Can a Harvard Law student become an investment banker?

How does the Harvard MBA view the Harvard Law Student who really wants a i-banking/analyst job at JP Morgan? Also, would you say that a business/corporate lawyer/law student has the necessary skills for competition in the investment arena? If you believe that they are capable of pulling this off, is there some kind of cut off of as per the quality (ranking) of law school for this kind of thing or not? What do you think of JD/MBAs?”

The Harvard MBA says:

It must be the time of year when people try to decide on college, grad school, and careers.  A lot of school-related questions this week! Fortunately for you, a JD from a top law school is rarely going to be viewed as a negative by any employer.  After all, you were probably a top undergrad three years ago; it’s not like your time at Harvard Law School has somehow destroyed your native intellect.

On the other hand, there are many employers for whom an HLS degree is only a minor positive.  For example, if you end up going to an investment bank, you’ll probably need to enter at the same level as the undergrads, rather than getting the full MBA treatment.  The reason is simple–the i-banks know that they can count on the MBAs understanding the basics of accounting, finance, financial modelling, and so on–they’ve just spent two years crunching numbers.  You’ll need all the same training as the undergrads, so you can’t be immediately productive.  You’ll still get more of the benefit of the doubt than the undergrads, especially if your manager wants a “legal guy” to check out an agreement, but (alas) you’d have been better off with two years at HBS.

If you can get a Harvard JD/MBA, I think you should.  The JD/MBA is a powerful combination–it shows that you can hack the rigors of law school, but have the business sense and managerial skills of an MBA.  One of my very good friends earned his BA, JD, and MBA from Stanford.  McKinsey was delighted to hire him despite his lack of work experience, and he later become one of the youngest people ever to make partner at McKinsey.

As for cutoff points, I think that the banks will look at your “most prestigious” degree when deciding whether or not to consider your candidacy.  For example, if you were a Harvard undergrad, and went to a second-tier law school, you might still make it.  Same holds true if you went to a second-tier undergrad program, but graduated from Harvard Law.

If you don’t have at least one degree from one of the Top 25 schools, it will make your life a lot harder.  For example, at D. E. Shaw, we had a written list of 25 schools we would recruit from.  If you didn’t go to one of those schools, you were out of luck.

One final word of caution–if you do get your i-banking job, there is a danger that your JD will pigeonhole you as “the legal guy”.  Make sure that your law degree doesn’t become a crutch.  Prove your value in non-legal ways, or you’ll find yourself typecast.


  1. Brett
    Posted April 22, 2008 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who is very curious as to what 25 schools made the list. You’re not going to tell me though, are you? LOL!

  2. admin
    Posted April 22, 2008 at 6:49 pm | Permalink


    I can’t remember the exact list now, but it was essentially the following:

    Ivy League
    UC Berkeley/UCLA
    CMU (Carnegie Mellon)
    UIUC (U Illinois Urbana Champaign)
    UT Austin

    I can’t remember the Russian universities, but they certainly figured into it.

  3. Commoner
    Posted April 29, 2008 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    It certainly is that time of year. I am beginning to think that my choice will boil down to UCLA/Northwestern, (perhaps also UVA/Penn) with a chance for a JD/MBA at UCLA. I seriously doubt that Northwestern will let me into their # year JD/MBA. My second question for you is this: My undergrad is a little known school from which I received a respectable though non-business oriented degree with a high GPA. The lure of law school is a respectable, stable degree/career path, and I doubt that with my undergrad I could get into a very good 2 year MBA program. I am beginning to doubt my self-assuredness of wanting to attend law school, despite it being the more obvious choice for me. Thanks for answering my questions though. I appreciate it.

  4. admin
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 4:38 pm | Permalink


    I think leveraging UCLA law school to get into their JD/MBA program is an excellent strategy. Anderson is a well-respected program, and their graduates do very well, even outside the LA area.

    When you throw in the fact that Chicago winters are notoriously unpleasant, I think the decision becomes an easy one!

  5. Tim
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Although there is much discussion on the benefits of lawyers having an MBA, what is the value of a JD/MBA for someone uninterested in practising law but who wants the legal background? Is it worth the additional time and money?

    Now what if the joint degree could be obtained for $15K because of government subsidization? I am a resident of Quebec and can obtain a joint MBA/Law degree from McGill University for ~$15K because of government subsidization. Other Canadian residents can obtain the degree for $30K.

  6. admin
    Posted May 6, 2008 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    The short answer is, a JD/MBA is pretty useless for practicing law, but is very useful for the business world. I don’t think the JD is worth the additional time and money unless you really want the background, or it helps you get into an MBA program you otherwise wouldn’t be able to enroll at.

    Canadian education is a tremendous bargain–I’d definitely encourage you to go for a Canadian program versus a very expensive US one.

    It strikes me that the right decision (JD or not) depends on your level of risk tolerance. A law degree provides a certain kind of safety net, both because it increases the pool of available jobs you might take, and because it helps you avoid making poor business decisions. The question is, how do those benefits compare to the additional cost and time required to add that JD. I’ll note that the Web site is “AskTheHarvardMBA” not “AskTheHarvardJDMBA”!

  7. Srima
    Posted July 24, 2008 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I think you forgot Duke on that list.

  8. Posted July 28, 2010 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    I’m going to have to strongly disagree that if you get a law degree you will enter an investment bank at the same level as the undergrads.

    Many of the senior level management at investment banks went to law school, not business school. Additionally, while ibanks may not traditionally recruit at law schools, the transactional skill set you learn in law school is clearly useful in the banking context.

    You can read more about successful bankers and a legal education here:

  9. mk
    Posted January 19, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    by any chance do you recall the russian universities names?

  10. sir
    Posted May 16, 2011 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    northwestern, Georgetown, Duke, UVA, Amherst, Williams, Chicago get the snub?

  11. UVA Undergrad
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    Dear Admin,

    I’m currently an undergraduate student studying English at UVA. I have an associates degree in Business Administration. For my Bachelors, I had decided to pursue English in hopes that I would have a better chance at getting into Harvard Law School. Now, I’m thinking I want to just continue an MBA in Business or Finance. What are the chances I would be accepted into Harvard MBA Business School, if I am coming from UVA College of Arts and Sciences?

  12. admin
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    UVA Undergrad,

    Your undergrad major won’t matter as much as your work experience. As long as you do well at UVA and then get some good work experience under your belt, the major won’t matter.

  13. Felyne Gonzales
    Posted September 14, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    So if I graduate in the program BS in Accountancy in De La Salle University (which is in the Philippines), it’s unlikely that I’d be accepted in the Harvard JD/MBA program?

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