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 edition, I get Aayushi Singh to talk about the LLM in International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution offered by the National University of Singapore, a course she is currently enrolled in. Aayushi is graduate of Symbiosis Law School, Pune (Class of ’18) and, in this interview, shares  her reasons for enrolling for the LLM, externships at Singapore’s leading law firms, the NUS MIDS double-degree programme, and a whole lot more.

Aayushi Singh
Aayushi Singh

As an undergraduate student, at what point of time did you decide to enrol for a master’s course? Did you consider working for a few years before the LLM?

There’s a Kafkan idea that states you must follow your most intense passions mercilessly and for me, that passion has always been international arbitration. I was certain that my career trajectory would definitely involve an LL.M, it was only a matter of when I’d decide to take a step down that alley.

Possibly in the middle of my third year due to the exposure I had towards international arbitration and commercial laws via moots, internships and conferences – I made up my mind that owing to the technicalities of the field and nuances it involves, I would seek to build a career in it only after I had gained sufficient knowledge in the domain.

International arbitration, being a highly specialised portion of private international law, is taught only in a handful of law schools back in India and I personally felt I wanted to gain adequate theoretical insight before jumping into a full fledged job

How did you go about selecting schools? And how did you narrow down on NUS – was this related to your earlier internship in Kuala Lumpur?

Instead of mindlessly going after seeking a big name on my CV, I wanted to aim for colleges that offered highly specialized degrees in International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution. The options involved MIDS, Stockholm University, Queen Mary University of London, and the National University of Singapore.

After getting my acceptance letters, I made a decision based on the course structure and then opting for the college which offered me a set of diversified clusters where I was not forced to choose between investment or commercial arbitration as I do enjoy a fairly soft corner for the former. Besides academic reasons, the National University of Singapore was a conscious decision based on my prior exposure to South East Asia owing to my traineeship with the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration and my familiarity with Singapore as a city.

NUS offered courses with some of the most reputed names in arbitration right from Comparative Evidence with Jeffrey Waincymer, Conflict of Laws with Franco Ferrari, International Investment  Law with Dr  M. Sornarajah  and Advanced Issues in IA with the Gary Born. I couldn’t dream of a better set of teachers for my higher studies and combined with it, the academic rigour and perfection the NUS system dictated were my biggest attractions towards the course.

“I couldn’t dream of a better set of teachers for my higher studies and combined with it, the academic rigour and perfection the NUS system dictated were my biggest attractions towards the course.”

Any advice for potential applicants on the specifics of the applications such as writing the SoP and getting good LoRs?

Well, here goes the perfect cliche but there is nothing as the ideal Statement of Purpose. For me, I think SOPs are meant to be an expression of your individuality, your passions, basically your story. What SOPs are not meant to be are mechanical narrations of your CV because the institutes a candidate applies to already are already in receipt of your CV — what they want to know and assess is the underlying person and his/her own professional interests and inclinations. My own SOP adopted a mixture of a personal and professional narrative.

“What SOPs are not meant to be are mechanical narrations of your CV because the institutes a candidate applies to already are already in receipt of your CV — what they want to know and assess is the underlying person and his/her own professional interests and inclinations.”

With respect to LORs, my advice would always be to go with academic and professional references who have a deeper insight into your personality. This could be a reference from your mentor during a long term internship, a professor who you ran a project with in your law university  with etc.

The LORs from such references are naturally more personalized and reflect that you’ve not just attained academic/professional dexterity but also speak of how you are a well rounded person. When applying to a specialized course as IADR, I do believe that a letter of reference from someone specifically from the field you’ve worked with or studied under would be immensely helpful.

Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?

I applied for the Aga Khan International Scholarship which functions in the nature of a 50% grant, 50% loan basis and caters specifically to students from a narrow geographic scope covered under the Aga Khan Development Network.

How has the LLM experience been thus far? Any particular highlights of the course? 

It’s difficult to condense the experience I have had in the past eight months into words. The famous “intensive” modules at the National University of Singapore bring down rigorous courses into a demanding system of 9 lectures of three hours each, spanning over three weeks where you are constantly assessed over class participation, research papers or sit-down exams, as the module may demand.

I took up my seminal research titled, “Transparency in Investment arbitration in Asia – An analysis of the Asian arbitration regime” with CJ Koh Law Professor M. Sornarajah as my supervisor, which I will be completing towards the end of this academic year. I dove into internships towards the end of Semester 1 and was working as an Attachee with the International Arbitration teams of Rajah and Tann and Allen and Gledhill LLP, two of Singapore’s Big 4.

The professional and academic experience has been demanding and very, very rewarding  personally. I have been exposed to a very competitive  process of assessment in the work and academic  sphere. Keeping aside academics, the NUS LL.M programme hosts a vast array of students from varying parts of the world and the cultural experience you are exposed to is quite unmatchable. Singapore, the famous little red dot, is quite a magnificent city to live and study in. A perfect amalgamation of the East and West.

“Keeping aside academics, the NUS LL.M programme hosts a vast array of students from varying parts of the world, and the cultural experience you are exposed to is quite unmatchable.”

Is it easy to get externships as part of the LLM? 

No, I would not say it is easy. Most countries have their own specific laws catering to foreign students and the number of hours they are allowed to devote to internships along with college hours.

And since there are always limited spots for foreign students and multitudes of students applying, the competition for the most reputed firms and organizations is always fierce.

Nevertheless, well written applications and meticulously drafted CVs exposing a well rounded individual who has sufficient industry experience and insight in their domain of interest are very rarely rejected.

You are also applying for a semester of the MIDS course, which is an option that NUS LLMs in IADR have – could you tell me a bit about how one goes about applying for this? And was this always the plan, or only something you decided to take up after you started the LLM?

The National University of Singapore and MIDS, Geneva Double Degree Programme is offered to the Geneva and Singapore cohort towards the middle of their LL.M programmes when they get to apply for a semester in the partner university, hence making the degree a Double Degree in IADR from two of the best universities catering to dispute resolution.

For NUS, the application process involves a nomination of students by the Faculty of Law based on their previous academic performance in Semester 1 and the quality of their undergraduate law degree. After the nominations, the University in Geneva assesses the applications and accordingly students are given a seat for a semester as part of the programme. I was inclined towards applying for the Double-Degree since the time I joined the IADR LL.M cohort at NUS.

Lastly, what is your reading of the recruitment market for international lawyers in the field of IADR?

This is a question that naturally elicits varied answers based on which region of the world you’re pursuing your LL.M in. Speaking for this part of the world, we have an array of choices ranging from some of the best arbitration  institutions at SIAC, HKIAC, CIETAC etc. to some reputed local and international firms with enviable dispute resolution practices right across Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

Owing to how only a fairly limited number of opportunities exist, there is a natural inclination for candidates with sound industry experience, academic  excellence and a strong hold over subject basics, survival of the fittest to condense the narration.

 

End Notes

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