A strategic pursuit: Benefits of earning an MBA and a JD
By Brian M. Balduzzi, Esq., Two-Year MBA ’18
The decision to pursue a JD and an MBA is not a new or novel one; arguably, it is one of the more popular degree combinations. Almost every top-15 business school has a dual-degree JD/MBA program with some offering a four-year joint program and others offering a three-year program. I took a slightly different trajectory: Rather than completing a dual-degree program, I earned my JD first and then my MBA in a total of 5 years, and I would not have done it any other way.
I completed my JD (and Tax LLM) at Boston University School of Law. This pursuit began when I was a teacher and I was looking to become an advocate for children and families (specifically, lower-income and survivors of domestic violence). My legal journey took me to tax, corporate law, and estate planning; I love telling that story, so ask me if you want to know. I completed two law/business school classes, Corporate Finance and Mergers & Acquisitions, that first piqued my interest for the potential of a business school education. After working for an accounting firm and then a law firm as a tax and estate planning attorney, I realized that my passion for my clients extended beyond the legal drafting and advising, and incorporated their business, investments, and families. The hybrid of having skills from a JD and an MBA would be essential for becoming the practitioner and advisor that I wanted to be. Johnson was an ideal place for me to build upon and explore the necessary skills to succeed in my future career.
A JD program offers a lot of strategic and life-long benefits, but three lessons remain with me as I finish my MBA studies:
1. Spot legal constraints for great business ideas.
You do not need to complete a full SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis to understand that legal and regulatory constraints exist throughout any business environment and across industries. A JD education prepares you to anticipate those constraints, ask important questions, and maneuver (legally) through a changing legal landscape. When I join a team project at Johnson, I can always offer expertise in how the law interacts with whatever industry or business we are discussing.
2. Read for understanding, read for impact.
While a MBA education emphasizes action and implementation over reading for content, to propose strong ideas and create clear strategies, you need to read about the industry or business. Law school prepares you to read dense tomes quickly and efficiently. It also helps you keep organized notes, deliver succinct summaries, and integrate readings into a broader context.
3. Provide critical thinking and logical recommendations.
One of the best aspects of a strong legal education is the ability to construct arguments and apply logic to any problem. There is a reason that two of the most creative and respected people at the Johnson School, Professor Risa Mish and Office of Diversity and Inclusion Director Jamie Joshua, are former practicing attorneys. Like other JD students, they exercise strong problem-solving skills, develop and utilize frameworks for decision-making, and explain themselves with excellent communication.
A JD education does not exist alone, and a MBA program offers complementary tools and skills:
1. Collaborate on ideas and implement strategies.
A JD program might emphasize learning the law and extrapolating to future novel or emerging concepts, but the MBA program puts theory into practice daily. Even the most doctrinal classes, like Managerial Finance or Intermediate Accounting, require that you master the basics quickly and efficiently, and practice applying these concepts on real-world business problems. You cannot learn or manage everything, however. While JD students can be seen huddling over their casebooks in the library, MBA students are busy collaborating in study rooms, building slide decks and financial models together. A lawyer does not know the answer to everything, and perhaps the most useful approach is learning from the wisdom of someone who holds a MBA.
2. Learn and speak the business lingo.
One of my biggest surprises in business school was learning how each industry and discipline has its own terminology. You can easily become lost in a sea of acronyms or jargon. You become that much more credible in business if you know and can use some of the same words that people have been using for decades. While not everyone believes in industry speak, if you want to exist in the room, sometimes it helps to know and use the same language.
And here’s my biggest lesson:
3. A JD and an MBA help bridge the gaps among laws, economies, and societies.
My education at Johnson and at Cornell has been enriched by understanding how emerging markets are shaped by their laws (or lack thereof, or emergence of such); how sustainability can be solved only to a point by increased regulation and that business initiatives have a purpose; and that leadership, at all levels and through increased communication about the law, industries, and impacts on societies, creates possibilities for change and improvement.
I went to law school wanting to impact change in society; I went to Johnson because I knew the immersive, interdisciplinary and collaborative approach would enrich my understanding of the world and its influences; and now I graduate ready to use the integration of these skills and experiences to improve client and societal experiences and interactions with financial institutions. A JD paired with an MBA can offer a unique hybrid of knowledge with important skills and training to tackle some of business and society’s greatest challenges. All you need is time.
About Brian M. Balduzzi, Esq., Two-Year MBA ’18
Brian is Roy H. Park Leadership Fellow, Environmental Finance & Impact Investing Fellow, Emerging Markets Institute Fellow, and Graduate Teaching Assistant Fellow at Johnson. He holds both a JD and Tax LLM from Boston University School of Law with extensive tax experience at both law and accounting firms, and is a proud graduate of SUNY Geneseo, summa cum laude, with a degree in English, secondary education, and theatre. Brian has served as an adjunct tax and business law professor for graduate-level coursework and has leveraged his unique leadership skills on multiple boards of directors for the arts, LGBTQ activism, non-profit and pro bono legal work, and domestic violence advocacy. After graduation in May 2018, Brian will be moving to Philadelphia to work in a chief of staff role with Wilmington Trust Company.