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.
Bhavya Mahajan recently completed an LL.M from the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University.
In this FPA with Amicus Partners, the Panjab University graduate (Class of ’16) talks about choosing the ideal LLM, internships at law school, and a whole lot more.
Amicus Partners: At what point in time did you decide to pursue a master’s degree? What did you want to get out of the LLM program?
Bhavya Mahajan: I wanted to pursue a master’s degree from the very beginning of my law school. Initially, there were no expectations, and I just wanted a master’s just for the sake of it. It was during the 4th and 5th year of my law school when I started giving it a serious thought.
I then wanted to get a specialization in an area of my interest which, I was clear by that time, was not litigation or corporate law. I also hoped to getting more exposure and experience in a different and better academic setting.
AP: How did you go about university selection?
BM: My application process was very haphazard. I was not looking to apply to the States or any other country rather I was preparing for my CLAT entrance. One thing that I was clear about was that I wanted to specialize in a field that had other prospects than litigation.
It was a complete coincidence that I found out about Pepperdine University and their ADR programs, and it interested me a lot. So, I went ahead and applied.
However, I still was not sure about going abroad, and did not apply to any other university. Besides, I was a little late with my applications and some universities had stopped accepting applications by then.
AP: Also, was it your internship at the State LSA that prompted your decision to study dispute resolution?
BM: Partially, yes. I briefly interned at the State LSA and had some exposure to mediation. When I was considering various specializations, dispute resolution was on my mind. There were other factors at play too.
AP: Did you apply for any sort of financial aid/scholarships?
BM: Yes, I did. So, all the applications submitted to Pepperdine University are, by default, considered for partial scholarships. The amount awarded by the university generally varies but can go up to 50% waiver in the tuition fee.
I also applied for the JAMS scholarship which sponsors the education of one student. Unfortunately, I could not get the JAMS scholarship but I received a 50% waiver as the Straus Merit Award.
AP: What were some of the biggest learnings during the LLM? How demanding was the course?
BM: The course itself was very fulfilling and challenging. The biggest difference there was the focus on research and analytical learning which, sadly, I missed out on during my LLB. I had never realized my strengths at legal and academic research before this. Simultaneously, I had a chance to get hands on experience in mediation as well as arbitration.
The course load can be very demanding as we are required to balance our academic requirements whilst doing our mandatory internship(s). But the best thing about the course structure is that it is flexible. As an international student, you also have an option to complete your degree in more than one year or two semesters.
AP: You also managed to secure a few internships, as well as a Research Assistant (RA) position. Any advice for how one can go about this process?
BM: The procedure for hiring an RA varies from university to university. I had applied for the position in the very beginning of the program but got appointed after one semester. Pepperdine’s School of Law generally tries to evaluate the new students before offering them research positions.
The best approach here would be to stay in contact with your professors, and before applying for research positions figure out what would be the area of your interest. Also, RA positions can be demanding too. So, to start working as an RA and then be unable to focus on academics is a bad idea.
As far as the internships were concerned, the key was networking. Most of the universities in the States have a culture for promoting communication. Pepperdine especially, was very proactive in organizing meet-ups with professionals from the field, host guest lectures or interactive sessions and seminars.
The first internship that I secured during my masters was with a guest lecturer who was a family law attorney and mediator. I liked her lecture and ended up talking to her after the class. I expressed my interest in interning with her and she was kind enough to offer me a position.
AP: How did the United Nations Funds and Programmes internship happen? What is the kind of work that you did there?
BM: I stumbled upon the opening a few days after my graduation and decided to apply. The position requirements were specific and they wanted someone with an academic background in mediation. I thought I was a good match for the position. Their selection procedure included a review of academic writing samples and course transcripts. The final decision was then based on a Skype interview.
The work, initially, focused on office’s outreach and mediation advocacy. The Office catered to five different UN agencies and conducted various training programs and conflict management seminars on a regular basis. I was actively involved with this and simultaneously assisted the Ombudsman with the cases.
This included communicating with the visitors, follow-ups, participating in intake and mediation sessions. Most importantly, I was given the responsibility to research and draft articles for the Office’s annual report. I was also actively involved in the editing of the report, which came out during the last week of my internship.
AP: Looking back, anything that you would have done differently with respect to your LLM applications?
BM: Yes, definitely. I would have planned things more thoroughly and researched more about different universities and the programs that they offer. Also, I would have researched the scholarship programs better. I did not know about the Fulbright program until after I started my LLM. Had I known about it earlier, I would have definitely given it a shot.
AP: Any advice for law students considering a master’s course?
BM: I would say that plan ahead of time. Keep exploring different options. Choose a field based on your interest or experience, and not because it will pay well in future or someone else said it was good.
AP: Last question, what do you think a good legal education should provide?
BM: I strongly believe that a good legal education should focus on analytical learning. The legal education system in India is designed to ask the students ‘What the law is’ rather than ‘How to apply this law’. Experiential learning is important too and requires equal emphasis but the former can help the students prepare better for the latter.