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 from different schools across the world.
In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Rini Agrawal who completed her Indian law degree from Bhopal University (Class of ’10). A year later, she enrolled at the University of Nottingham (Class of ’12) for an LLM in International Commercial Law. Five years later, she enrolled for another master’s, this time an LLM from Brooklyn Law School.
What got you thinking about an LLM? Was it something you thought of as an undergraduate, or was it a decision you made after you started working?
A foreign LLM degree is mostly about getting an exposure of the international market in the early stages of your career, if you decide to move immediately after your undergrad.
I decided to do an LLM when I was in the fifth year of law school, hoping to upgrade my legal education and get international exposure. There is a lot of hype in the Indian legal market about the fact that top-tier law firms hire graduates from either national law schools or those with foreign LLMs.
However, it is just a myth. The more you explore the profession, the more successful you will be.
“There is a lot of hype in the Indian legal market about the fact that top-tier law firms hire graduates from either national law schools or those with foreign LLMs. However, it is just a myth. The more you explore the profession, the more successful you will be.“
I started my career as an in-house lawyer and always wanted to switch to a private practice as early as possible, which I thought would be possible with an LLM degree. I worked for United Technologies for less than a year because I was motivated to go to the UK for higher education since my law school days.
Why Nottingham University? How did you go about selecting courses, and any advice for prospective applicants? Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?
With a limited knowledge and connections at that time (2011), I always relied on rankings posted on LLM guide (Master of Laws program worldwide). The University of Nottingham (UoN) was ranked in the top 10 colleges in the UK and the modules offered were of great interest to me.
I was interested in pursuing EU Competition law as my major subject and the faculty in UoN for this particular subject is well known. I chose other courses with a global perspective in my mind that if I practice in any jurisdiction, the knowledge I gain, should help me everywhere. Therefore, most of my subjects were relating to cross border practice for instance corporate and insolvency laws, conflict of laws etc.
My advice to prospective students is that good research and self-awareness can beat a lot of frivolous information. Think what interests you more, what skill set is required in the market, explore your abilities and then invest in your education.
“My advice to prospective students is that good research and self-awareness can beat a lot of frivolous information. Think what interests you more, what skill set is required in the market, explore your abilities and then invest in your education.“
Yes, finances play a pivotal role when you consider education abroad. If you chose any college in London or say New York, the tuition fees, cost of living etc goes up by 40-50%, which is generally on a higher side if compared with other cities.
I did not apply for any financial aid, my father helped me with the finances.
After this LLM, you worked in India for a while before moving to Dubai. Looking back, how helpful was the LLM in your professional growth?
With a foreign LLM degree definitely you earn some extra baggage and gain confidence in dealing with/ representing diversified clients. Knowledge wise, your perspective to any issue widens and you are able to shape your research/thoughts/advice in a manner, which a client may not question to pay for, unless otherwise.
Overall, my growth was exponential with this qualification. However, I have a suggestion for students who do not have any work-ex before the LLM, and then join a firm in India or elsewhere with a foreign LLM degree.
“Research about the firm and partners you are going to work with, before taking up a job. Joining a boutique firm, which has no appetite of your knowledge and skills, may give you a hard time. This decision is crucial as it substantially revolves attorney’s professional growth during initial stages of a career.”
Research about the firm and partners you are going to work with, before taking up a job. Joining a boutique firm, which has no appetite of your knowledge and skills, may give you a hard time. This decision is crucial as it substantially revolves attorney’s professional growth during initial stages of a career.
Nearly five years into your job, you opted for a second LLM at Brooklyn Law School. Again, how did you go about selecting law schools, and why narrow down on Brooklyn? Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?
Well, this was never a thought I would say until March 2017 when I received my foreign education evaluation from NY Board of Examiners. I did an LLM in the US, to merely cure my qualification, and to sit for New York Bar Examination.
A bachelor of law degree in India or any other foreign LLM is not a sufficient qualification as per the requirements of NY Board of Examiners and you would require a law degree in the US. So for foreign lawyers this is generally a pathway to become an attorney in the US. [Rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law – § 520.6].
A follow up question would be, “Why qualify for the NY Bar?”
I always wanted to register with either the Roll of Solicitors of England and Wales or the New York Bar . I chose the latter because the US has more scope and opportunities for foreign attorneys, especially in New York. Additionally, it helps to meet the requirements of global clients who are looking for such expertise i.e. dual bar admissions.
Why Brooklyn Law School (BLS)? It had all features which I was looking for. They have this program LLM for foreign trained lawyers, specifically designed for foreign lawyers who are intending to sit for the NY Bar. However, they do offer a specialized LLM degree in areas like business law, immigration law, IP law etc.
BLS is one of the oldest law school and well known for its JD program, for excellent faculty members who have made commendable contributions in the US legal system. It is also centrally located (in the heart of NY City), very close to Brooklyn Bridge and surrounded by various administrative offices. Also in terms of Tuition fees, BLS had something reasonable to offer, and an exhaustive list of elective courses.
I did not apply for any financial aid, though I received 30% scholarship (on tuition) and the remaining was self-funded.
What were some of the differences between the UK and the US LLM experiences? Would you choose one over the other?
The teaching methodologies and approach to legal theories are very different. Work wise, I briefly worked in the UK with a local practice on placement week and my learning was limited to knowing how a typical British law firm operates.
In terms of US experience, I was fortunate enough that BLS provided a platform for LLMs to apply for a clerkship program in Federal/State Courts. I have never been too enthusiastic about litigation but when I spoke with partners of corporate law firm, they suggested that a clerkship is always a recommended experience to gain while in law school. I got an opportunity to work for Federal Judge (US Bankruptcy Court), which was really a good experience and also a great networking opportunity. I think US law schools have so much to offer in terms of pro bono opportunities, curricular involvement etc.
You are sitting for the NY Bar – any advice you have on going about this process?
Well, the NY Bar is not easy, especially when it comes to foreign LLMs, given the very theoretical approach we gain in our law schools.
The process itself takes a lot of time; first you do your foreign education evaluation with the Board of Examiners. Then if you do not have a US LLM, you need to think about which law school to apply to. Then you have to choose a bar review course, clear separate set of additional exams like the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, New York Law Exam, along with the king of all, the Uniform Bar Exam.
For the UBE, you need a minimum of two months to prepare without any work commitments. I suggest to have a timeline because this process would take at least 2 years to get you to your Oath Day and sworn-in as an attorney in the US, and yes with a lot of financial commitments too.
“I suggest to have a timeline because this process would take at least 2 years to get you to your Oath Day and sworn-in as an attorney in the US, and yes with a lot of financial commitments too.“
Final question – given that you have a fairly global perspective, what is your take on employment prospects for Indian law graduates? More specifically, Indian law graduates interested in working in non-Indian jurisdictions?
For Indian law graduates, opportunities can be limited unless they have some hands on experience in foreign jurisdiction either by way of training contracts or internships. I have met Indian attorneys who are placed with foreign firms without any foreign LLM degrees.
It depends on the opportunities you meet with. Given the current scenario, I have seen that Indian lawyers struggle a lot. Placement in foreign firms based in the Middle East, a decade back was relatively easier. I have seen that US or UK firms generally look for bar admissions i.e. if a candidate has qualified a local bar.