Law Vs. Business: Who Wins The Jobs?

6a00e55044cbaf883401348007f076970c-250wiBusiness or law?


JD or MBA?

For many, it’s not an easy choice. But if you were deciding on nothing but landing a job right away, which is the better bet?

In recent years, of course, it’s become well known that the law of supply and demand has dealt a punishing blow to law school graduates. For years, schools have been producing far more lawyers than the economy either needs or wants. It hasn’t been so easy for MBAs, either. The economic implosion five years ago didn’t help either law school or business school grads. Placement rates for both plunged dramatically during the Great Recession.

A new analysis by, however, shows that compared to the top 25 law schools with the best placement records, business schools still have the advantage.  Some 15 of the 25 B-schools on the same campuses are placing more of their graduates than law at commencement.

Yet, the big surprise is that at the very top of the law school hierarchy, JDs are beating the MBAs when it comes to landing jobs by graduation. Consider the University of Virginia which in 2011 placed the highest percentage of its class at graduation in full-time jobs requiring the passage of the Bar: a whopping 97.3%. The equivalent number for UVA’s Darden School of Business was 81.5%–a difference of 15.8 percentage points. Even three months after graduation, the business types trailed the lawyers. At that point, 90.9% of Darden’s Class of 2012 had jobs (the discrepancy in years results from a delay in reporting these stats by law schools).

The lawyers trashed the MBAs in employment at graduation at ten of the 25 law schools with the best placement records, including at Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, UPenn, and Northwestern. In fact, what’s interesting is that the highest ranked law schools tended to beat the highest ranked business schools.

But as soon as you got past the top ten in law, the MBAs seemed to do much better. The business schools at Duke, Michigan, Cornell, Vanderbilt, Minnesota, Georgetown and Indiana all did a better job of getting their MBAs jobs at graduation than their law school counterparts.

At the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, for example, 82% of the Class of 2012 had jobs at commencement versus just 69.7% of the law school grads in 2011. Even nine months after graduation, only 76.1% of the JDs were employed. Three months after graduation, some 89.6% of the MBAs had jobs.

Getting a job immediately is a big deal these days, though it’s not the only thing to consider in this debate. Law school is three years long; business school is two years. So the opportunity cost of going to a law school is much larger, but most elite business schools also require two to five years of work experience and rarely take applicants directly from their undergraduate schools. On the other hand, JDs from the best schools who go into private practice start with median salaries of $160,000–considerably more than most MBAs.

(See the following page for our analysis)

  • Jerad Graham

    I’d like to see some information on not top-25 schools. This goes for more than just this articl. Most of the articles on the internet seem to focus on the elite schools, despite the fact that the reality for the large majority of the people wouldn’t be capable of attending top schools (JD or MBA) even if they tried. Additional note for readers: law school stats are delayed because studying for and taking the bar is a 3 month process, so reporting at 3 months out would be pointless.

    • JohnAByrne


      Me, too. We currently rank the top 50 but plan to expand to 100 relatively soon. It may also help to have regional rankings for the very point you make. Thanks for writing in.

    • Andrew P

      That’s a tough thing to do, I suspect the statistics would be dismal once you got out of the mainstream or elite schools.

      One of the main issues I think you might be trying to point to here is that too many schools (Whether for profit or not) try to sell a dream to students who will never attain it…. “Wow come to (Insert no name school here) get your MBA / JD and have a successful career making well over $100k/yr” Unfortunately most of the time you see students go back to their old careers or worse..

      Going along with your request above, I would challenge P&Q to develop an article about when it’s just not worth going to either (JD/MBA) and sticking with your current career. I know there have been articles in the past about specific individuals rationale “Why I’m not getting an MBA” but I’m talking hard data around those non-elite schools…

      Could be interesting!


      • JohnAByrne


        Funny you should say that. I just asked one of our staff writers to tackle the JD/MBA dual degree story this morning. Expect to have it in a week or so.


      • cONTRARIAN

        You might well be right, and it might just be the contrarian in me, but I suspect the opposite. Although there are exceptions, the focus in the more elite schools tends to be on working for a large law firm, where the nosedive in legal employment has occurred. But I wonder if the jobs aren’t in the tiny practices in the less urban areas, the kinds of places that might be served by the lower-tier schools. People are still getting arrested, making out wills, declaring bankruptcy, and having their taxes done, and small-town firms still have lawyers getting ready to retire and looking for new lawyers willing to take over their practices or pick up some of the work they would rather not do anymore. The salaries many of these small-town lawyers earn would stun law school grads (not to mention the lower cost of living).

  • Guest

    I don’t know if this is also a consideration for JDs, but at many of the top business schools it is common for people to leave with a goal of starting their own company or doing a network-based job search to get a job within a start-up company, which will take more time. Therefore, I think it’s possible some of the employment at graduation statistics for top MBAs are understated.

  • Correct Principles

    Everyone should know that the farther down the list of top tier schools you go the better an MBA compares to an JD. If you can’t get into a top 100 Law School you’re wasting your time going to another one with the exception of people picking up a law degree to compliment another job focus. Or if you plan on going into business for yourself. So if you are a mediocre student avoid Law School.

  • Gerry Battersby

    This doesn’t take into account the number of business school graduates going into entrepreneurial ventures. I suppose that might be out of scope given that this is about job placement, but it is worth noting.