First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued (or are pursuing) a post-graduate course from different schools across the world.
In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Aradhya Sethia who recently completed an LLM from Yale Law School (Class of ’18). In this FPA, the NLSIU graduate (Class of ’17) shares his thoughts on studying at Yale, the Inlaks scholarship (of which he is an awardee), the Fox Fellowship, comparative constitutional studies, and a whole lot more.
At what stage of your undergraduate studies did you consider enrolling for an LLM?
I was undecided till the end, but it was in the fourth year that I seriously started thinking about it.
I am presuming it was Yale’s focus on academia that made you apply there? Did you look at any other law schools?
I always wanted to study constitutional philosophy. Yale Law School is widely recognized to be the best school to do that, and some of the best scholars whom I encountered in my undergraduate research were Yale professors. Apart from Yale, I applied to Oxford and Cambridge. I received an offer from both the universities, but I decided to go to Yale.
The Yale LLM admissions requires fairly compact essays – how should future applicants approach the essay requirements?
I’d recommend the students to read the questions very carefully. Your essay should make sure that you are answering each and every essay question. Yale also requires you to submit a research agenda.
It took me a lot of research to get to a point where I could draft a convincing research agenda. They want you to ask concise, relevant, and thought-provoking questions. Focus on that one big question you are interested in.
Your primary goal shouldn’t be to prove that you have researched a lot, but to ask the right question, show why that question matters, and how Yale could help you answer that question.
“Your primary goal shouldn’t be to prove that you have researched a lot, but to ask the right question, show why that question matters, and how Yale could help you answer that question.”
How was the LLM experience at Yale? What courses did you study, and what were some of the bigger changes in the teachings (and learnings) between your undergrad and post-grad days?
I really loved my time at Yale. First of all, it was for the first time that I was studying in a multi-disciplinary university. I got to live and interact with theoretical physicists, economists, computer scientists, etc. It was a superb learning experience.
“It was for the first time that I was studying in a multi-disciplinary university. I got to live and interact with theoretical physicists, economists, computer scientists, etc. It was a superb learning experience.”
I took courses on American Constitutional Law, comparative constitutional law, American legal thought, comparative administrative law, Law and AI, Law and Behavioral Economics, Data Protection, and International Trade Law. I also took a clinical course on International Human Rights (IHR).
The clinic was my favorite experience at Yale. It taught me how IHR is really practiced beyond courtroom lawyering. I also took a course in political philosophy on the relationship between politics and economics.
Yale has a small LLM batch size – around 25, and all my batchmates were serious scholars of their own fields. I was the youngest member of the batch, and hence, relatively clueless. I did not go there with a set plan or goal, which helped me keep an open mind and explore courses I was not exposed to, instead of specializing in one field.
You studied at Yale as an Inlaks scholar – any advice on how to go about the scholarship process?
There’s no one way to go about it. I think the idea is to remain calm and honest during the interview process. The first round is stream-specific. My interview with the law-panel mostly dealt with my ability to debate legal issues and my knowledge about the areas of law I am interested in.
The questions in the second round were more general, mostly related to either character or how I situate the relevance of my academic interests in the larger scheme of affairs. I don’t think one can really prepare for the second interview.
Could you tell us a bit about the Fox Fellowship? What are the things to keep in mind while applying, and how has the fellowship experience been thus far?
Yale Fox Fellowship funds recent graduate students or current Ph.D. students at Yale to spend a year at one of their partner universities to do their own research. It’s a University-wide fellowship, not restricted to Yale Law School. The aim of the fellowship is to create “citizen-scholars”, who can contribute to society through their research. If you are a graduate student at their partner university, you can apply to spend your fellowship year at Yale.
To apply for Fox, you need to submit your research proposal along with a statement of interest. I wanted to work on the place of political parties in the constitutional order. I decided to research this question with its Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at Melbourne, one of the leading comparative constitutional law research centres in the world. I have found some amazing mentors and friends here.
Given your experiences, what would you tell Indian law students who are interested in a career in academia and research?
I don’t think I have achieved anything significant in this field to recommend much. However, there’s a minefield of issues in Indian law, which have not yet received any scholarly attention.
“I’d recommend undergraduate students that instead of taking up “buzzing” issues, choose fundamental legal questions that are relatively unexplored.”
I’d recommend undergraduate students that instead of taking up “buzzing” issues, choose fundamental legal questions that are relatively unexplored.
Last question – what are some of the teaching practices you have seen that ought to be replicated in Indian law schools?
There are many things that could be replicated in Indian law schools. One thing that I would like to point out here because of my experiences in Indian and American clinics is clinical education.
I wish there were more clinical facilities in Indian law schools. For those who may want to practice law, clinical legal education can teach you a lot. In India, the clinics are mostly seen as a part of ‘co-curricular activities’, operated by student committees with little to no support from faculty. I am not sure if any Indian law school has full-time clinical faculty and full-fledged clinical courses as part of academic curriculum.
“In India, the clinics are mostly seen as a part of ‘co-curricular activities’, operated by student committees with little to no support from faculty.”
Finally, a cautionary note on ‘replication’ – I wish I were exposed to more Indian scholarship during my time at NLS Bangalore. For instance, my classes in jurisprudence and political theory in India were completely occupied by readings from British and American legal theorists. There’s no problem with that. I thoroughly enjoyed those readings.
However, I completed that course without having any sense of what those ideas meant for the law or politics in India. It didn’t help me make sense of my surroundings. It is only when I went to Yale, and I understood the deep contextual roots of these theories, that I was pushed to read literature on Indian constitutional and legal thought.
I was amazed that there are many scholars thinking deeply and writing profusely on what law or constitutionalism means, or ought to mean, in Indian or South Asian context, or even how to make sense of grand theories in local contexts.