Saraswathy Vaidyanathan
Saraswathy Vaidyanathan

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.