Joint Degrees

October 15, 2010

S.S., 1L

In addition to being a 1L, I’m also pursuing my Ph.D. in economics (focused on development and education) at another university. Joint degrees are pretty common here, but they come in all different forms. My experience is going to differ substantially from someone pursuing the three year J.D./M.B.A. at Yale, since we face different time frames and academic and professional priorities. For example, J.D./M.B.A.s may be more likely to work in the private sector as opposed to J.D./Ph.D.s, who are on a more traditionally academic route.

That being said, a joint degree can be a way for you to carve your own path (or so I’m hoping!). After spending a lot of time on public interest issues in the United States as well as with assorted NGOs in South Asia, I have a practical desire to understand international law and how corporate social responsibility is adjudicated. One great thing about Yale is that if I end up at a grassroots organization in the developing world, I likely don’t have to worry about my law school debt because of our loan forgiveness program called COAP. In other words, I don't need to become a highly-paid professor to financially justify my choice of a joint degree. Yale is also the only law school I know of that has a transnational development clinic so it fits perfectly with my interests.

Since Yale students have such diverse interests, the school allows you to design a joint degree that is a combination of a J.D. and a degree from another Yale school, or to combine the J.D. at Yale with a degree of some kind from another university. In either case, the student must apply to and be admitted to both schools independently and then petition to get credit for a joint degree. Administrators at each school then help sort out the details of credit transfer, when to be "in residence" at each school, etc. Students whose interests lead them to choose the option of pursuing a joint degree with another university might find that joint degrees can sometimes feel a bit disjointed (no pun intended!), since they are pursuing degrees at different institutions with different schedules, policies, and administrators. The different programs' professors may not know each other, and a field like development economics doesn’t have a natural niche within American law (as opposed to financial securities or labor and employment). Also, at an academically-focused place like Yale, one can blindly follow a path of accumulating more credentials. I don’t have any inherent objection to that, but I think it is important for anyone thinking about a joint degree to carefully consider whether or not it is a good fit with their own goals.

Overall, I enjoy being a joint degree student because I think I bring a unique perspective to the law, and I also don’t feel compelled to look at social issues, institutions, and the law in the same way that my law professors look at them. Some people might find it hard to justify the opportunity cost of a joint degree, but for people who have specific passions (environmental issues, science and policy, economic development), it can make a lot of sense and really change the way you approach law and law school.