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.

In this FPA edition, we get to speak with Prashanth S Shivadass who received an LLM in Competition Law from Queen Mary University of London (Class of ’16). Prashant completed his BA LLB from Christ University (Class of ’13) and is currently working at AZB and Partners. In this interview he discusses why he chose to work a few years before the LLM, the “name value versus course” debate,  Indian law firms and an international LLM, and a whole lot more.

Prashanth S Shivadass on his LLM from Queen Mary University of London
Prashanth S Shivadass

(Edited excerpts)

Did you ever consider enrolling for the LLM right after graduation? Or was the plan to always work for a couple of years and then apply?

The plan was to always work for a couple of years before doing a course (be it LLM or any other). To be fair, I was just an average student whilst in college, so it never really seemed possible for me to get through right after law school. So, a decent run at a good law firm does add a ‘work ex’ value to my resume, making it a little more appealing than just average.

But, over time I realized (especially while doing the course), that a working knowledge of the law, particularly a specialist law, really helps during an LLM. The intricate details re: practice and procedure, developments in the law and just the basic understanding of the nuances of a specialized subject, helps with the LLM.

“The intricate details re: practice and procedure, developments in the law and just the basic understanding of the nuances of a specialized subject, helps with the LLM.”

How did you go about university selection? And how did you narrow down on QMUL?

University selection is akin to course selection. I interned with the then Senior Partner of DSK Legal, now Senior Counsel, Mr. Balbir Singh, my inspiration and my mentor when it comes to Competition Law, in my final year of law school. Back then, he was counsel for CCI before the then, Competition Appellate Tribunal (COMPAT) working on one of the most interesting cases, the Cement Cartel. I have never learnt so much about a subject than I did at that internship.

My interest in competition law dates to 2011 and that’s when I decided to take this up as a full-time specialism. Again, a specialism doesn’t necessarily mean full time dedication only on that subject for the remainder of my legal life.

  • The key was to specialize in an area – that’s how I began my search.
  • Of course, having my roots attached to a moderately middle-class background, I cannot burden myself or my folks with a large sum as tuition fee.
  • The search for that one authority in that area of law and the school he/she teaches at.

I was most fortunate to learn under the big stalwarts of Competition Law in the UK and QMUL. Unlike many who believe that a name matters more, I believe, a course does.

“I was most fortunate to learn under the big stalwarts of Competition Law in the UK and QMUL. Unlike many who believe that a name matters more, I believe, a course does.”

Did you apply for financial aid of any kind?

Given my answer above, some may think it would’ve been wise to apply for financial aid. But the minute a financial aid application is seen along with a course application, the tendency is to look at these applications at a later stage when compared to those who are willing to pay a full tuition fee (this I learnt after interacting with one of the professors at QMUL at the selection panel). It’s simple economics.

For countries such as the UK, Europe and the States, education and tourism are their biggest source of revenue. For them to aid you on that education, you need to be exceptionally brilliant with academics, which I wasn’t. I wouldn’t discourage people from applying for financial aid, but not as a first choice.

“For countries such as the UK, Europe and the States, education and tourism are their biggest source of revenue. For them to aid you on that education, you need to be exceptionally brilliant with academics, which I wasn’t.”

On the application itself, any advice for those struggling with the SoP? 

The first thing that crosses any applicant’s mind while writing a SoP – ‘how do I write 500/750 words about myself?  To them I say this – stop listening to people who tell you if you can’t explain yourself in 500 words, you don’t know yourself. The other thing I’d say – please calm down.

Every SoP is different in its own way. Some put down their struggles and their way out to learn, others put down their achievements and what they strive to do with it. The key is to build confidence in the eyes of the person ‘X’ who reads your SoP and tells herself, “I don’t want to look at this Applicant’s CV / Resume or recommendations. The applicant has given me enough insights”.

  • A Statement of Purpose is essentially a paper interview to a person who is sitting miles away from you and has no idea who or what you are. She / he doesn’t care for your riches, your background, your internships, your marks or even your law school or any school for that matter. All they are interested in – why do you want to study this course? How is our University going to help you achieve what you want and how will you use this education?
  • The SoP takes upto 10 months to bend into the right shape. So, don’t expect your first time to be the last. There are months of hardship, second thoughts, third thoughts, ditching plans to do your LLM etc. You should never let that get to you.
  • Don’t refer to someone else’s work, irrespective of how difficult it is. Your SoP is yours. You may have a family friend or relative who’s scored a Masters’ degree 10 years ago and may want to refer to her / his SoP for pattern and structure. This just clouds your head with judgement. Everything you write thereafter, will sound like that SoP which is of no value.
  • And finally, don’t show your SoP to more than 2 people. There is never such a thing called the ‘perfect SoP’.  Out of the two, one must be an English Teacher or a person who’s majored in English for structure, content and use of politically correct words and the other, must be a person who knows you well enough to give you biting comments and hard-hitting facts.

How was the LLM experience itself? What were some of the biggest learnings made during the course?

In a word – overwhelming.

The teaching methodology is something unparalleled. ‘Spoon-feeding’, as is often done in law schools in India, does not exist in foreign schools. And that’s something we should strive to aim in Indian Law Schools as well. We will certainly not have a problem with their examination system since we are trained to sit in for a 3 – 4, hour examinations since grade 6. But the learning curve during class hours is much more.

I don’t think I’ve ever missed a class because I was lazy to wake up in the morning or too tired after a late previous night. And this comes from a person who has struggled with attendance issues all through undergrad school. This should tell you a bit about the zeal and motivation with which the teachers prepare themselves and the students for every class.

It’s exhausting to know that there is so much content and information on one topic. You can’t know it all, but that’s the point – you should strive to know it all. This is the biggest learning I got.

“I don’t think I’ve ever missed a class because I was lazy to wake up in the morning or too tired after a late previous night. And this comes from a person who has struggled with attendance issues all through undergrad school.”

After your LLM, you came back to practice in India – what was your reading of the UK legal market recruitments during your time there?

Around 2015 – 16, UK had just voted to come out of the European Union. I had the grand opportunity to help setup one of India’s top firms, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan’s London office. Amidst a huge circle of Magic and Silver Circle Law firm, I was fortunate to travel with Mr. Kumaran to meet many Partners at law firms in London.

While the legal market trend was changing in the UK, one of the things I noticed was their fight to enter the Indian Legal Market at any cost. Large firms have opened sizable India desks to work on India related matters alone (could be inbound India work or out-bound from India work). However, with Brexit and VISA regulations a major concern, most firm were reluctant to fund visas. The market was recruiting, with the UK legal market having almost reached its saturation, they were looking to diversify in the Indian market.

In comparison, we had evolving and new laws in India, to build jurisprudence, to bring out loopholes and to bring in better structures and approaches to the Indian Legal system. We tend to undermine India a lot, but little do we realize, the opportunity we have, to establish and make a mark. Money isn’t an issue either (if you’re in corporate).

But my heart always goes out to the litigation freaks like me who are constantly underpaid, which deters others from coming into litigation. But, twenty years down the line, a Senior Counsel would earn a lot more than a Senior Partner – so it’s a win – win.    

The traditional perception is that Indian law firms don’t place much of a value on LLMs – thoughts?

I don’t think it’s wise to generalize all law firms and say they don’t place value on your LLM. Some in fact place more value on your LLM than your former work experience or your undergraduate degree. As a Competition Law specialist, I’ve been told that my LLM brings in great value to the team and they consider that one year as work experience.

What I can offer is this – in the coming years, foreign law firms will play a major role in transaction-based work, or even litigation-based work – through local counsel of course. Such law firms will look for a mixed bag of associates – some may even ask for associates who have foreign degrees to assist them on these matters. That is where an LLM stands high to take advantage.

“Such law firms will look for a mixed bag of associates – some may even ask for associates who have foreign degrees to assist them on these matters. That is where an LLM stands high to take advantage.”

Lastly, any advice for Indian law graduates who are looking to do an LLM abroad?

  • Work very hard for a minimum of 2 years before considering an LLM application or for LLM to serve you as a break;
  • Choose course strength over University name, and;
  •  Travel as much as possible.

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