Cooley And Western Offering Joint Degree

June 4, 2008
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Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Western Michigan University have teamed together once again, this time to offer students a joint program through which they can earn both a juris doctorate degree from Cooley and a master’s of business administration degree from WMU’s Haworth College of Business simultaneously.

Don LeDuc, Cooley president and dean, said the two institutions partnered several years ago to offer a dual degree in public administration and law. The motivation to put together another cooperative program has been there since then, he said. The interrelationship between law and business keeps getting closer, LeDuc observed

“More and more often, business people have to understand the legal implications of the deals they get involved in, the terms of the agreements they make and the constraints that the law has placed on almost everything these days after Sarbanes Oxley,” LeDuc said. “The same is true the other way around: Lawyers that want to be business lawyers really need an understanding of business fundamentals.”

And, as the world gets flatter and flatter, companies that do business worldwide have international law implications, LeDuc said. The content overlap between law and business is just getting greater and greater, so the dual degree is a natural marriage of the two fields, he added.

“We believe that combining broad business and management education with a law degree can provide the competitive edge executives and attorneys need in a rapidly expanding global marketplace,” added William P. Weiner, associate dean of international programs at Cooley.

David Shields, Ph.D., dean of WMU’s business school, said business and legal education are extraordinarily complementary in the workplace. As he sees it, the law provides the context within which business people work. At the same time, business people have techniques, ways of approaching issues and institutional knowledge — such as how financial statements work — that lawyers don’t get in law school, he said. 

“Some of our business school graduates who have gone on to earn law degrees have become very, very successful, not just because of their business acumen but because they saw opportunities in specific areas of the law that they wouldn’t have seen if they weren’t practicing lawyers,” Shields said.

“Basically, every business has to work within the law and every attorney is in business.” 

The combined MBA/law degree will require 12 fewer credits than if the degrees were earned separately. As Shields explained, WMU’s business school grants its MBA students six elective credits toward their Cooley law degree, and Cooley grants its law students six elective credits toward their MBA from WMU. Students in the cooperative program will earn 45 credits toward their MBA from Western and 90 credits toward their law degree from Cooley. They can do all their course work at WMU and Cooley satellite schools in Grand Rapids.

LeDuc said when the two schools announced the new degree at a press conference on May 13, a couple of people had already found out about it and called Cooley that morning. Not every business student is going to have an interest in law, and not every law student is going to have an interest in business, LeDuc acknowledged.   

“But among those who are willing to stay the course, I think there’s going to be a fair amount of interest,” LeDuc noted “I think there’s going to be some dabbling involved, as well: People could get in it and then decide they’d like to try law. They’ll take a course or two, and if they like it, they’ll jump in.”

Shields has had experience with joint MBA/law degrees at other universities. He said typically 5 percent to 10 percent of students take advantage of those programs.

“It may be a small number of students, but for the student that this is right for, it will be a great opportunity.” LQX

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