Juris Doctor and Master of Social Work joint-degree programs allow students to pursue the two degrees concurrently. Before entering a JD/MSW program, applicants should consider the benefits of getting social work and law degrees. Prospective students may base their decisions on the reduced cost of attending a dual-degree program or on the availability of public-interest-law training. Other students may decide to attend in anticipation of the increased career prospects and salary potential that earning both degrees offers.
Reduced Costs of Dual-Degree Programs
A dual-degree program allows accepted students to pursue their JD and MSW degrees through a single institution. Some of the academic credits may count toward the requirements for completion of both degrees. Because of this, students can earn their JD and MSW degrees at a quicker pace than if they had enrolled in two separate programs at different times in their careers. Students who get the MSW and JD concurrently can complete both degrees in four years, rather than spending two years pursuing the MSW degree and three years studying for the law degree. Additionally, a JD/MSW program may reduce a student's overall tuition costs because he can pay for a smaller total number of academic credits.
Dual-degree programs in social work and law provide opportunities for students to engage in internships that provide them experience in both fields. Students may be able to gain professional experience from working at organizations that employ social workers and lawyers, or from observing the interactions between social workers and lawyers in a professional context. MSW/JD combined programs often require clinical placements through which students can practice interacting with clients. Dual-degree programs allow students to experiment and gain work experience in both fields and to solve social problems from both perspectives.
Broader Career Potential
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers often work with children and families in school settings or health-related settings and in substance abuse or mental health treatment programs. A law degree provides general legal training and so lawyers can seek employment in many types of law. However, neither social workers nor lawyers can fulfill the licensing requirements to swap positions. When individuals can fulfill the requirements to become both licensed social workers and licensed attorneys, they qualify for a greater variety of jobs. Individuals with social work and law degrees often choose from employment at legal aid programs, social welfare agencies, government departments, public-interest law firms, public policy organizations and legislative groups -- these opportunities allow them to develop careers that combine their dual interests.
Increased Salary Potential
Individuals who successfully complete both social work and law degrees may increase their salary potential. According to the BLS, American social workers earned an average annual salary of $43,120 as of May 2008. In contrast, the BLS highlighted the average annual salary of American lawyers as $124,750 for the same period. The salary range for lawyers does depend on whether they work with private law firms or with government agencies or public-interest organizations. However, the difference in average salary between the fields of social work and law does indicate that individuals with law degrees may enjoy increased salary potential when compared with individuals who have not completed law degrees in addition to their social work degrees.
- Washburn University School of Law: School of Law (J.D.) & Social Work (M.S.W.) Dual Degree Program
- University of Maryland School of Social Work: Law and Social Work Services Program
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Social Worker
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Lawyer
- New York University: Dual Degree Program in MSW/JD Law
Cindy Chung is a California-based professional writer. She writes for various websites on legal topics and other areas of interest. She holds a B.A. in education and a Juris Doctor.