The University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Wharton School have launched a three-year joint J.D./M.B.A. degree.

Different from typical four-year juris doctor/master of business administration programs offered at universities, the new course of study calls for students to spend their first year at the law school and the following summer in four so-called “Law and Wharton” courses.

Students in their second and third years will take a combination of Law and Wharton courses and a capstone course that ties the two disciplines together.

During the summer between the second and third year, students can get work experience in law, business, finance or the public sector.

The university is touting the program as the country’s first fully integrated three-year program offered by elite law and business schools.

Some other schools offer three-year J.D./M.B.A. degrees, including Northwestern University and the University of Indiana-Bloomington.

At Northwestern, first-year students attend the law school, and second-year students attend the Kellogg School of Management. Third-year students take courses at the law school but may take additional electives at Kellogg.

The distinction with Penn’s program is the quality of instruction on finance matters provided by the Wharton faculty and on corporate law matters provided by the law school faculty, said Michael Fitts, dean of the law school.

“There’s never been a moment where there wasn’t a greater need for people who can cross between the two professions,” he said.

The University of Pennsylvania’s program will target applicants with at least two years of work experience. They must be admitted to both schools to enroll in the program. It expects to begin the program with about 20 students in September 2009.