The approximately 50 feet between the Owen Graduate School of Management and Vanderbilt Law School just shrunk a bit as the two schools launched a trans-institutional program that offers students the opportunity to earn a master of finance degree and a law degree at the same time.
Students in Vanderbilt’s new dual J.D./M.S.F. program spend their first two years at Vanderbilt Law School, then take a full semester at the Owen Graduate School of Business and finish with a final semester of both law and finance courses.
The program’s inaugural four students began their Owen portion at the start of the fall 2014 semester. All four were already working on their Vanderbilt law degrees when they were accepted into the one-year master of finance program.
For third-year law student Kevin Saunders, the program combines his two career passions, business and law. He comes from a third-generation family business and earned an undergraduate degree in accounting before deciding on Vanderbilt Law School. He had taken four credit hours at Owen as law electives when he heard that the J.D. and M.S.F. program was in the works.
“I was a huge proponent of the program when I found out about it,” he says. “I was already considering an externship with the SEC in Atlanta but decided to wait, just on the idea that this program might come to fruition.”
The program grew out of discussions between Dean Eric Johnson and Vanderbilt Law School Dean Chris Guthrie shortly after Johnson’s arrival last year. Both deans say that in addition to expanding education in business and law, the program expands a natural partnership between the two schools.
“Owen has long offered courses that introduced business students to legal issues and discussed specific areas of finance that relate heavily to law and legislation,” says Johnson, the Ralph Owen Dean and Bruce D. Henderson Professor of Strategy. “For lawyers heading to Wall Street, understanding markets is critical to building a successful career in financial service.”
Guthrie, who is also the John Wade-Kent Syverud Professor of Law, says that in addition to appealing to students interested in corporate law, the program’s specific finance focus will give them an added edge and opportunities. The J.D./M.S.F. builds on the law school’s existing Law and Business program, he noted, which includes basic principles of finance and accounting, business operations and today’s regulatory environment. That program offers law students a specialization certificate in business; the school also offers a joint J.D./MBA.
“I am excited to have the opportunity to partner with Owen and its terrific faculty, and I am very bullish on the opportunities this joint degree program will create for a select group of Vanderbilt Law students,” Guthrie says.
The J.D./M.S.F. dual degree was one of the fastest programs developed and launched at Vanderbilt. The deans conceptualized it in fall 2013, the curriculum was proposed by late winter 2014, and the degree was approved by both schools’ faculty and the provost in time to start accepting applications in April.
Going forward, interested students will apply to both programs separately and Owen and law school officials will meet to decide who they want to admit to the joint program. All prospective students have to take the GMAT as well as the LSAT and go through the same admissions process as other business and law school students.
Not for slackers
The new dual degree is rigorous, says Kate Barraclough, director of Vanderbilt’s M.S. Finance program. She leads the program and was charged with helping set it up and determining the business school curriculum.
“They’ll take some of our most challenging finance classes, the ones that are the more quantitative classes,” Barraclough says. “When we were putting together this degree—because it’s 24 credit hours opposed to 36 for a standard M.S.F.—we wanted to make sure all those credit hours really counted toward finance.”
The program kicked off in August with the J.D./M.S.F. students joining incoming M.S.F. students for an intensive two-week orientation. “We onboard them with a Finance Economics I class,” Barraclough says. “That’s kind of a level set for people who don’t have a finance background versus people that do—we do it very quickly in two weeks.” In mod I and II, they take the same classes as the M.S.F. students but also add an additional elective. “This is going to be a big mod for them because the typical load is four,” Barraclough says. “Taking five is a lot. It’s very intense.”
Worth the work
Barraclough says she’s interested in discovering how the class dynamic is different with the addition of the law students. “I think they bring a little more maturity,” she says, noting that most M.S.F. students are younger than the typical law student. “My sense from the law school early on in this process is that they feel that these are really some of their best students. It is an interesting mix—I have 41 M.S.F.s and four J.D./M.S.F.s.”
The four inaugural students see the value in having a master of finance degree as well as a law degree. Over the summer, Saunders completed a 10-week law internship with BakerHostetler in Cleveland. He worked on a variety of projects, including work involving project finance, mergers and acquisition, buyouts and IPOs. He feels that the J.D./M.S.F. will increase his knowledge and allow him to further relate to clients.
“Clients with law firms like lawyers that understand their business,” he says. “That was apparent to me even as a summer intern. The hard finance knowledge will really be valuable.”