A Harvard program immerses students in legal and business training
By Jeri Zeder
Gerald Storch J.D./M.B.A. ’82 was barely into his first semester of law school when he realized that, for him, something was missing. Storch had majored in government and economics at Harvard College, and he sensed that the court cases he and his classmates were studying had economic underpinnings that were being left largely unexplored. “I started thinking it would be very helpful to being a good lawyer to make sure that I understood the complete economic and business background behind matters that were brought forth,” Storch recalls. So, he decided to enroll in the joint J.D./M.B.A. program, which would give him degrees from both Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School.
Today, Storch is chair and CEO of Toys “R” Us, a Fortune 200 company. He says that his ability to think like a lawyer and also like a businessman has served him throughout his career. He describes it this way: Roughly speaking, he deeply analyzes problems with his legal side, and he acts decisively on facts, instinct, and judgment with his business side. “Analytically, I believe that you tend to dig in and hone in more deeply because of the legal background than you would with just a business background,” he says.
Since the joint J.D./M.B.A. program’s creation 43 years ago, about 450 people in the world have participated, presidential candidate Mitt Romney J.D./M.B.A. ’75 among them. Others include criminal defense attorney Ted Wells J.D./M.B.A. ’76 and the late investment banker Bruce Wasserstein J.D./M.B.A. ’71.
In 1969, when Harvard Law School Dean Derek Bok ’54 initiated a joint-degree program with Harvard Business School, there were no other joint programs available at Harvard. Today there are about 20, about a quarter of them involving HLS. (See sidebar.)
According to Professor Emeritus Detlev F. Vagts ’51, who ran the program from its inception until 2005, the impetus for the joint J.D./M.B.A. program was to draw the Law School closer to the University, and to help keep the Law School grounded in real-world issues. There was also a growing sense that, in an increasingly complex world, many important issues implicated both law and business questions.
But for some, the idea of a joint degree took some getting used to. Jay W. Lorsch, professor of human relations at the Business School, is now an enthusiastic co-teacher with Law School faculty of courses geared toward both J.D. and M.B.A. students, but in the early days of the J.D./M.B.A. program, he wondered whether students were just hedging their bets. “As I got more experience working with these students and thought about it more, I realized there is a role for people who understand both the law and business,” he says. Lorsch approves of interdisciplinary education in general. “The more we work together as a university to help young people to broaden their professional backgrounds,” he says, “I think the better it is.”
The J.D./M.B.A. Program in a nutshell
Whereas it takes three years to get a J.D. and two years to get an M.B.A., it takes four years to graduate with the joint degree. Students must apply separately to HLS and HBS and then, if accepted at both, apply to the program. In the first two years, students consecutively complete the first full year of law school and the first full year of business school—the order doesn’t matter—and then take a mix of courses from both schools in the final two years. Two seminars are geared specifically toward the J.D./M.B.A. students. One occurs during the first two years to foster early interdisciplinary integration, and the other is meant to be a capstone experience for third- and fourth-year students. The seminars pull together law and business concepts from across the two schools and engage students in issues faced by corporate and organizational leaders. In one recent session, for example, Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey discussed with 10 first- and second-year students the challenges and opportunities that he faces in his efforts to “reinvent” the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
The program’s current director, Professor of Law and Business Guhan Subramanian J.D./M.B.A. ’98, is himself a graduate of the joint program, and the first person to hold tenured faculty positions at both Harvard schools. “I think that part of my joint appointment was about building better bridges between Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School,” he says.
Those bridges span not only the Charles River, which separates the two campuses, but two distinct methodologies. Painting with a broad brush, Subramanian describes the Law School as teaching analytical rigor, and the Business School as teaching judgment. However, says Subramanian, who teaches negotiations and corporate law at HLS and courses on corporate deal-making and corporate governance at HBS, that distinction has always been blurry, and gets blurrier all the time. “What I think is interesting is that the two schools are converging,” he says. “Judgment is an elusive thing, but Harvard Law School is grappling with how to teach it effectively, and the Business School is moving toward analytical methods in some of its coursework.” Each school, he says, is drawing on the best of the other’s methods.
For students, having feet in both schools means experiencing distinct academic cultures and approaches. Most famously, each school has its own version of the “case method.” At HLS, that means delving into appellate court cases with the strong guiding hand of a Socratic professor. At HBS, it means student-dominated class discussions of case studies—realistic descriptions of business challenges that real-world executives might face. Other differences: HLS students tend to be younger than HBS students; HBS heavily emphasizes career development, professional networking and social cohesion, whereas HLS emphasizes academic-oriented extracurriculars (law reviews, for example) and experiential learning opportunities. The schools are similar, however, in the enormous wealth of their offerings. “The J.D./M.B.A. program puts into very sharp relief the question, What do you want to do?” says Conor Tochilin J.D./M.B.A. ’13, who is serving as the 126th president of the Harvard Law Review. “You have to be thoughtful about what classes you take, how you focus academically, how you focus extracurricularly, how you spend your time. There’s a lot of choice.”
Graduates report that there is no job that requires a J.D./M.B.A. But the degree seems to prepare them to tackle almost anything they set their sights on. Alumni have found homes in nonprofits, labor unions, corporate law, banking and investment, private equity, and more. “People have done a range of things with the degrees, including academics, which is, I think, testimony to the value of the joint program,” says Professor of Law Howell Jackson J.D./M.B.A. ’82.
Damon Silvers J.D./M.B.A. ’96 has made his career as a lawyer. He is the policy director and special counsel at the AFL-CIO and special assistant attorney general of New York (pro bono). He has also been, among other things, deputy chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP, member of the SEC’s investor advisory committee and the labor movement’s chief labor lawyer during the Florida recount in 2000. The degree’s value to him? “In my career, when I’ve been presented with legal problems, I’ve had a sense of what business thinking might have produced them. And when I look at a business problem, I think about what are the legal consequences of this behavior,” he says. “I think if you talk to people who have worked with me over the past 15 years, they’ll say that’s what I do.”
Since initiating the joint J.D./M.B.A., HLS has formed interdisciplinary programs with the School of Public Health; in public policy and in public administration in international development with the Kennedy School; and in urban planning with the Graduate School of Design. The Law School also offers a degree program allowing J.D. students to earn Ph.D.s through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Another program lets J.D. students earn degrees from other graduate schools, both at Harvard and elsewhere.
Iris Chen J.D./M.B.A. ’02 works in the nonprofit sector. She’s president and CEO of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, which helps students in low-income communities enter and complete college. She had always wanted to study law. After working at Teach For America in a management role shortly after graduating from college, she added the M.B.A. because she wanted to bring best business practices to the world of nonprofits and education: “It leads to greater options, greater possibilities and smarter solutions.” She feels that her background in both disciplines enhances her ability to connect with a broad range of people and organizations. The joint degree has also proved to be a useful “brand.” “The J.D./M.B.A. serves as a great stamp,” Chen says. “People don’t think you’re a softy. It overcomes whatever stereotypes people have about nonprofits.”
Roy Ben-Dor J.D./M.B.A. ’11, an associate with the global private equity investment firm Warburg Pincus, matches Chen’s enthusiasm for the program, where he says he “met great people and [worked] with great professors,” but has had a different experience with how the credential is received. Ben-Dor found that the law firms he interviewed with unhesitatingly welcomed the M.B.A. In contrast, prospective business employers would question why he went to law school and how his legal education was relevant to the job he was seeking. They also wondered about the degree’s comparative value: “For most business employers, and certainly for the subset I interviewed with, there tend to be targeted types of backgrounds. Generally speaking, J.D./M.B.A.s will have sacrificed on some portion of that background in order to obtain the J.D.,” Ben-Dor says.
Raymond J. McGuire J.D./M.B.A. ’84, Citi’s global head of corporate and investment banking, contends that holding a J.D./M.B.A. from Harvard will always put you ahead. “I don’t think there’s ever a disadvantage to being exposed to the best in the world of academics. This program gives you that exposure,” he says. “It will always distinguish those who have done it.” His own J.D./M.B.A. education has given him “a larger mainframe” to access, he says. And for McGuire, another benefit has been the camaraderie that develops when a small group of students go through the rigors of a special program together. “There is a bond that is created as a result of the experience,” he says.
That bond develops at least in part because of the nature of the joint J.D./M.B.A. program, and is nurtured well beyond graduation. Lawrence E. Golub J.D./M.B.A. ’83, CEO of Golub Capital, heads the Harvard J.D.-M.B.A. Alumni Association, which he founded in 1988. He says, “It takes an unusual sort of person to be qualified for the J.D./M.B.A. program, and it takes an unusual sort of person to want to do it.” Toss those people together in an intensive, stressful, shared experience; take into account that by year four, all the regular business and law students they’ve known have graduated; and they are bound to be close.
Asked what kind of student would benefit most from the J.D./M.B.A., Gerald Storch, the Toys “R” Us CEO, says that the best candidate is someone who loves learning, has a flexible mindset, and looks positively on the disparate cultures and approaches of the Law School and the Business School. “The only other thing I would say,” Storch advises, recalling the wintery walk between the two campuses, “is get a very good coat. I remember freezing as that wind whipped down the frozen Charles and I’d think, I should have brought a hat.”
Interdisciplinary collaborations on the rise
Since the founding of the joint J.D./M.B.A. program 43 years ago, the boundaries between Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School have grown more porous. Evidence of this is visible in the growing number of courses co-taught by HLS and HBS faculty, in the rise of cross-school course registration by HLS and HBS students, and in the proliferation of HLS/HBS co-sponsored symposia, conferences, and other events. Guhan Subramanian J.D./M.B.A. ’98 and Mihir Desai (Harvard M.B.A.  and Ph.D.  in political economy) hold tenured faculty positions at both schools.
It is also evident in the growth at Harvard in law-and-business scholarship, which often involves cross-school faculty collaborations.
One example is the research Subramanian is doing with HBS Professors Bo Becker and Daniel Bergstresser on the subject of “shareholder proxy access,” a hot topic in corporate governance. Proxy access gives shareholders the right to put their own candidates on a company’s proxy statement. The question is, Is that a good idea? Traditional legal scholarship typically employs qualitative analysis to address the issue. Subramanian, Becker and Bergstresser, in contrast, use econometric models to gather evidence about proxy access and its economic impact. Relying on an example from the securities markets, they estimate that on average, proxy access creates approximately $80 billion of wealth among the S&P 500 companies. Their findings have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and other mainstream outlets, and are getting notice from shareholder activists who are gearing up for the 2013 proxy season. The research, which will appear in The Journal of Law and Economics and in the Harvard Business Law Review, not only brings important new information to legal and business analysts, but has also yielded methodological improvements in financial analysis—outcomes that advance the study of both law and business.
The connections between HLS and HBS are part of the larger phenomenon of interdisciplinary work all over campus. And interdisciplinary scholarship is likely to grow as holders of dual and joint degrees continue to enter academia. Expect to see more of that at Harvard Law: “There is definitely an increasing presence of faculty members doing interdisciplinary work, and dual degrees are common,” says HLS Dean Martha Minow.