First Person Accounts: Ritwika Sharma on LLMs from NALSAR, Cambridge University

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. In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Ritwika Sharma who recently completed an LLM from Cambridge University.

That is not the only post-graduate degree that she possesses, Ritwika also completed an LLM from NALSAR University. In this interview, she talks about the differences (and similarities) between the two LLMs,  a career in research and policy, and a whole lot more.

 

Ritwika Sharma on Cambridge LLM

Ritwika Sharma

 

When did you start thinking about a post-graduate education? Given that you went to NALSAR for an LLM immediately after your undergrad, was this something you decided on in your final year?

I started thinking about post-graduate education only towards the end of my final year at college. I was not very sure if I wanted to pursue the LL.M. and was actively applying for jobs till the beginning of my tenth semester.

I was certain that I wanted to start litigating after graduation, and I sat for the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) mostly to have a backup. The fact that the LL.M. had been converted to a one-year course (as opposed to the long-standing two-year course) nudged me into applying for the CLAT.

I ended up securing a decent rank in the exam which made me realise that I could get into a law school of my choice. At this point, I knew I wanted to do the LL.M. a few years later  but because I had a good CLAT rank (and well, no job!), I decided to take the plunge and do the LL.M. immediately after my final year. So I will have to say that the NALSAR LL.M., for me, happened mostly by chance!  

Why an LLM, and why at NALSAR?

When I managed to secure a good rank in the CLAT, I decided to go ahead with the LL.M. and not wait. Also, I must mention that at this point, I had not worked out the finances or the application procedure for an LL.M. from a foreign university. So personally for me, applying for a foreign LL.M. was completely out of question.

NALSAR was my first preference because of the choice of courses the university had on offer. I wanted to specialise in constitutional law. Even though NALSAR had stopped offering the constitutional law specialisation by the time I applied, the general LL.M. gave me the opportunity to study an assortment of courses. I ended up reading the most well thought-out courses in public law at NALSAR because I had the option to choose courses from across specialisations. Of course, most of them were grounded in constitutional law and administrative law but I also read courses in legal theory and environmental law.

Special mention for courses titled ‘Federal Features of the Indian Constitution’, and ‘Theories of Adjudication’ which helped strengthen the basics of constitutional law for me.        

How would you compare the learning experiences at Amity and NALSAR? What were some of the bigger differences when you look back at the two?

I graduated from Amity Law School, Delhi which is affiliated to the Guru GobindSingh Indraprastha University. There were some very stark differences between the learning experiences at Amity and NALSAR. Something that comes to mind almost immediately is the way exams at Amity are structured.

Barring few instances, the exam is a test of rote learning. Open book examination did not exist at Amity, and we knew we were being tested on a very limited set of skills. Of course, I can imagine a law school like Amity being bound by the curriculum and examination patterns of the Indraprastha University, and being unable to immensely modify how they go about assessing students’ performances.

The other important factor that set apart Amity and NALSAR is exposure. Exchange programmes are not a norm at Amity. Based on my limited observation, most undergraduate students at national law schools have been to exchange programmes, an experience which is hard, if not impossible, to have at Amity.

Having said that, I must mention that I was equally happy with the faculty at both Amity and NALSAR. I remember being taught by some brilliant teachers at Amity and in that respect, I could not spot huge differences between the two institutions. The teaching styles were similar, and the faculty at Amity did try their best to stay at par with the way classrooms function at national law schools.     

The one-year LLM in India is a fairly recent phenomenon. Would you recommend it to other law graduates? 

Most people are surprised when I say this, but I will say (rather confidently) that the NALSAR LL.M. was almost as fulfilling as the one at Cambridge! I would certainly recommend it to potential candidates. Law schools are trying to diversify the specialisations and elective courses they have on offer, and I am certain that the quality of the Indian LL.M. is going to improve in the years to come. I found the faculty at NALSAR supremely invested in designing the LL.M. as an advanced research-based course of contemporary relevance.     

Most people are surprised when I say this, but I will say (rather confidently) that the NALSAR LL.M. was almost as fulfilling as the one at Cambridge! I would certainly recommend it to potential candidates.

Of course, there are some aspects of the Indian LL.M. which merit deeper examination. The perception is that if one is pursuing the LL.M. from India it is because they want to venture into academics. This is a sweeping generalisation and I wonder why someone specialising in say, corporate law (or trade law) would not want to work at a law firm.

In a way, what I am trying to say is that LL.M. candidates should have an equal shot at recruitment at law firms (when they come visiting). Things might have changed since 2014 (when I graduated from NALSAR) to now, but back then, it was quite irksome to not have LL.M. students participate in recruitments right from day one. Also, high time that the unfounded discrimination between the undergraduate and graduate students ends – it is juvenile, meaningless, and does nothing to better the academic environment of a law school.

Also, high time that the unfounded discrimination between the undergraduate and graduate students ends – it is juvenile, meaningless, and does nothing to better the academic environment of a law school.

Clearly, your education journey was not complete. A few years at Vidhi, and you went on for another masters (LLM) at Cambridge. What were the reasons behind this move, and did you look at any other universities?

After about two years at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, I was certain that I want to remain in the research and policy space (in India). To that end, it did make sense for me to pursue another advanced research-based degree. By then I knew that a second masters is not entirely unheard of, so I went ahead with it.

Apart from Cambridge, I had applied to Oxford, and the London School of Economics and Political Science in the UK. I had also applied to Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale in the US. These choices were premised on the kind of courses these universities offered under the broad realm of public law (because that is what I wanted to specialise in).    

Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?

I did apply for financial aid but unfortunately, I could not lay my hands on any scholarship/ funding. In hindsight, I feel I should have been slightly more diligent with my funding applications.

It is hard, but not entirely impossible to get funding, especially because universities like Oxford and Cambridge have several scholarships on offer. Even a partly-funded LL.M. is a lot of money saved.

My sincere advice for candidates would be to diligently research funding opportunities because there is a lot out there. LL.M. courses in Europe are still not as well as known (as compared to those in the UK and USA) which means there are several untapped funding avenues over there.    

When it came to the application itself, any advice for how one should go about drafting the SoP, who to ask for LoRs etc?

While drafting the SoP may not be that arduous a task in itself, answering a question about how to write one is! I was told that the SoP needs to be like a story – a succinct (and maybe poetic!) description of one’s current and future goals. I was also told that one needs to subtly market oneself in the SoP.

The point of the SoP is to establish one’s suitability for the course they are applying for, and to also convey to the admission authorities as to why that course is crucial for a person’s future goals. I guess if both these requirements are met, that makes for a good SoP (of course, in the form of a story)!

The point of the SoP is to establish one’s suitability for the course they are applying for, and to also convey to the admission authorities as to why that course is crucial for a person’s future goals.

Universities are very clear on the kind of LoRs they require. Most universities require academic LoRs, so always makes sense to keep in touch with professors from your undergraduate institution. For a person who has some professional experience, it makes sense to have one professional referee. Of course, it is advisable to get a LoR from someone who knows you closely, and not necessarily from someone who may be otherwise well-known.    

How was the Cambridge experience? What were the expectations going in, and looking back, were they met?

The Cambridge experience was surreal! Even before the course commenced, I was quite taken by the grandeur of the city, and the kind of resources the University had to offer. It is a holistic experience where there is a lot to gain from the LL.M. course, and from the University town itself.

The University houses some of the most well-endowed libraries and one should make the most of those. There are some brilliant resources on offer, at times archival resources as well which are otherwise hard to find. The city by itself is culturally vibrant and there’s a lot to keep one occupied between terms. Cambridge as a city is quite expensive so there’s always this nagging concern about saving money. Even then, there are a lot of free activities that one can partake in, so all’s well!  

Life at Cambridge could have been better if they had more courses on offer as part of the LL.M. For a university of Cambridge’s repute, the number of courses on offer is startlingly less, and not exactly diverse. Also, I am still trying to wrap my head around 8-week long terms which got over sooner than I realised.

Now I am sure that this has been in existence since time immemorial (and for Oxbridge, quite literally!), but I do believe that that’s something potential applicants should keep in mind while applying. Personally, I could have done with longer terms because I do feel that gives a student more time to familiarise with both the faculty as well as their fellow classmates.  

Lastly, any advice for Indian law grads who are thinking about an LLM?

Be very, very mindful of what you want to specialise in. A student spends just about 10 months in the LL.M. course which get over even before one realises.

It makes sense to wisely choose one’s subjects when all you have is 10 months to specialise in it! This means that the whole applications’ process requires diligent research to ascertain the best law school suited to one’s area of interest.

I will repeat myself and say that candidates should spend as much time working on funding and scholarship applications. Chances are high that several people will get selected for the course, and the only thing that then sets one apart is the fact of earning a scholarship.

I will repeat myself and say that candidates should spend as much time working on funding and scholarship applications. Chances are high that several people will get selected for the course, and the only thing that then sets one apart is the fact of earning a scholarship.

%d bloggers like this: