Tara Ollapally talks about her own experiences as a law student, first at ULC Bangalore and then at Columbia Law School. She also discusses the urgent need to push mediation, especially in commercial disputes. And lastly, she talks about how lawyers can make good mediators, and whether our legal education equips today’s lawyers with the skills required for effective mediation.
First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of lawyer’s who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world.
Not necessarily restricted to an LLM, the FPAs should serve as some guide as to which is the ideal law school for you.
Hussain Somji is a Mumbai-based lawyer who completed his LLM from the University of Hong Kong (HKU). In this First Person Account, Somji shares the reasons behind choosing HKU, job prospects post the LLM, arbitration in India, and much more.
Amicus Partners: Why choose HKU? Were there any other law schools/universities that you were considering?
Hussain Somji: Since arbitration law was the area targeted for my study, I started looking at universities in popular arbitration seats such as Singapore, London, Hong Kong, Paris, Geneva etc.
Queen Mary in London was an option but I did not want a large batch size of 100+ students. NUS was not running the arbitration course that year. HKU had a good global reputation and the tuition fees were half of what is normally paid in London.
Since I had not studied in a school of great repute, I was keen on choosing a university that offers me a good standing with arbitration courses. MIDS was also an option but I did not make it considering my academics in law school were not that strong.
So the factors that led to my decision were:
- lower tuition fee;
- popular arbitration seat;
- good global reputation for the its law school; and
- a small batch size (30 or so students with a mix of full-time and part-time students).
AP: When did you decide to do an LLM? Was it while you were studying law or was this a decision you made while working?
HS: After four years of practising experience since I was then sure of dispute resolution as the area of practice to specialise in.
AP: Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?
HS: Yes, I did apply for the financial aid offered by the University but later learnt that those (also student accommodation) are usually offered to students who choose non-commercial subjects such as human rights and so on.
AP: How was the LLM experience? What were some of the pros and cons of the course?
HS: Outstanding! I have no regrets.
The faculty, infrastructure, library, research opportunities and facilities are all top-notch. Without being biased, I am unable to think of any cons as of yet except that if you are interested in applying for work positions post your LLM, one could face language barriers as HK does a lot of China related work where language could play an important role.
AP: If you had any advice for those interested in this program, what would it be?
HS: Weigh your options wisely but you will not be disappointed or regret at all doing this program. Also remember, HKU offers CIArb courses as part of the its curriculum and so if you want a dual benefit of CIArb qualifications with an LLM, it is the right place to be at.
AP: Did HKU help LLM graduates in recruitments?
HS: Opportunities are circulated on the universities job portals and dispute resolution specific positions are shared with LLM graduates. There is no dedicated desk or office for this purpose.
AP: How was the internship at the HKIAC?
HS: This was something that gave me a completely different perspective and an insight into how an arbitral institution works. I was very clear about my return to India and re-commencing practice but wanted to carry this experience with me.
AP: What were some of the benefits of the LLM when you resumed working in India?
HS: I was clear of commencing counsel practice on my return with a focus on arbitration related work. The depth of research conducted as also the fundamentals of arbitration law that remain same across the model law countries including India, the grasp in matters was almost immediate.
Recently, I was in fact approached by a Swiss Arbitrator to assist her in some research concerning HK law on arbitration. As with every course, you have a different way of looking at things and you try to bring in the international standards in your domestic practice which is immensely helpful.
AP: Anything else that you would like to tell Indian law graduates looking to do a LLM?
HS: An LLM is not a job creator. It is for those who wish to immerse themselves into a subject to apply it in practice. Be proactive as all universities offer ample opportunities to improve your academic profile that helps a lot in the professional world.
Be clear on what the objective is and choose a university and location accordingly.
In arbitration law, location matters as it gives access to a pool of lawyers and practitioners who will be helpful to connect with throughout the term either in their capacity as professors or just generally in conferences and seminars.
In the second part of the interview, Tara focuses on the benefits of mediation, whether lawyers would become good mediators, and why one needs to invest time and effort to become a successful mediator.
Amicus Partners: A lot of what you said, cost effectiveness, high speed- these were some of the benefits of arbitration. So how is mediation better?
Tara Ollapally: I would not use the word “better” but “different”. Arbitration is still an adversarial process and by that I mean there is a winner and a loser. And there is a third person who is going to decide who the winner is, who the loser is.
Now that is a huge responsibility that is placed on that third person. And that third party, the neutral, has to go through volumes of information, has to be confident and convinced enough to be able to make that award in favour of one and not the other.
As a result of which, it takes the time that it takes.
In mediation, the whole concept is different. It is not about right or wrong. It is about differing perspectives, and helping the parties understand each other’s perspectives, and getting them to decide on what the solutions are. As a result of which, it is not about convincing the third person, it is about convincing each other.
AP: Do you think lawyers make good mediators?
TO: If a lawyer is able to switch hats from adversarial to collaborative, a lawyer is fantastically placed to be a mediator. Because the lawyer knows the law better than any other neutral would.
The law plays a very important part in the mediation because a large aspect of the negotiation hinges on what your alternative is. The way the process works is that you must first understand why this mediated settlement makes much more sense that the alternatives.
What is the alternative? Typically, it would be arbitration or litigation. Now how is this going to play out in arbitration or litigation? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case?
So a lawyer is very well positioned to be able to help parties go through the alternatives, the reality test.
AP: But aren’t lawyers trained in an adversarial system?
TO: I have met so many lawyers who love the law, but hate the adversarial aspect of the law. Ten years ago you really didn’t have so many options if you graduated from law school, you had to litigate. But litigating does not come naturally to them, they do not truly believe that that is the only way to resolve a dispute.
They want to be part of the dispute resolution process but they don’t like the way the dispute resolution process has been managed. Now these people make fantastic mediators, right?
They are part of the dispute resolution process, they have the logical way of thinking, they understand the law, they have the ability to structure and facilitate mediation in a very effective way.
AP: Are we in India working to create a more open environment for mediation?
TO: It is not like we have a choice. If lawyers want to keep up with the way lawyers are practicing law in several parts of the world – this is an aspect that you just cannot look away for very much longer.
Italy had a similar issue of pendency which is what motivated them to pass mandatory mediation legislation – essentially mandating the parties to sit, with their lawyers, with a neutral third party mediator. That is the mandatory aspect of it; you can opt out after that and go back to courts. Just one session.
AP: One session?
TO: That is all it took. And in that one session, I don’t remember the statistics, but a large number of those went for mediation and a large percentage ended in settlements.
You are not really giving up on anything. Just one session, which through the Italian experience has shown, leads to a large number of settlements.
AP: Why aren’t we doing this?
TO: We will. So if you look at the laws – the commercial laws are going that way, the consumer protection bill is also looking at mandatory mediation. The NCLT does not mandate mediation, but does give NCLT members the power to refer matters to mediation.
Where we slip is in the administration of it.
AP: So, it makes logical sense for businesses to seek mediation, and there is money to be made in mediation. Yet?
TO: Well businesses in India are still not buying into mediation. They still have not understood the value of mediation. They are still using arbitration because that is what is familiar.
And that’s where we are trying to break the cycle. Of helping businesses understand that there is another way to do it, and to get them to start endorsing the process.
Our purpose right now is to make businesses include mediation in their dispute resolution clause. Today’s dispute resolution clause is we will sit and negotiate, if negotiations fail, we will arbitrate. And that has to change.
It has to be, “we will sit, negotiate. If negotiation fails, we will do a facilitated negotiation and if that fails we go into arbitration.”
AP: If a law student or a lawyer is interested in mediation as a profession, what kind of advice would you give her?
TO: For a young lawyer to enter into the field as a mediator would be challenging. My advice is go out, join a law firm, litigate, go in-house and start pushing disputes into mediation.
Through this, you start exposing yourself to the mediation process, you start understanding the mediation process differently. Build the skills to be an effective advocate in mediation.
AP: Skills such as?
TO: Such as [being able to identify] the real interest of your client. What does your client really want? Drop the posturing. Prioritise options. Start listening to your client.
These are the skills that a mediator builds – listening to understand. Bringing down the emotional aspect of it by reframing, by summarising, by connecting to your client. Be an empathic lawyer in mediation.
To be an empathic lawyer is a huge skill that we have to build.
AP: But nobody teaches you this as a law student.
TO: Not at all. These are skills that you have to learn. So when I am listening, how am I listening? Am I listening to fully understand what you are communicating to me, or am I listening from a perspective to figure out what my response to you is.
And then of course to be able to weed out the emotion from what my client really wants. What part is driven by what the emotions my client is feeling, how do I address those emotions.
AP: That seems like quite a time intensive practice.
TO: Absolutely. You cannot practice from a perspective of, “I will do a 10 minute meeting, I will get a simple understanding of what the case is about, what the law is about, and then go defend in court.”
That is not how it works. It is about investing time. About understanding who my client is, why my client feels this way, what has motivated my client to be in the position that he is in.
We, as lawyers, deal with people in conflict. But we have no concept or idea of what a human being is when in conflict. How is that person responding, how is her brain functioning when in a conflict situation? Neuroscience will tell you that when you are in conflict, your brain is working differently.
These are concepts that we have not even thought about as professionals in this conflict space.
AP: It is not even a topic of discussion.
TO: No, never. In my twenty years as a legal professional, I did not even think of it until I entered the mediation practice.
What is the mental framework, what is the emotional framework of a person in a conflict situation? If I can understand that then perhaps I would be able to find solutions that better addresses who he is in that situation, and then go into the details of that dispute.
But we don’t even take that into consideration.
We approach it from such a specific aspect of what is the law on this particular situation, and that law will have some three hundred interpretations. So that is the framework within which we operate – this is an aspect but just one aspect of the conflict as whole.
And you are right, there is no way you can engage in a conflict without being ready to invest a good amount of time.
AP: Final question: what is a good legal education? Or have you just answered that?
TO: I think I may have. We are dispute resolvers. We are here to able to find appropriate resolution to clients who come to us in a distress situation. They have come to us because they are in a situation where they are unable to sit across the table with other side and find a solution. They are frustrated, they are angry, they are helpless. They want a way out.
But the only thing that they know is to strike. And we, as lawyers, are trained to help them strike harder. One blow becomes ten blows. We just take them up this conflict path but we do not realise that our objective should be how do I get this person out of this mess in the quickest, safest most respectful kind of way. We don’t even think of it that way.
It is critical that our law students are exposed to this way of dispute resolution. The mark of a civilised society is in our ability to manage conflict. Conflict is inevitable, it is a result of progress. It is because there are interactions, relationships, business that there is a conflict.
We cannot stop conflict but we have to find better ways to manage conflict so that conflict is opportunity.
Tara Ollapally is a lawyer, and an experienced mediator at CAMP Mediation. In the first part of an interview with Amicus Partnerds, she talks about her days as a law student, human rights at Columbia Law School, and the future of mediation.
Amicus Partners: You worked with a human rights clinic as an undergraduate student at University Law College in Bangalore. How did that experience shape you as a lawyer?
Tara Ollapally: As a law student, I was so motivated in setting right the wrong. I interned at the National Human Rights Commission, and one of my projects was to understand the mental health situation of women prisoners. I spent a fair bit of time in prisons across the country. Keeping aside the mental health aspect [which we] really don’t address, was the fact that so many of them had no legal representation.
In my final year of law, I was driven to try and find a way to address that gap. We created a little clinic of final year law students; we could not represent them directly but tried to fill that gap, working with junior lawyers on a pro bono basis.
It was a fantastic concept, and as a student I was so motivated and charged to do something like that, as were the other students. But there were so many hurdles. Change requires constant perseverance and effort.
AP: Are these experiences what prompted you take up the masters in human rights from Columbia Law School?
TO: I think from very early on, I knew that I wanted to be in the social rights aspect of the legal profession. As it happened, I was moving to the United States and so it seemed a perfect opportunity to make that transition into moving to a new country.
Reflecting back, I would perhaps not have done a master’s course at that point [of time]. I would have perhaps worked for a certain period of time and then done a master’s.
TO: Because I think it gives a lot more context to your master’s program when you have a little bit of practical experience. You go to law school for five years and you have minimal exposure to the practical aspects through internships. But, you have to sink into it as a full time professional for a couple of years before being able to make full use of your master’s degree program.
AP: How was your LLM experience?
TO: For me it was fantastic. I was lucky enough to get the human rights fellowship at Columbia Law School. So again I was fully focused on human rights for that one-year program.
Before the LLM, I was ingrained in domestic issues. [After the LLM] I switched to the international practice of human rights law which was very exciting. But I did miss the cultural identification, the drive that comes with being able to understand a local issue.
AP: What were some of the big changes you noticed in the learning experience?
TO: Oh it was completely different!
Remember I came from University Law College Bangalore where most of my legal education was from framed through moot courts, through internships – it wasn’t really classroom education.
And suddenly I was put into this environment where you had Professor Louis Henkin, who was the name in international human rights law, as my human rights professor. [We had] top notch academics who knew their field. It was intensely rigorous.
AP: How did you manage?
TO: I had to. Perhaps I burnt the midnight oil for the first time (laughs) But that was all so exciting, and it was such an enriching experience. Because, whatever said and done, the American university system is so systematic, it is so up to date, they get the best out of you, they give you the best.
TO: Just the course load, the course expectation, the number of papers you had to write, and the quality of the papers. The way they were critiqued, the feedback, the expectations, and if you have not done your research you are going to get caught out right away.
Moving your research from a grade F to a grade B or B+ was incredible, and they would be handholding you through that as much as they could.
AP: What was the job market like when you graduated?
TO: Oh it was tough when I graduated because 9/11 happened when I had just moved to New York. And of course you had the downfall of the American economy. So it was a tough job market for international students.
I was lucky because I did not have immigration issues, and perhaps that was one of the factors that helped me in getting me a job. But I was one of the few who did manage to get a job.
AP: Not too long ago, you come back to India and CAMP Mediation.
TO: I kind of stumbled into mediation. It wasn’t a planned next step. It appealed to me. I come from a human rights background, I come from an access to justice [perspective].
My mother was a pioneer in the mediation movement. She was one of the co-founders of the Bangalore Mediation Centre. And she felt the need to take this next step in mediation – you needed to start private mediation.
AP: When you say private, you mean not court-mandated mediation?
TO: Exactly. So at that point in time, the only way you could access mediation was through centres that were attached to the courts where the judge would refer the matter to mediation.
But not that many commercial mediations [took place] because the commercial world avoids the court as much as possible. To get into the commercial dispute resolution space, we needed to get into the private mediation where parties have access to high quality mediation services.
That is how we conceived of the idea of CAMP.
I had no exposure to mediation, other than having done a 40-hour programme on mediation. But purely from the perspective of an access to justice issue, it kind of rationally made sense to me.
TO: What is our pendency? Thirty million cases are pending in our courts. Ten to fifteen years is the average time it takes [for resolution]. And if you look at it from the perspective of “justice delayed is justice denied” then you are talking about access issues, you are talking about rule of law issues.
And we are working along the lines of a legal system that approaches rule of law only through adversarial or court-based methodology to dispute resolution. Which in today’s world is one of the means, not the only means [of dispute resolution]
AP: It must have been difficult to sell mediation initially?
TO: We started CAMP in January 2015 and we would actually get calls asking, “So, when are your meditation classes?” – that is the environment in which we started.
I would go to some of these incubation centres to talk to the start-ups and people seriously thought that we were there to talk about meditation. They had no clue about mediation. (laughs)
We have definitely moved from there.
I am convinced that people will see the value of it and bite into it. Because we are working in an environment where people want and need options. What is being provided to them is not optimal, they are not happy with it.
AP: Mediation did get legislative backing recently through the changes in the Commercial Courts law. But, you have noted that more needs to be done.
TO: This amendment mandates disputes to go into mediation before they can be filed in the commercial court unless the parties are seeking interim relief. This is a fantastic step to try and get parties to sit down and resolve their dispute before you access the adversarial process to dispute resolution.
[But] what the law has not thought through are the details with respect to how this is done. For example, the body that has been given the mandate to administer these mediations is the legal services authority.
Which really does not make sense.
It is not thought out that a commercial dispute, and legal aid cannot be clubbed together in the same forum. If you have the legal services authority administering commercial mediations, you are setting yourself up for disaster.
AP: Do you see commercial establishments recognising the benefits of mediation?
TO: Mediation makes so much sense for commercial disputes.
What do businesses want? They want to find a quick, cost-effective and appropriate way out, a business way out. They don’t want to mull over the dispute for 15 years. Mediation is not process-heavy. We don’t have pages and pages of process that needs to be followed before an application is filed. There are no applications that need to be filed.
The objective is to be able to understand what are the interests of the parties, what is it that the parties truly want.
First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of lawyer’s who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world.
Not necessarily restricted to an LLM, the FPAs should serve as some guide as to which is the ideal law school for you.
In the first post under the First Person Account series, Saraswathy Vaidyanathan (HNLU, Class of 2016) shares some insights into an LLM degree from the University of Edinburgh.
Graduating from Edinburgh with a specialisation in intellectual property law, Saraswathy discusses the differences in legal education between India and the UK, how to select the ideal law school for you, and much more.
Amicus Partners: At what point in time did you decide to apply for an LLM?
Saraswathy Vaidyanathan: I was sure I wanted to do a LLM towards the end of my 4th year. However, I was conscious of my LLM plans at the start of my 4th year as I was making the choice of honours papers. Just to [explain] the honours bit, HNLU gives you an option of two honours papers for the 4th and 5th year which becomes the subject of specialization. Since I wanted to do a LLM in Intellectual Property (IP), I chose IP as my first honours and Constitutional Law as my second honours paper.
AP: Could you tell me how you went about the university selection? What were the parameters that you kept in mind while going through this process?
SV: For the University selection, first I decided the countries I want to apply to. I picked three countries: the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. After deciding the countries, I chalked out the Universities I wanted to apply to. Singapore and Hong Kong were easy as NUS and HKU are the best options, in general. For the UK, it was difficult as there are many Universities. So, I decided the parameters for myself and then narrowed down. Following are the factors I kept in mind in no particular order
- Location of the University
- Finances (Tuition + Cost of living)
- Worldwide Ranking
- Professors/Teachers in the subject applying for
- General Course structure
- Subjects offered
- The University branding
AP: Why did you narrow down on Edinburgh University? And did you apply for any sort of financial aid?
SV: I made it to HKU, QMUL and Edinburgh. I chose Edinburgh for the course structure and subjects offered. I was sure that I do not want to take any paper which has written examination as a mode of assessment. QMUL has that. Also, cost of living was a factor. London was seeming way heavier on my pockets than Edinburgh. HKU I dropped as it was offering me IP + IT Law LLM whereas I wanted to do pure IP.
I did not apply for any scholarships.
AP: What were some of the changes you observed, in terms of the learning experience, between your undergrad and your post-graduate studies? Was the the dissertation the most difficult part of the course?
SV: So, learning experience in India and UK cannot be compared on the same pedestal for obvious reasons. In my personal opinion, in India you can do really well provided you are determined. You have to find your own motivation and keep going with it. In the UK, the teaching happens in such a manner that the professor pushes your thinking and in turn your learning limits.
The professors there are experienced, absolutely well-versed and have practical [knowledge] of the law along with the theoretical knowledge. There is a reading list for every lecture, if you don’t read it, it is your loss. Further, the fact that the teachers there form interpersonal relationships makes a lot of difference.
For example, my professor after a class joined us for a pint of beer in a pub. In the pub, we managed to discuss IP and other things in general. In another activity, we were at the contemporary art museum discussing IP issues. So, after that every museum I visited, I tried to find the issues on my own. So, learning was never restricted to classrooms.
For me, the most difficult part was getting adjusted to the amount of reading, the method of teaching, and writing the assignments. The dissertation was difficult but not the most difficult part.
The feedback after the assignments was the most helpful bit in making the dissertation process easy. I knew where I was lacking, so I had to only improve that. At the end of the day, it is all about following a discipline and wanting to learn.
AP: How would you rate your LLM experience? Any thing that you would have done differently?
SV: I finished the course in September 2017. It was a really enriching experience both for learning and living in a new country.
The one thing I would have done differently is to concentrate more on my writing skills. Even though I scored well in my assignments, I think I could have done better if I had improved my writing.
AP: How easy or difficult are recruitments in the UK now?
SV: My idea of doing an LLM was to further my plans of getting into academics back in India. So, I did not really look for jobs there. As I understood and I am hearing now, recruitment is not the best in UK now due to Brexit.
However, a few of my friends managed to utilize the period post completion of course and before expiry of the visa by getting internships at law firms in London which is a good option to consider.
AP: Lastly, any advice for students who are considering an LLM?
SV: Oh, I have loads of them.
- Be very sure that you want to do a LLM from abroad for the right reasons. It takes a lot of effort to get through the course.
- Choose the University carefully. You are associated with it for the rest of your life. Be aware of the deadlines and keep enough time at hand.
- Don’t just go by the ranking and brand of the University. It is more important to check about the course you are applying for. For example, an IP course might be better in a lower ranked University than, say LSE. Do your research well.
- Have all your documents in place well in advance. There are no second chances if the deadline has passed.
- It takes quite some time to write Statements of Purpose and scholarship statements. In my personal experience, you also end up writing your own recommendation letters which is even more difficult. Get your SoPs and similar statements checked from someone who has gotten through the process of a LLM abroad. Every University specifies the pointers for SoPs, personal and scholarship statements. So, again, do your preliminary research well.
- Give TOEFL/IELTS as soon as possible. The slots gets filled quite in advance.
- If you are not self-funded and plan to apply for scholarships, then start planning your LLM by the start or middle of your 4th year. All the scholarships are very competitive and applications close well in advance. Sometimes, even before the applications for LLM are closed. Plus there are chances that because you are searching at the last minute, you are not aware of certain scholarships.
- Many foreign Universities have a good alumni network. Find the alumni of the course you are applying for and try reaching out. It will help you in the longer run.
- Lastly, before you apply to a University know your worth. Many in my knowledge apply to Oxford and Cambridge for the heck of it and obviously do not make it. Spare yourself the disappointment and save your resources.
Andrew Horsfall is the Assistant Dean of International Programs at Syracuse University College of Law. A lawyer by training, Andrew spent a few years as a legal profession before working for his alma mater. In this podcast, he tells me how admission officers view applications, how scholarships can be negotiated, and what are the best ways to identify the law school (and post-graduate course) that will offer you the most value.
Amicus Partners: We often get asked about the pros and cons of a specialized LLM versus a general LLM. Thoughts?
Andrew Horsfall: It really depends on the goals of the student and what they are looking to get out of the program. In a general LLM setting, you are getting more exposure to a variety of different subjects, perspectives and professors.
That can be very valuable to you.
If you wanted to take an IP class, human rights class or a general business law course, you can position yourself later in job interview as someone who is a generalist and has had broad exposure to a number of different subjects. That can be valuable to certain employers.
On the other hand, a specialized degree provides more comprehensive exposure, a deeper knowledge to a subject, and you can carve yourself out as an expert in some field.
This needs to be something that is really researched. If a school is offering a specialization in IP or in human rights, go further than that and take a look at the curriculum. Take a look at the requirements that are needed and see if it is truly a specialization.
Is the school just sort of cobbling together all of its human rights courses and saying, “Now we have a specialization”? Or have they actually created new classes or new academic opportunities for students specifically in this track or in this program to pursue?
Another common query is when one should apply for an LLM – right after the undergraduate course or with a few years of work experience?
I get this question all the time!
I have to say that here at Syracuse, and I think with most admission professionals I have worked with, there is no preferred pathway to an LLM program. I think having come directly from an undergraduate program, it is an easier transition into an academic setting.
But also, there is value in taking some time away from your studies, getting some practical experience, and then coming back into an academic setting maybe with a more focused goal.
So those are sort of the personal factors to think about.
From an admissions perspective, we don’t prioritize either. What we look at is how you have spent your time. So, if you are just coming from a bachelor’s program, we are focusing specifically on your time [as an undergraduate]. Have you volunteered? Have you taken leadership roles in certain organizations? Have you done internships?
Likewise, with your practice – have there been gaps in your professional experience that we might need to talk about? Have you had an upwardly mobile progression in your career pathway? Have you been promoted year after year?
How are admissions applications vetted?
Every admissions officer has their own formula that they have developed along the way. Let me just walk you through mine.
When I get an application, the first thing I do is skim through the resume. That gives me a basic chronology of what the student has accomplished either in law school or in their profession.
So, while the resume is not the most important piece, it is that first look into what that application will reveal later. I will say that for me, a resume has never made or broken a decision.
The next thing I read is the personal statement because I am most interested in hearing, in your own words, what you have accomplished, what you have done in the past and why the LLM program is that next, natural step for you.
That opens a window into your motivation, and what you are looking to accomplish. From there I go into the more technical details – so I will look through your transcripts, not only looking at the final CGPA but also taking a look at the courses you are taking, semester by semester.
And lastly, I will take a look at the recommendation letters either to confirm [what you have written] or reveal something new about you that I had not picked up yet.
Any suggestions on how to go about writing the personal statements?
In terms of the personal statement, I wouldn’t over think it and I wouldn’t make it too long. I have read personal statements that are one and a half pages (double spaced) – you can say a lot with very little space. I would not exceed two pages, just as a general matter.
I would advise the student to really take the space to tell her story. So, walk me through a little bit of your past. Talk to me about what got you motivated to study law [as an undergraduate]. Maybe talk about some of the things you have done during your time as a law student.
And then, end it with a paragraph or two about why this LLM program is the next thing for you. I am looking for information about what is motivating you to apply.
AP: You mention that you should engage with the schools. Do you think professors are also open to the idea of being contacted?
AH: Yes, definitely. Any law school’s website will also have information on professors and the courses that they teach. And if they have a specialization in a subject that you are interested in, you should absolutely feel free to reach out to the faculty members. The admissions office can help make those introductions for you.
I think most foreign students coming to the United States will find that, and this is not to denigrate any other country, our professors tend to be a bit more accessible, a bit more approachable. They really want to know who our students are, they want to know if you have concerns, and just to make sure that everything is going well for you.
AP: By and large, LLMs can be quite expensive. Oftentimes it is a question of whether one should make that kind of financial investment.
AH: Without a doubt. The first or usually the second thing that students are concerned about is the cost. And that is completely reasonable; LLM programs are expensive. I know that, I live in this world, and I talk to students all the time.
I wish they were more affordable, I wish they were more accessible and I know that my colleagues as well share that sentiment.
With that said, I also consider LLMs to be highly valuable in terms of the credentials that they give. There is a way of looking at LLM programs as expensive or valuable, and I think those are two different things.
The reason I look at them as valuable is for what they can unlock in terms of opportunities.
For example, in the US, if you are foreign educated and you come to do an LLM here, you can unlock the ability to write the NY Bar exam or the DC Bar exam. So, having that LLM on its own is certainly great – it is a master’s credential, gives you more exposure, more expertise.
I think it is important to mention when we talk about scholarships, it is very rare for students to pay the full price [of the LLM] as published on the website.
It is quite common, and quite acceptable, to open a conversation with the school and ask for scholarships, and also ask about appealing scholarships. So, if you are offered maybe ten or twenty thousand dollars at the first pass, may be a month or two later, you evaluate and say that you really need or deserve more scholarship funding.
AP: This is common across US schools?
AH: I would say, yes. I think that the trend for scholarships in the US are that schools are giving more and more scholarships. It is becoming increasingly competitive for schools to attract quality candidates. Scholarships are just part of what it is to do business in this field right now.
[Awarding scholarships] is something that schools are willing to do, because they are willing to make that investment in their students.
AP: So, you would encourage applicants to have that conversation on scholarships?
It is a very fair question to ask. As part of my admission process, I have a Skype conversation with every applicant and it is usually during that conversation that I ask about scholarships, about funding process. And that opens a conversation for students to talk about what their level of need is.
I think most admission professionals will welcome that conversation.
AP: Any final piece of advice?
AH: I touched upon this earlier, but I can’t understate the value of connecting with the school.
So, beyond just going to the website, filling out the application and then waiting for a decision, I really think [applicants] should engage with the school. And that’s not just e-mailing them back and forth. Look for them on their social media channel, start following them, engage.
Ask them if you could speak with current students, with alumni, not only from your own country or your own city, but also in the practice area that you may want to work in later.
I think the best thing you could do is to be informed. So, take your time, enjoy the process, and really make sure you are engaged with the school.
In this episode of the Amicus Podcast, I speak with Andrew Horsfall, the Assistant Dean of International Programs at Syracuse University College of Law. A lawyer by training, Andrew spent a few years as a legal profession before working for his alma mater. In this podcast, he tells me how admission officers view applications, how scholarships can be negotiated, and what are the best ways to identify the law school (and post-graduate course) that will offer you the most value.