First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued, or are currently pursuing, a post-graduate course (be it an LLM or otherwise) from different schools across the world.

Rekha Panchal who recently completed an LLM from Queen Mary University of London
Rekha Panchal

In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Rekha Panchal who recently completed an LLM from Queen Mary University of London (Class of ’18). In fact, this is her second master’s degree in law, in 2015 she completed the two-year LLM from Mumbai University followed by a stint at the Dubai-based STA Law Firm.

(Edited excerpts)

Why did you take a decision to do another masters course? 

This decision was made after weighing various factors such as professional goals, time required, creating my own financial resources and reviews from those who had done an LLM from foreign universities.

I was actually confused between doing Qualified law Transfer Scheme (QLTS) or an LLM and decided to go for LLM as it was a one-year commitment with certain results of gaining a degree and specialized knowledge. I will be attempting the QLTS along with my work.

I moved to Dubai after my marriage, and managed to get a Trainee position at STA Law before being elevated to the Associate position (Corporate/ Commercial). This was without an LLM. Moving into a specialized practice area was my professional goal and hence, I considered getting some formal specialized knowledge.

I am of the view that a formal education in specific courses certainly expands your understanding within a short span of time. The depth of knowledge acquired in certain modules is something I would have taken years to acquire through experience.

I am of the view that a formal education in specific courses certainly expands your understanding within a short span of time. The depth of knowledge acquired in certain modules is something I would have taken years to acquire through experience.

How did you go about selecting the LLM? Apart from QMUL, did you apply to any other schools? 

Selecting where to do an LLM  was not only about choosing which LLM course I wanted to study but also about knowing which subjects I would like to gain specialized knowledge in. I was interested in a mix of commercial subjects like carriage of goods as well as mergers and acquisitions.

Accordingly, my first step was to check the LLM courses that fit into my interest modules. I shortlisted four universities, and I was happy to get offer from all but QMUL was my most preferred university. QMUL had almost 40 modules to choose from across the fields of corporate & commercial, shipping, energy, etc. Also, the centre for commercial law studies is well reputed.

The factors I took into consideration were course modules, rankings, and reviews from alumni. My enquiries to alumni were very specific in nature; I wanted to know whether the universities lived upto their past glory, their claims and industry connections, the exposure they provided. I am very grateful to people who guided me and gave time to provide their honest opinions.

Did you apply for financial aid?

No, I did not apply for any financial aid as my admission applications were made late and till that time the scholarship applications were closed.  I do feel if I would have been more informed about deadlines and made applications earlier it would have been better.

It also adds to your resume or profile that you are recipient of such scholarship and makes you stand out.

How would you compare the first LLM with the second? 

I would compare both on two grounds – structure and practical exposure. The first LLM from Mumbai University was a more traditional, classroom-based course with research based projects in second year.

The QMUL LLM was more interactive with regular seminars and intensive reading based courses. Unlike Mumbai University, where we first comprehend basics in class and then do readings, going without recommended reading to lectures was frowned upon by most professors in QMUL.

In Mumbai University we had only written closed book exams but in QMUL, the type of exam depended on what the professor deemed fit. For instance I had three written closed book exams, two modules had research-based essay submissions, and one module was a 24-hour open book exam.

In Mumbai University we had only written closed book exams but in QMUL, the type of exam depended on what the professor deemed fit. For instance I had three written closed book exams, two modules had research-based essay submissions, and one module was a 24-hour open book exam.

In terms of practical exposure, in QMUL there were constant seminars, workshops conducted by law firm partners, and career counselling. These events gave the opportunity to directly meet and network with law firm associates and partners, and get first-hand insights into their practice.

How demanding would you rate the QMUL LLM to be? 

The QMUL LLM required an independent learning time of 203 hours which would mean roughly 9 hours per week for 11 weeks and then 103 hours for exam preparation. This was independent of the 2-hour lectures for each module.

As mentioned earlier, pre-lecture reading was necessary and the LLM was certainly demanding. Further, professors would post updates online and discuss these during lectures – this really helped with building one’s commercial awareness. At the same time attending workshops, seminars and events was also a priority for practical insights and as networking opportunities.

I am really very glad that I chose to do LLM after working for few years as advised by my seniors. Getting the time to read one’s subjects of my interest was a privilege and pleasure. Also, I had more clarity in choosing modules during the induction process.

Getting the time to read one’s subjects of my interest was a privilege and pleasure. Also, I had more clarity in choosing modules during the induction process.

I would just reiterate the advice of my seniors and say give yourself a year or two to explore your interest while working and then go for LLM in specialized field. Then even if you end up doing general LLM or broad based LLM like mine you would know what really you desire to get out of such study.

When it comes to your QMUL cohort, were international students able to find employment in the UK? 

Sorry this sounds pessimistic, but there is obviously no assurance of employment in the UK even if you do LLM or an LPC. As for QMUL specifically, I don’t have the exact figures as they are not published by university, but I noticed that QMUL law graduates did do well in securing training contracts.

However, comparatively few LLM students managed to get vacation schemes during the term and many were still applying after completion of LLM in September 2018.

QMUL’s ‘The Energy and Natural Resources Law Institute’ must be mentioned as they carried out “Internship Programme 2018” in which energy students had priority over other LLM specialisms. The majority of energy students got vacation schemes with law firms, Energy Charter and such other international organizations.

QMUL also has a mentorship scheme which allows students to be mentored by law firm partners. Some of those students managed to get internships with the firms but again, acquiring training contract or employment is very tough.

The UK legal market is one of the toughest to get into because students from almost every country study law in the UK. Apart from that, UK law firms also consider non-law graduates for traineeships. So, even if you study law in the UK there is no guarantee that you will get a training contract or vacation scheme in the UK.

Finally, any advice for future LLM applicants, more specifically on:

Writing the SoP

This is an indispensable part of the application. It is about stating your story and is a replacement of the interview process. Applicants must check the college website for particular standards or questions that the university wants to be answered in the SoP.

I started with a basic introduction, and then discussed the reasons behind graduating in law, my professional goals, why the particular specialisation appealed to me the most, and my professional and academic achievements and activities.

Choosing referees for the Letters of Recommendation

Most applications require at least two academic referees, but this must be confirmed as well. If you have more than three years’ experience, then professional reference would also suffice. You should make sure what are the universities’ application requirements regarding LoR.

Choose the professor or lecturer who has taught you or has supervised your project or research paper. Make sure what your graduation university’s rules are in case of visiting professor, in case you have such professor in mind.

In general, I would like to reiterate: give yourself some years of practice to understand what you wish to specialize in, do your research on modules you wish to study, explore scholarship options as soon as possible and finally do what you think is best for you and interests you. 

I wish students applying for an LLM all the best and good luck!

Give yourself some years of practice to understand what you wish to specialize in, do your research on modules you wish to study, explore scholarship options as soon as possible and finally do what you think is best for you and interest’s you.

 

End Notes

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