By Gwyneth K. Shaw
Ben Adler ’21 was already a 1L at Berkeley Law when he decided to pursue an MBA. He looked no further than across the UC Berkeley campus, to the Haas School of Business.
“I committed to Berkeley Law because of its location in the center of the tech and entrepreneurship universe, its state-school camaraderie and school spirit, and its laid-back students who enjoy each other’s company as much as learning the law,” Adler says. “Conveniently, Haas has the same attributes, and so applying exclusively to Haas, and not shopping for other MBA programs, was an easy decision.”
Now a first-year associate at Gunderson Dettmer LLP, which focuses on emerging companies and venture capital legal work, Adler sees many overlaps between his degrees in his work as a startup lawyer. Being able to talk at a high level about business and legal decisions around product, fundraising, management, and more lets him make a bigger impact.
Getting a J.D. and an MBA also gave Adler an arsenal of complementary skills — some extremely technical, others more subtle.
“Haas taught me skills like how to create sustainable, positive organizational change or how to motivate my peers or clients through effective storytelling,” Adler says. “I think the combination of soft skills I learned at Haas and critical thinking and writing skills I gained from Berkeley Law is going to make all the difference for me in my career.”
Going back for an MBA after several years practicing law sounded daunting on a number of levels, Adler says, from finances to family and work commitments. So being able to complete both degrees before starting his career had great appeal.
Berkeley’s is a true dual-degree program, allowing students to enjoy the best of both worlds. Adler completed two years of law school, then moved over to Haas with a traditional MBA cohort, mixing and matching courses to drill deeply into how venture capital and emerging companies work.
Adler says the ability to become deeply ingrained in the Berkeley ecosystem, especially in the areas of entrepreneurship and venture capital, made him feel like he was already an expert when he started his MBA.
“I loved being able to apply legal knowledge from Securities, Venture Finance, or Fund Formation at Berkeley Law to business and strategy discussions in Entrepreneurship or VC/PE at Haas,” he says. “Having my entire universe of friends on campus and within 100 yards of each other made for an amazing learning environment.”
A growing appeal
The number of dual-degree students is the highest it’s been in years, according to Eric Askins, executive director of full-time MBA admissions at Haas. Five law students are currently enrolled at Haas. Four Berkeley Law students, and two more from the UC Hastings School of Law, will enter there this fall; another Berkeley Law student will begin in the 2023 fall semester and there’s considerable interest from prospective candidates for future enrollment cycles.
“One of the strongest value propositions for the Haas School is our Berkeley advantage — the combined strength of our top-tier programs across the campus community. The JD/MBA is a reflection of that interdisciplinary strength,” Askins says. “These candidates bring law school-informed perspectives to the MBA classroom, broaden the networking opportunity for their classmates, and develop a unique profile for professional opportunities.”
Building interest in the program has been a priority for Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, recently appointed to a second five-year term.
“Berkeley Law is one of the very top programs in the country for law and business. One aspect of this is our terrific JD/MBA program,” Chemerinsky says. “I am delighted that together with the Haas School of Business we have been able to significantly increase our enrollment in this important program.”
The dual degree is particularly appealing to students interested in the booming technology sector.
That’s a lot of what attracted Aaron Altman ’24, who will begin MBA classes this fall, in addition to Berkeley Law’s focus on the public interest and how law and business can impact society. He says the best thing about law school so far has been the wide range of business law classes the school offers, from regulatory schemes for cryptocurrency to how corporations manage crises.
With an undergraduate degree in economics and law, Altman — interested in securities and corporate litigation — relishes the thought of the MBA program filling gaps in his knowledge.
“I’m most excited for the Haas program to get the business perspective on the many issues I have learned about in law school,” he says. “I’m eager to take off my legal hat and put on a business one, which may be challenging but very rewarding.”
While planning to practice as an attorney, Altman chose the dual degree because he feels the MBA will help him understand his future clients’ business better, be a better advocate, and expand his network.
“I believe pursuing the MBA will give me flexibility — and credibility — down the road if I ever want to switch to a more business-oriented role,” he says.
A stronger skill set
Alyssa Kewenvoyouma ’22, an Arizona native who is Hopi and Navajo, has a background in the finance sector and came to Berkeley Law as a Berkeley Center for Law and Business Scholar. She’s been very active in Berkeley’s chapter of the National Native Law Students Association and the Native American Legal Assistance Project, a Student-Initiated Legal Services Project, and wants to represent Tribal communities when she finishes her degrees.
“I chose a dual degree because I wanted a skill set that would ensure I am the best advocate I can be for Tribal communities,” she says. “The JD/MBA program at Berkeley has enabled me to learn how business and law can be leveraged together to further Indigenous sovereignty and economic development.”
It’s a challenge taking law and MBA courses at the same time, while also juggling an internship, advocacy work, and her social life. Kewenvoyouma tries to take a step back when she can and devote time to her physical and mental health, as well as her friends and family.
“Taking both MBA and J.D. classes has provided a different lens on how to solve problems and has given me insight into what innovations are being made in the business and legal world,” she says. “It has also provided me with two great communities and networks.”
Now that he’s practicing, Adler says he’s enjoying leveraging those networks, which he considers a huge perk of the program. While a student, he was able to bring like-minded peers from both Haas and Berkeley Law together for formal and informal collaboration; since graduating, he’s brought his firm colleagues back to campus for a startup law 101 workshop.
“Because I was able to spend almost the full amount of time in each program, I could connect with both campuses in a more meaningful way. This allowed me to develop deep relationships and make lifelong friends,” Adler says. “Now, whether it’s bringing on clients from Haas’ startup ecosystem, interacting with alums who are venture capitalists, or connecting my friends to promising job opportunities at early-stage companies, there is always an opportunity to support fellow Golden Bears.”