard.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

Go to Carnegie Mellon.

Got a question for Ex-Bitter?  Email it to .

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

35 Comments

  1. Al Veoli

    March 9, 2009 at 3:07 am

    Be careful.  If you wind up at law school, be prepared to face very competitive men and women.  Also, watch out for the women.  Most are bruisers, and are not even remotely attractive.  However, since they are in law schools, their daddies, who have sent them there because they could not find a husband in college, have told them they are “beauties”.  They are not, and it is only because of your own hormones and the fact they have “parts” (in the Frank Purdue sense), that they get some action.

  2. BL1Y

    March 9, 2009 at 4:47 am

    I completely disagree with Ex-Bitter.  I have first hand knowledge that a law school is not a great training ground for being a lawyer.  It will make you a lawyer, but not because of the fine training.  You will be a lawyer because your debt load (maybe not for this guy with the free ride, but the rest of us) will be so high you can’t afford to do anything else.

  3. Bill Dugan

    March 9, 2009 at 4:53 am

    I agree with Al.  Lawyers are viewed as money makers, especially now with bankers by the thousands on the street.  Thus, after being evicted from their I-bank boyfriend’s pads, some of the women who were “dating” (i.e. sleeping with) investment bankers are now looking for a new gig.  That is where the lawyers come in.  Although I have not, as yet, had direct contact with these top shelf babes, I do see them lurking around, looking for some new sugar daddies.  I don’t have the $ to attract them, but some young partners are, for the first time, getting some tail they’ve never had before.  Not sure how good that will turn out once the economy turns around, but for the time being, these guys are getting their clocks cleaned by some pretty women.

  4. BL1Y

    March 9, 2009 at 5:51 am

    Bill: I’ve been waiting for the banker groupies to defect, but haven’t seen any evidence that it’s happening.  The mood on the DABA Girls blog is more that they’re staying with their bankers and hoping that their man has some savings and the economy will rebound quickly.  I think it’s still too early in the recession for the girls to change loyalties.  Most will probably wait a couple months to see if it looks like their guy will be able to land a new job.  I think this fall is when things could really change.  The realities of our new economic state will have sunk in, a new crop of young college girls to compete against will have moved in, and there will be a fear of a tight-budgeted holiday season.

  5. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 6:50 am

    Dugan, BL1Y: Are you guys idiots?  Read the question!  The guy wants to start a business.  It’s not about money or Wall Street.  Simple question, emphatic answer.  The person who wrote in can take it or leave it.

  6. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Anonymous, if the dork wants to start a business, he should of course have the best looking babe he can find.  That means getting an education that will prepare him for business.  I think BL1Y and Dugan are merely reflecting on what degree will get him the best looking babe, who in turn will drive traffic to the business.  Now that you have some more insight, you should be in a position to understand why a good looking babe is essential for good business.

  7. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Brag about all your free education options much?  Wah!

  8. Alex Hump

    March 9, 2009 at 8:12 am

    BL1Y wasn’t kidding.  Check out this article about the beeotches that are hot on I-Bankers!  What a bunch of leeches!  Is there any hope left for us hardworking and honest JD’s with all of these gold-diggers?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/nyregion/28daba.html

  9. BL1Y

    March 9, 2009 at 8:30 am

    Actually, I think this guy should go to law school.  He “wants to start a business.” Of course he doesn’t say what sort of business, so that he could get any sort of useful advice.  Is the business a law firm?  A law degree would be helpful there.  Odds are he has no idea what sort of business he wants to start, probably just “something in the tech industry” or “internet related.” He’ll spin his wheels in a few dead end jobs, convincing himself that one day he’ll start up his own business, but he never will.  Better to just get a law degree, give up on your dream, and try to like doc review.

  10. BL1Y's Gurl-Friend

    March 9, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Go to B-School, and then I’ll have a choice. In case BL1Y peters out, I’ll have a B-School grad working for me.

  11. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 9:27 am

    BL1Y at 9:30:  I hope this is the fake BL1Y because that’s the dumbest post I’ve ever read.  You really think the business he wants to start is a law business?

  12. ME

    March 9, 2009 at 9:46 am

    BL1Y @ 9:30 – I wrote this question in.  Thanks for the kind, encouraging words.  Mentioning what type of business I want to start is kind of irrelevant for this advice column.  Though you’re right in that I may hate my future jobs, I’m honest with myself in admitting that you’ve got to a risk in life for a chance at making your own lot.  Again, thanks for the kind words.

  13. JD/MBA

    March 9, 2009 at 9:49 am

    ME: Go to B school, dude.  The person who wrote the answer to your question is dead on.  Law school is for lawyers, B school is for businessmen.  Good luck. 
    PS – BL!Y is a moron.

  14. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 9:53 am

    All of the BL1Y’s are idiots. Fake and real.

    End of story.

  15. BL1Y

    March 9, 2009 at 10:38 am

    @10:27: My point is that the kind of business he wants to start has a lot to do with what sort of school he should go to.  If he wants to open an architecture firm, a masters in engineering would be more helpful than an MBA.  If he wants to be a chef, a culinary arts program would be better than an MBA.  For some businesses law school might actually be better.  For many neither an MBA or a JD will be particularly useful.  The vague dream of “I want to own a business” is a damn silly dream to chase.  Unless you have some field you’re extremely passionate about, it’s better to take a safe, steady paycheck.

  16. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 10:46 am

    BL1Y@11:38:  Your argument gets weaker and weaker… Do you really think a guy smart enough to get scholarship offers at two different graduate schools would be dumb enough to think law or business school is the appropriate education to be a chef or an architect?  Like many bad lawyers, you’re building the classic “dumb” straw man argument to support your idiotic point of view. 
    Remember this, BL1Y: The first of rule of hole-digging is to put down the shovel.

  17. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Why aren’t the ladies weighing in.  Is it because it’s Monday, and they’ve tipped the scales eating all weekend?

  18. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 10:53 am

    PS—Leave BL1Y alone.  He’s the only one with 1/2 a brain around here, other than Dugan.

  19. BL1Y

    March 9, 2009 at 11:44 am

    @11:38: I got scholarship offers from two T10 law schools.  Now how smart do you think people with scholarships must be?

  20. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Who is BL1Y (below) responding to, himself?  If so, the threshold for getting a scholarship can’t be too high.  I suggest that BL1Y, if he wants to be a BL2Y, pay the same degree of attention to detail here, as he does to his somewhat attractive, if not, materialistic girlfriend.

  21. BL1Y

    March 9, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    @12:53: My bad.  It’s pretty clear I meant to reply to @11:46 though.  Also, can we leave the girlfriend out of this?  There’s plenty of stuff about me to make fun of without having to invent things about other people.  And also, we broke up.  She’s moving to the west coast for grad school.

  22. kh

    March 9, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    It sounds like this individual wants to start a business but either (a) needs something else to do until the economy turns around or (b) isn’t all that motivated so needs something else to do while he builds up the necessary motivation to start the business.  First off—spending 2-3 years in school is a terrible way to kill time.  You should really do something else with the time like get some work experience in areas that will help you start your own business or join the military for a couple of years to learn some motivation!
    However, if school is your only option, I have mixed advice.  First, law school will afford you better opportunity to actually get a decent paying job afterwards—even an unranked and likely crap school like UCI will turn out to be.  However, all of those jobs are law jobs so as long as you”want to be a lawyer” then you will be okay.  For everyone who thinks there are too many lawyers and too many law schools, it is actually much worse for b-schools.  Any idiot can get into and graduate from b-school and many many people have.

    Second, b-school is all about networking. I am the rare practicing lawyer that actually has an MBA and a JD (w/ business specialty) and I can tell you for certain that you won’t learn much in b-school.  Going to b-school is about networking so be sure that the school you are looking at is known for the specific specialty that you want (i.e. entrepreneurial skills rather than production line management) and make sure it is in the geographical area that you want to put down roots.

  23. Anon

    March 9, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    business school or law school?

  24. embeeyay

    March 9, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    After a semester of law school, I went for the MBA.  I second guessed myself throughout the transition mainly b/c it seemed like an intellectual step down.  Looking back that was such an asinine way of thinking.  B-school was refreshingly straight-forward.  All law student remember the 2 week lecture on the Erie-Doctrine and not really getting until they spent two hours with a good horn book.  Nothing really like that in b-school (perhaps learning Bayesian inference, but not really).

  25. Craig

    March 9, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Bitter lawyer is 100% correct in that law school teaches you nothing about starting a business. It barely gives you any training on how to be an actual, practicing attorney. Law school basically gives you the tools to succeed at being a lawyer, but the real training starts when you get a job. If you want to be a lawyer, go to law school. If you want to start a business, go to business school, or don’t go to school at all and put all your efforts into starting the business. Completely immersing yourself in the field of law for at least three years + would be counterproductive to your goal of starting your own business. Figure out what you really want to do, and then the decision will be easy.

  26. Anonymous

    March 9, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Go Craig.

  27. TBone

    March 10, 2009 at 6:43 am

    Craig is on the money uno mas.

  28. Anon

    March 12, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Shoot, I have an MBA, and even that’s generally worthless for starting a business.  The MBA can get you in the door at (some) big companies, but the small business world could care less.

  29. Amanda

    March 13, 2009 at 6:16 am

    I Heart Craig

  30. Craig

    March 13, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Do you want to bone, Amanda?

  31. cmu + law school grad

    March 13, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    know this – cmu grads all work in top firms in nyc. law school grads DO NOT HAVE JOBS.

  32. Craig

    March 13, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    That post below was clearly not written by me. And next time you try to imitate me, at least write something that somewhat resembles any of the other posts I have written. It might be more effective that way, or at least more funny.

  33. Amanda

    March 15, 2009 at 5:35 am

    Craig, I like the more direct approach and I do like sex.

  34. Miss Thang

    March 27, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Holy crap, I had not heard the word “hornbook” since I graduated law school; thanx for the unpleasant memories. Dude, only go for law school if you REALLY want to be a lawyer. Seriously.

  35. Stan

    April 14, 2009 at 11:16 am

    As someone who has a both a JD and an MBA I would say do neither if you want to start your own business. An MBA (and entrepreneurship courses) doesn’t teach you anything worthwhile about entrepreneurship. There is a huge world of difference between academic theory and real world experience.  A JD, as others have stated, is useful only if you want to be a lawyer. I’ve found that my JD has opened zero doors in the world of business and finance.

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