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At first glance, a law degree and a business degree may seem like very different academic achievements. After all, business schools encourage students to identify opportunities and capitalize on their potential, the essence of entrepreneurship, while at its heart the study of law involves research and creative thinking to find answers to legal problems.

When combined, however, the two result in a potent combination of knowledge, experience and skills - a mix that is increasingly popular for Canadian students and employers.

About a dozen Canadian universities offer programs that combine a bachelor of laws degree (LLB) with a master's degree in business administration (MBA). The programs usually involve four years of study: two years in law, one in business and one year combining the two areas.

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So where do graduates of an LLB/MBA program end up? In business or in law?

Ian Holloway is dean of law at the University of Western Ontario, which offers an LLB/MBA in conjunction with the university's Richard Ivey School of Business. He says his school's stream of graduates is evenly split - about half join corporate law firms, while the rest park their briefcases in boardrooms of companies across Canada.

Three years ago, in a move unique to North America, Western began offering an accelerated LLB/MBA program that can be completed with three years of intensive study.

"It's not for the faint of heart, but this degree can open new career doors," Dr. Holloway says.

"All businesses operate within a legal context, and one thing business schools don't do is teach the next generation of business leaders very much about the legal environment. Having the other degree can add a deepening dimension."

Business leaders who have a legal background are able to "contextualize the problems they face," Dr. Holloway says.

"[The LLB/MBA]addresses the need for lawyers to understand the problems that businesses face in order to understand their clients' needs."

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Those with LLB/MBA qualifications "can write their own ticket" in the corporate world, he says, noting that many major national and international firms conduct special hiring rounds to attract graduates of such programs.

"It's only a slight exaggeration to say that there is usually a bidding war for these people," he adds. "The employment prospects for graduates of LLB/MBA programs are exceptionally good, even in lean times."

Rashmi Bhat had a job with a dot.com firm in California when she decided she wanted a new challenge. The 31-year-old has now passed the halfway mark in Western's LLB/MBA program and plans to go into law after graduation.

"I took it because I could either get an LLB in three years or an LLB/MBA in three years, so for me it was almost a no-brainer around the issue of time," she explains.

"I would doubt that a straight law graduate would have the same level of strategic decision-making, managing people, and especially finance skills, with just a law degree."

One of five students currently in Western's accelerated program, Ms. Bhat says she is thrilled about how her decision to take the combined degree is working out.

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"It's a very intense program. It was very rigorous and rather stressful as well, at times. The MBA is all about group work, and the LLB is mostly lecturing and theory. I feel like I am that much more of a capable person in business law than I would have been otherwise," Ms. Bhat says.

The University of Calgary's Faculty of Law and Haskayne School of Business has a four-year LLB/MBA program. First offered in 1997, the program welcomes a maximum of five students each year. In the MBA section, students can specialize in finance, entrepreneurship, and global energy management and sustainable development.

Robert Fooks graduated in 2002 from the program, specializing in venture development and entrepreneurship. He's now a partner with McLeod & Co. LLP in Calgary, and also teaches at Haskayne.

"The original plan was to do a year of law school and then get into my MBA, but once I started I found I could do both together. It was extremely busy," Mr. Fooks says.

"I think having the MBA in the legal field has helped me excel much farther, much more quickly, than having some legal education in the business field," he says.

Mr. Fooks says he approaches clients with a full arsenal of skills thanks to his combined degree. "If someone comes here requiring legal assistance from me, that legal assistance is just one small piece of their puzzle," he says. "Whether it is a business puzzle or it's a family situation, what better way to have some appreciation for the ramifications of those decisions than by having a business degree?"

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At the University of British Columbia, the Sauder School of Business and Faculty of Law offer an LLB/MBA that emphasizes Asia Pacific policy studies, as well as a more general program.

Wendy Ma, assistant dean of MBA programs at Sauder, believes the potential application of an LLB/MBA extends far beyond Canadian borders.

About five students - "usually people in their 20s and early 30s who have some experience" - join the four-year Asia Pacific program every year, Ms. Ma says. "It is quite an investment of time and money ... But with globalization, it makes total sense."

Joint programs

Here is a tally of some of the bachelor of laws/master of business administration (LLB/MBA) programs available in Canada:

University of New Brunswick, Fredericton: UNB offers a joint LLB/MBA program.

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McGill University, Montreal: The Desautels Faculty of Management and Faculty of Law jointly offer a 4½-year LBA/MBA program.

University of Ottawa: The School of Management and Faculty of Law jointly offer a combined LLB/MBA and a master's of business administrator and licentiate in law (MBA/LLL).

University of Toronto: The Faculty of Law and Rotman School of Management offer a four-year combined juris doctor/master of business administration program (JD/MBA).

York University, Toronto: Osgoode Hall Law School and Schulich School of Business offer a four-year LLB/MBA.

University of Victoria: UVic offers a four-year LLB/MBA program.

Cathryn Atkinson

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