The Amicus Interviews: Dhvani Mehta, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (Part 1)

Dhvani Mehta has been on the list of people-I-must-speak-to for a while now. For many reasons. One, she is a Rhodes scholar. Two, she is one of the founding members of the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, a think-tank that has really pushed policy work as a viable career option for Indian law grads.

Three, it is high time that academy and research is given more attention, and information on academic careers be made more accessible.

In the first part of the interview, I get Dhvani to discuss her own experiences at Oxford University as a BCL student, an MPhil and then a DPhil. She also talks about, what I consider, the lesser known facts of research.

Without further digression, the first part of the two-part interview:

So, I know you always wanted to study outside the country. Why?

Primarily just for the experience of living in another country and also, perhaps, having the chance to be tested intellectually in a way that I wasn’t at [Government Law College Mumbai]. I am not saying that I had a bad legal education – there were several things that were very interesting and informative about [GLC]. It gave me a lot of opportunities to do other kinds of non-academic activities that I may not have had the chance to do if I was in a fully residential 5-year law school.

Having said that, I did not have the chance to do any proper legal research in college or do any serious legal writing. So, one of the reasons why I wanted to do an LLM abroad was to see if I would match up to that kind of environment.

I wanted to see what it meant to really think in a rigorous way and be taught by people who weren’t really interested in seeing what the right answer to a multiple-choice question was.

[I wanted] to see what it meant to really think in a rigorous way and be taught by people who weren’t really interested in seeing what the right answer to a multiple-choice question was. [People] who make you think more about what the law should be and not what it was. I had a vague idea that’s what an LLM abroad would equip me with.

Do you think you were right?

Yes, I would think so. In going to Oxford, my expectations from the BCL were definitely matched and then some. It was one of the most exciting courses that I did. It was unlike any style of teaching or examination taking that I had ever been used to.

When you mean teaching style, are you talking about seminars?

Yes. The seminar style of teaching meant you had to do a lot of reading before class. I was taken aback in the first few weeks to know that my classmates had detailed notes on everything they had read [before they came to class]

Oxford also has this tutorial system where you write an essay and discuss that one on one or in a group of three: you, a fellow student and the professor. You have the chance to critique the other person’s work, hear critique of your own work, defend it, conceive some points and get some very detailed feedback on your writing and thinking.

You stuck around at Oxford for quite a while. Any surprises along the way?

After the BCL, I was in for a general shock as far as coping with what writing a thesis or doing a research degree meant. I did not have a very clear idea of what that would entail at all.

I would say that perhaps Oxford does not do the best job of orienting its research students about what it is really going to be like doing an MPhil or a DPhil.

And what is it really going to be like?

It is going to be lonely. It is going to involve a lot of self-motivation. Your experience is going to vary depending on the kind of supervisor you have. You are going to enjoy it only if you are really passionate about the subject you are researching. I think it is a lot about finding your own way.

How do you do that?

I suppose trial and error. Perhaps I was unduly harsh on Oxford [earlier]. Of course, we had a legal research methods course, and we had support groups for DPhil students – it helps but ultimately it is something that you have to figure out on your own. I had a very supportive supervisor, and I also had a good college advisor.

It always helped to generally talk about your woes with other DPhil students, so we would go discussion groups, everybody would moan about the stage in which their thesis was. Everyone would learn not to ask each other how their thesis was going.

We would go discussion groups, everybody would moan about the stage in which their thesis was. Everyone would learn not to ask each other how their thesis was going.

The mental health of PhD scholars is a serious issue.

I would say that there was a time when I was doing the DPhil that I was definitely depressed. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the DPhil or I was just generally fed up of spending a miserable winter in Oxford yet again.

Again, there is support from the university, there is counselling that you can go to. You can take a sabbatical. There are a lot of systems in place that allow you to find your own pace, but it is still hard.

Apart from your research, you also worked with Oxford Pro Bono Publico (OPBP)

OPBP provides legal research assistance to other NGOs who are pursuing human rights cases across the world or made submissions to parliamentary standing committees or other governmental bodies. We would help draft amicus briefs for lawyers, again, fighting human rights cases.

I won’t say I saw it as an escape from my thesis, but yes it helped having something different to do and something that had a more tangible outcome. You know with the DPhil, you can’t really see the end in sight and it is very frustrating to go to the library every day, sit there for eight hours, and have a hundred words to show for it. Which you will probably erase the next day.

What is a day in the life of a DPhil scholar?

It depends on what kind of thesis you are writing. If your thesis has empirical research or a fieldwork component, then you are not in Oxford for some time, and you are out there doing interviews or gathering data from archives or whatever.

But most legal theses are not like that, so you are just usually sitting in the library, making notes, substantiating your footnotes etc.

What drove you?

Getting the “Dr” prefix before your name. I couldn’t be a real doctor, so this seemed to be the best way to do that (smiles). No, but I suppose what drives you is that [a PhD] is the highest academic qualification that you can get. And to anyone who is somewhat nerdy, that is a good goal to have.

And like I said, for people who are really passionate about the subject matter that they are pursuing or have a real interest in an academic career, a PhD is basically sine qua non– you can’t advance without a PhD.

I suppose what drives you is that a PhD is the highest academic qualification that you can get. And to anyone who is somewhat nerdy, that is a good goal to have.

First Person Accounts: Mitisha Chheda on an LLM in IP from George Washington Law

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued a masters course from schools across the world. In this FPA interview, Amicus Partners speaks to Mitisha Chheda, who recently completed an LLM in Intellectual Property from George Washington University Law School (Class of ’17).

In this FPA, Mitisha talks about the reasons behind choosing a specialised LLM (hint: Conde Nast), how she went about the application process, Research Assistant positions, and a whole lot more.

Mitisha M Cheddha

Mitisha Chheda

At what point in time did you decide to do an LL.M? Was this something you had planned to do even as an undergraduate or was this only something you opted for after working for some time?

It was during the fourth year of law school that I decided to purse an LL.M. This decision was largely influenced by my brother’s experience; he has earned his LL.M from a U.S law school. His LL.M experiences were an inspiration for me and a starting point for my own LL.M. pursuit.

Many students who pursue an LL.M. tend to have prior work experience before taking up the course. Prior work experience helps in choosing your Masters’ specialization and allows one to refine their skills in the desired concentration of law.

How did you go about the process of narrowing down on George Washington University Law School? What were the other schools that you applied to (if any), and how early did you start the application process?

I have always been very passionate about Intellectual Property (IP) law and Entertainment law. It dates back to my interest in travel photography coupled with the practical insights I gained during my internship at Conde Nast Traveller. It was this internship which led me to pursue law with a focus in IP.

Post my internship at Conde Nast Traveller I have been crafting my experiences only in IP. So, pursuing my Masters in Law in IP was a natural progression.

I started preparing for my LL.M application process six to seven months in advance. I had very few law schools in mind for the IP course – George Washington University, NYU, UCLA, Berkeley, and Georgetown. I narrowed down on George Washington University because of its robust IP Program, esteemed professors, and its proximity to the U.S Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S Copyright Office.

A lot of applicants struggle when it comes to writing the Statement of Purpose – any pointers on how applicants should approach this?

Indeed, the Statement of Purpose takes up a lot of time and like many other students I grappled as well. My advice is – be a good story teller. Apart from this, you should spend at least (I stress on “at least”) three to four weeks in writing the SOP.

My advice is – be a good story teller. Apart from this, you should spend at least (I stress on “at least”) three to four weeks in writing the SOP. One should also discuss their line of thought for the SOP with their friends who are not from the legal background. This helps in bringing a new perspective and in simplifying the SOP’s language.

One should also discuss their line of thought for the SOP with their friends who are not from the legal background. This helps in bringing a new perspective and in simplifying the SOP’s language. Unlike India, the U.S. prefers the written material to be reader-friendly and easy to understand even for a lay person.

What were the biggest changes that you observed when it came to the learning experience between your undergrad and post-grad days?

The biggest difference was the classroom experience. In the U.S., professors assign class readings before-hand and they expect you to come prepared for classes. During the class, you are expected to engage in classroom discussion rather than be lectured by the Professor alone. This method is known as the Socrates method.

I personally believe that the Socratic method was very helpful because every class introduced a new and novel thought process. We were encouraged to participate in healthy classroom discussions and submit various practical assignments as opposed to my under graduate program, where we would just appear for a final written test.

Was it easy to get a RA post while an LLM student? Any advice for those who may be interested in doing something similar?

It was not easy to receive a Research Assistant position. I found out about this position through a friend who was already a Research Assistant to the Professor I eventually assisted. One has to be aware and attentive and check out listings for these positions on the law school portal or notice boards.

Interested students can also reach out to the Professors well before their course starts, even before arriving in the United States. If not as a full-time RA, Professors also hire students on a part-time basis on a project-basis.

What is your reading of the job market in the U.S? Are you planning to write the NY Bar as well?

As foreign attorneys its slightly tougher to break into the U.S. job market, especially when your first degree in law is not from the U.S. So it is certainly an uphill task but it can be done.

The best way to go about your job hunt is to network and build new connections. You can do this by asking for coffee meetings, attending relevant events, and becoming members of relevant organizations.

For this process to work, it’s very important to stay in touch with your new connections and keep them updated with your progress. Persistence and patience are the most important attributes when looking for a job in the U.S. You have to keep trying and not give up. For most people who land a job, it is an organic process. It’s very rare for someone to land a job over-night, on the basis of a cold email.

You have to keep trying and not give up. For most people who land a job, it is an organic process. It’s very rare for someone to land a job over-night, on the basis of a cold email.

As for the New York Bar, it is definitely worthwhile to have it on your resume as it increases your marketability for the U.S. job market. But again, there are jobs in the U.S which do not require you to be enrolled with the Bar. So while it’s a great asset, it may not necessarily be indispensable. I do plan to take the New York Bar in July of 2019.

Looking back, any advice for law grads who are interested in an LL.M? And would you have done anything differently?

In addition to doing well academically, being involved in extra-curricular activities is equally important. One should strive to hold at least one leadership position or be a member of a committee during their LL.M. program.

For instance, be a part of the editorial board of a law journal, or the law school’s moot court association, help organize cultural events, etc. A clerkship with a judge or an internship with the legal team of a government office would also greatly help your resume.

The #Admission interviews: Prof. Margareth Etienne, Illinois College of Law

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Prof. Margareth Etienne / Illinois College

The Admission Interviews (AI) are meant to provide prospective LLM applicants with first-hand information on the LLM application process. In this edition of AI, Amicus Partners speaks to Professor Margareth Etienne, the associate dean for graduate and international programs at the Illinois College of Law.

In this interview, Prof. Etienne discusses several aspects of the LLM application process – right from how one should go about choosing a law school, what should one write in the Statement of Purpose, the JSD option, and a whole lot more.

So, let’s start from the start – how early should applicants begin the LLM application process?

Students should start investigating and doing their research into different law schools probably in the Spring (March-June) before they want to apply.

And as for the applications themselves, they should begin that process by September because there is a lot to prepare. They have to, in some instances, take an English proficiency exam, arrange finances or apply for funding, obtain letters of recommendation from faculty members or employers, and so on.

Each school’s application may be slightly different. It is important to find out what the law school requires for the application process, and you should give yourself about 3-4 months for this.

How do you think LLM applicants should choose a law school?

There are several factors applicants should consider. I would focus on the faculty and the curriculum. Too many international students rely on rankings. Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students. These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students.  These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

There are a lot of programs that focus on the JD course and do not really have a good program for LLM students. So, you might have a good experience, but it does not necessarily mean you will.

Take seriously instead the areas of expertise or subject matter concentrations that the law school is known for. I would also look at the faculty to student ratio. It is easy to get lost in a large school.

And I would finally look at the location. This is important for many reasons – for example, the costs of living – do you want an American campus experience or a large city experience? Most international students don’t have cars, so they should know how close they have to live to the school, how is the public transportation etc.

Location is also important because you may want to go to a part of the country that you would not otherwise see. After all, [an LLM] is also a chance to experience a different culture.

What do you look for in an applicant’s personal statement?

I look for the student’s motivation. Why do they want to come to Illinois? Are they familiar with our faculty and our strengths in technology or constitutional law or corporate law? Do they know anything specific about the law school? Or are they writing one generic statement simply because they want to spend a year aboard?

I am much more interested in the student who can connect their decision to seek an LLM to something in their background, or their work experience.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

Is this someone who will go out and do different things? Will she think about new ways of approaching a legal problem? What is her future trajectory? A personal statement that can demonstrate these elements is a strong statement.

How do you think applicants should plan for their finances?

I would say first look for schools that have an application fee waiver. Second, when you are considering the total cost of the experience including the full cost of living and not just the tuition. When you are applying for the visa, you have to show you possess the finances that cover the full cost.

Therefore, students should be wise consumers.

Also, look for a school that has significant scholarships and also what is your likelihood of getting this scholarship. As an administrator I may have to choose between allocating 5 full scholarships or 10 half scholarships. So, you want to look at both the amount and number of scholarships.

At Illinois, over 80% of our student receive scholarships, and many of our scholarships are about 50% but not all of them. We are known for being a great bargain for a great education because we invest in top international students.

Illinois College of Law has an option for students to complete the LLM in three semesters instead of two. How does that work?

One of the things we pride ourselves is the flexibility of our LLM program. Students can begin in fall or begin in January. They can complete the LLM in two semesters or choose to finish in three semesters.

Now, some students apply for the three-semester option at the outset while others come here and then choose to extend their coursework in order to study for the bar or improve their practice or language skills. It really depends on the student.

What do you think are the benefits of an LLM from the point of view of an international student?

First of all, getting an international LLM really opens up opportunities, be it academic or career-wise. The LLM allows students to take the Bar exams in the United States, and in some cases gain employment here.

But whether a student choses to sit for the Bar or not, the LLM degree distinguishes them when they go back home. The American system of legal education is unparalleled and students think differently after they leave here.

The LLM broadens your perspectives. Students learn to think about the different ways in which things can be done about various approaches to solving legal problems.

The LLM also provides important global networking opportunities. One of the reasons I mentioned that students should look at the student faculty ratio is that many students come to the US and study for a year, but after that year, they know no one. You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career.

You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career. And the same holds true for your classmates.

And the same holds true for your classmates. The Illinois LLM is diverse and so students have colleagues from South America, Europe, Africa, and different parts of Asia. In 5-10 years into their practice, it may be helpful for them to know people practicing law in different regions.

And you can’t do this by continuing your education at home.

A lot of our clients are looking at joining academia as a profession. Any advice for those considering the JSD or other doctorate degree?

I would highly recommend the JSD for someone who wants to teach or be in academia.

In many countries, you really need a doctoral degree to join the highest ranks of academia. But the JSD admissions are also very competitive, most schools take 5-10 JSD students a year. So, if we have an LLM class of 70 students, even if they all want a JSD we can’t take them all. It is very, very competitive.

My advice for LLM students who are looking at the JSD is that they should apply to several schools because admission is so competitive.

Any final words of advice for those interested in an LLM in the US?

Do your homework and start early. All law schools have detailed websites, so do your homework and really try to understand the program as much as you can.

No NET for Assistant Prof. post if you have a foreign PhD from a top-500 University

For those Indian law graduates looking to join academia, here is a development that ought to be of interest. As per multiple reports last week, the University Grants Commission has allowed foreign PhD holders to be directly recruited as assistant professors. Most significantly, this does away with the requirement of the National Eligibility Test – a factor that has discouraged many in the past.

This development can actually be traced back to July last year when the UGC published the succinctly titled UGC Regulations on Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education. [pdf]

Amongst other things, the Regulations state to be eligible for direct recruitment to the post of Assistant Professor, you can either go through the established route of the NET (although there are some exceptions to this) or have a PhD from a foreign degree that has,

“obtained from a foreign university/institution with a ranking among top 500 in the World University Ranking (at any time) by any one of the following: (i) Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) (ii) the Times Higher Education (THE) or (iii) the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Shanghai).”

These regulations have been notified in October last year so I am not sure why this has been picked up only now. In fact, this particular provision (of PhD from a foreign university) was mentioned in this news report from June of last year.

Whatever be the reason for the recent reports, what this effectively means is that Indian law graduates can consider different pathways to entering Indian academy. And, also, the NET is no longer a mandatory requirement for becoming an Assistant Professor.

Three Executive LLMs that mid-career lawyers can look at

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Ever feel like life is too slow?

So far, clients at Amicus Partners have largely been of two kinds: one, law students in their final or penultimate year of law and two, law grads with a few years of work experience. So naturally, our focus has been on the LLM (and other masters courses) that are tailored for these two segments; I would say that 95% of our clientele is not really looking for anything else.

However, over the last few weeks, I have become aware of a small section of lawyers who are also considering “executive” programs – courses with a reduced residency requirement, tailored to fit into a working professional’s schedule.

Essentially, these programs provide some of the big draws of a full-time LLM: specialist knowledge, brand, and networking without having to give up the entire year (or ten months) that the full-time course would take. And of course, the associated costs that a year out of the country would carry.

To be honest, I am not quite sure if Indian lawyers see executive LLMs as a value proposition, but I do come across lawyers who are considering it. Typically, these are lawyers who are firmly on the Partner track (or close to it), and looking to up skill. At the same time, they are also wary of a year-long departure from the office.

The question is though, will they bite?

Institutions like Columbia Law School certainly think so. They have recently launched their Executive LLM program, and they are not the first major law school to do so. Given below are the details of two other US law schools that offer executive LLM’s.

Of course, you would be well-advised to read through each program’s fine print to see if they satisfy your requirements such as Bar eligibility, qualifying for OPT etc.

Columbia Law School’s Executive LLM in Global Business Law

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Columbia Law Schools Exec LLM/ Columbia Law School 

 

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The newest entrant, as far as I know, to the “e-LLM” club, the Executive LLM from Columbia Law brings a whole lot to the table: online courses and assessments, a three-month residency requirement in New York City, and some stellar faculty. The website mentions that they prefer applicants with a minimum of five years of work experience.

Tuition: $72,560 (More info)

Application Deadline: January 18, 2019 (Preferred deadline is Dec 18, 2018) (More Info)

Contact: ExecLLM@law.columbia.edu

Pros: Faculty, Career Services, Brand, Location

Cons: Does not qualify you for NY Bar, Expensive, First year of operations

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Executive LLM Chicago

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The Northwestern ELLMC/Northwestern University

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Born out of the accelerated summer LLM program, Northwestern’s Executive LLM Chicago (ELLMC) course was formally launched in 2016.  With a curriculum that “will focus on the way lawyers interact across the world with business clients and enterprises”, the ELLMC is not really for someone looking to make that switch to the US. In fact, this is one of the facts that are clearly stated on the website itself (see below)

Tuition: $67,066 (See more)

Application Deadline: Rolling admission

Pros: Qualifies you for California Bar (but read the fine print), scholarships (partial) available, entire course is class-based

Cons: Not tailored for US employment, Expensive

London School of Economics and Political Science Executive LLM

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LSE’s Executive LLM/LSE 

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With an LLM that is quite popular amongst Indian law graduates, LSE does enjoy a certain amount of brand recognition in India.  In addition, the ELLM at LSE also comes with a set of specialisations, and can be completed over the course of four years. Applicants with at least 3 years PQE are preferred.

Tuition: £3,250 per module, 8 modules for completion (£26,000)

Application Deadline: Rolling admission

Pros: Can be covered over 4 years, Location, “Exit points” for those who don’t complete course

Cons: No scholarships, Fairly intensive teaching schedule [pdf]

In addition to the three listed above, one can also look at IE Law School’s Executive LLM that is jointly offered with Northwestern University. And lastly, thanks to LinkedIn, I found the Master of Advanced Corporation Law (MACL) course from the University of Michigan’s Law School.

The Fortnightly with Professor John Flood (Part 1)

If you are visiting this blog, the chances are that legal education is a topic of interest for you. It certainly is for me, and the past few months have allowed me to read about some of the more innovative changes that are taking place in the world of legal education.

At some point in my research, and I am guessing this will be the case for others as well, I chanced upon the writings of one Professor John Flood. A Professor of Law at Griffith University, John Flood has written extensively on the changing nature of the legal profession, amongst other things. But that is not all. Listen to this episode of the Happy Lawyer to get a glimpse of his career. Also, visit his SSRN page where you can find, inter alia, his book on barrister’s clerks in the UK.

Anyway, what I found particularly intriguing about him was his thoughts on legal education, and what the future holds. Which is why I am quite excited to introduce the “Fortnightly with John Flood” (FwF) series where the professor answers a question or two on legal education.

Enough digressing, here is the first FwF:

What do you think the purpose of legal education ought to be?

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Prof. John Flood

I think the answer depends on what you want legal education to achieve. Some people will insist it should be practical and vocational in nature. Perhaps if it’s an emerging economy with a great need for lawyers to handle business and emerging human rights, then creating a vocational attitude might be the way to go.

However, in both business and human rights I would like lawyers to be aware of the deeper issues that can arise. Should business be purely free market with no concern for the neighbourhood effects (externalities) which might consist of poor environmental regulation or poor labour laws regulating conditions of work?

The American approach is to consider law one of the professional schools along with medicine, business and journalism. But their approach is predicated on the fact that professional students will have done a liberal arts degree before taking a professional degree.

In many other countries like the UK or Germany law is a first degree therefore it is expected it will serve a double function of being a “liberal arts” degree along with professional training. This is not the best approach as it conflates practice and theory in ways which are antithetical. In such jurisdictions students taking law frequently resent having to take subjects like legal theory or jurisprudence later on in their degrees feeling they are a waste of time and a detraction from learning how to do “real law”.

In many other countries like the UK or Germany law is a first degree therefore it is expected it will serve a double function of being a “liberal arts” degree along with professional training. This is not the best approach as it conflates practice and theory in ways which are antithetical.

There is a tendency in many countries to follow the American style of legal education. Aside from the supposed practical aspects, American legal education has a scientific bent to it which is illustrated by the popularity and dominance of law and economics, something which isn’t found much elsewhere. These give law and legal education gravitas and status.

Law in many ways reflects what societies are like. It is a kind of social science, perhaps the first. So as societies change, so must law. And the biggest changes affecting society are those caused by automation and machine learning. Unfortunately legal education has taken very little account of these yet.

It will have to.

 

(Image taken from here)