Students enrolled in the HBS/HLS four-year joint degree program come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Many are interested in pursuing careers that operate at the intersection of business and law, and they seek to utilize the resources that are offered throughout the program. Reshma Lutfeali (JD/MBA 2021) and Viroopa Volla (JD/MBA 2021), co-presidents of the JD/MBA Association, offer their perspectives on the program and what they have learned about the HLS/HBS joint degree.
It’s a four-year program that gives you the full experience of being a student at Harvard Law School and a student at Harvard Business School.
Viroopa: What I am most surprised about being in the JD/MBA program is that I have had the experience of being a full-time law school student and a full-time business school student. If you apply to both graduate schools and get into both before the program starts, you can choose to spend your first year at either HBS or HLS and your second year of the program will be at the partner school. Since I chose to start at HBS, I spent time with my HBS section for the entire first year, and in the second year, I spent the majority of my time with my HLS section. The ability to build independent foundations at both schools from the very start differentiates the HBS/HLS joint degree from other joint degree programs where students might spend the first two years completely at the law school and then finish up at the business school.
Reshma: The JD/MBA program is set up so that from the very beginning, you get the full experience of being a student at both schools. No matter when they apply, students have to be independently admitted by both HLS and HBS and go through each school’s full application process. I applied to the joint degree program after I had already started law school. Trying to put together a full business school application during 1L was daunting—I remember rushing to my HBS interview from Property and almost being late—but well worth it. Both HLS and HBS offer strong first-year foundational experiences, and I’ve really appreciated being able to go through the full core curriculum and two summer internships before moving on to upper-level electives. For me, the immersive experiences have really paid off—every year, I’ve noticed major shifts in how I think and approach questions.
You will get very close to three different cohorts and the University as a whole.
Viroopa: I love that I get to spend time with three different sections—HBS, HLS, and JD/MBA. It’s a constant shuffle for me as I am pushed to think from three different perspectives. For me, a typical day starts out at HBS, where I hang out with my Elective Curriculum (EC) friends to discuss the latest ideas in the startup scene. Afterward, I head over to HLS where I am debating a recently issued statute interpretation from a Delaware bankruptcy judge with my 2L classmates. Finally, I end my day with my JD/MBA cohort, analyzing current events in the business and legal space. In addition, the program’s length allows us to develop connections across the rest of the University. Many of us are undergraduate house tutors, faculty research assistants and teaching fellows. Last spring, one of my favorite experiences was listening to Pforzheimer (one of the Harvard undergraduate residential Houses) graduating seniors present their theses. Not only did I learn about their remarkable research, but I pushed them to examine how they might use their research to advance ideas in business and law.
Reshma: Through the JD/MBA program, I feel as though I’ve gotten to add on a new section every year. Through the immersive first-year experiences of 1L and the Required Curriculum (RC), I’ve been able to build deep bonds with my two sections. I think I’m finally starting to understand how my parents feel when my sisters and I try to trick them into naming each of us as their favorite—members of both my HLS and HBS sections have tried to get me to claim theirs as my “real” section (especially when I’m wearing my jacket from my other section). Even though I was away from HLS for all of my section mates’ 2L year, I was included in section social events and welcomed back as a member of Section Six when I returned to HLS classes this past year. As a third year, I got to know my JD/MBA cohort as we crossed campuses together and met in the joint-degree seminar. Both my HLS and HBS sections just graduated, so as a fourth year, I’ll get to join a new HBS section for my final year, which I’m excited about. Going back and forth between the two schools has also helped push me outside the HLS and HBS bubbles to engage with the rest of the University.
You get to be part of a very close-knit group.
Viroopa: My favorite part of the program has been the diverse set of people that I have gotten to know. JD/MBAs come from all areas of life with prior experiences as business consultants, finance professionals, social entrepreneurs, community organizers, political activists, veterans, corporate managers, and legal analysts. Furthermore, we have unique interests and goals that we are pursuing. In my first year, we went to New York to meet with industry professionals. After meeting the CEO of HBO, I was surprised at how much of the cohort was interested in the entertainment and media industry, a space of great interest to me as well. We even scripted an idea for a TV show! I am very fond of my peers, and in the EC and upper-level law school classes, we often form teams for group projects and papers. Another event that brings us together is the JD/MBA End-of-the-Year Celebration, which sends off graduating members. This event and other traditions help us keep in touch well after the program.
Reshma: I agree—the JD/MBAs are some of my favorite people at both HLS and HBS. In the first two years, I spent most of my time with my sections, and so it was really exciting in my third year to basically get to know a new section in the form of my JD/MBA cohort. We’re amongst the smaller of the joint degree programs, and it’s possible to get to know everyone in the cohort, even though the only class we all have together is the biennial seminar. Both HLS and HBS have a lot to offer in terms of extracurricular activities, and JD/MBAs tend to be heavily involved in student organizations, journals, and clubs at both schools. We’re a group with pretty eclectic interests, and through both the formal seminar and the informal one we put together on off years, I’ve learned about new areas of the law, business ideas my peers are considering, and research they are conducting. Our alumni are doing everything imaginable in the law and business worlds, and while I haven’t yet been able to go on a JD/MBA retreat, I’ve gotten to talk to healthcare leaders, union leaders, and startup founders in fairly intimate settings at speaker events.
The program enables us access to the full range of resources at HLS and HBS.
Viroopa: The support you get from both schools cannot be replicated with any other experience. It is so diverse and overarching that you really feel that you can achieve anything that you are passionate about. The most helpful conversations have been with the wonderful faculty at both schools. Whether it’s questions about your career, personal development, or understanding course content, the professors at both schools invest the time to give you tailored, actionable advice. I have discussed with my HLS professors how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act impacts corporate taxation, and I have chatted with my HBS professors about minimizing supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19. No other program gives you the depth and ability to connect with world renowned experts who are passionate about teaching and disseminating knowledge.
Reshma: Whatever your area of interest, there are clubs, alumni, and research at both HLS and HBS that relate to it. Being able to access the full suite of resources at both schools makes it possible to approach topics from multiple perspectives and tailor inputs to your exact interests. The JD/MBA program also provides a unique opportunity to access the practical and clinical resources available at both schools. At HLS, I was involved in the Mississippi Delta Project, a student practice organization, during my 1L year and will be part of a clinic this year. At HBS, I was able to travel to Accra, Ghana as part of the FIELD Global Immersion program during my first year. This access also extends to student-planned career and international treks. Over the winter term, JD/MBAs are able to participate in supplemental coursework and writing, including Short Intensive Programs (SIPs), Immersive Field Courses (IFCs), writing programs, and independent clinics.
It’s a remarkably versatile degree that gives you a great amount of flexibility.
Viroopa: What I have taken away from the program is that JD/MBAs follow a wide variety of careers after graduation. It makes you think about different ways that sectors are integrated across the economy and lets you move between legal and business careers. You can pursue careers in the private, public, and non-profit sectors as well as the government. The flexibility built into the program gives you three chances at exploring summer internships. For my first summer, I worked in India in broadcast media. I spent my second summer in New York in bankruptcy and restructuring. There is always a club, activity, or a group of friends at either school that I can reach out to. The diversity is most apparent when I see that alums from the program have career paths that run independent of one another just five to ten years from graduation.
Reshma: The flexibility inherent in the JD/MBA has made it possible for me to explore new industries and passions that I might not otherwise have been as deeply exposed to or had time to explore. I came into the program with a background in healthcare and an interest—but no experience—in tech. Knowing that I had an extra summer emboldened me to take more risks when looking for summer internships, and I tried out a new industry (fintech) and a new city (San Francisco) during my 1L summer. During the summer after my first HBS year, I was able to split my time between a healthcare startup in New York and blockchain startup in Berlin. Especially during my startup internships, I was able to cross over and help out with legal work, even though my main roles were business-focused. Having the extra summer has helped me explore new industries and test out a few different theories about what I want to do long term.