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 speak with Akash Gupta, a graduate of Tamil Nadu National Law University (Class of ’18) who is currently enrolled at Stockholm University’s International Commercial Arbitration Law LLM (ICAL). In this interview, he shares his thoughts on the ICAL course, his advice on the application process, and much more.

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How did you narrow down on the ICAL course? And did you consider working for sometime before embarking on an LLM?

I participated in the Vis (East) Moot for the first time in 2016 and I liked the subject matter of the moot. Fortunately, in our University’s first appearance our team was awarded the “Colin J. Wall Spirit of the Moot”.

Afterwards, I participated in the Vis Moot 2017 where I realised that I want to pursue arbitration law in post-graduation. I always believed in doing back-to-back studies, therefore I did not consider working before doing LL.M. The reasoning was not to break the rhythm of my student instinct.

“I always believed in doing back-to-back studies, therefore I did not consider working before doing LL.M. The reasoning was not to break the rhythm of my student instinct.”

I narrowed down on LL.M. ICAL because my interest area was commercial arbitration and not any other area such as investment arbitration, state arbitration.

Did you look at, and apply to, any other schools? And how early did you start the application process?

Yes, I also applied to the following law schools:

  • Graduate Institute of International & Development Studies, Geneva: Master of International Dispute Settlement (MIDS)
  • Queen Mary University of London: LL.M. Comparative and International Dispute Resolution

These schools were the top three “Specialized master’s degrees in arbitration or dispute resolution” according to LLM Survey of Global Arbitration Review[pdf]. Though it was published first in 2012, it is still relevant in 2019. Fortunately, I got an offer letter from Stockholm University and Queen Mary University of London. I decided to go for LL.M. ICAL as it is more focused on the commercial arbitration.

Honestly, I started the application process very late, in December 2017. I remember, it was a bit hectic as I was interning at the Asian International Arbitration Centre, Kuala Lumpur that time. During my two months internship, I finished my application process starting from writing the Statement of Purpose to receiving the Letter of Recommendation and other required documents from TNNLU.

But I will advise law students to start the application process in October and get the application documents ready by end of November. Even though there is no exam as such for getting an LL.M. admission, the whole application process is very challenging at times. For example, you need to review your Statement of Purpose. The problem is, after a point of time you cannot see a mistake in your own Statement of Purpose.

“But I will advise law students to start the application process in October and get the application documents ready by end of November. Even though there is no exam as such for getting an LL.M. admission, the whole application process is very challenging at times.”

Therefore, you need time so that your faculty, friends or family members review your Statement of Purpose. With respect to Letter of Recommendation, you need to give ample time to your referee.

Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?

Yes, I applied for the following scholarships:

  • Commonwealth Scholarship in the UK
  • N. Tata Endowment for Loan Scholarship
  • Scholarship Scheme at Stockholm University

I qualified for the interview rounds of J. N. Tata and Commonwealth scholarship but did not bag the scholarship. Fortunately, my parents supported my LL.M. expenses for which I am extremely grateful.

How did you go about writing the Statement of Purpose? Any advice for future applicants on both, the Statement of Purpose, and who to ask for LoRs?

I looked upon the guides available on the internet to see how the Academic Committee evaluates the Statement of Purpose. After analysing the guides, I decided to write my own story and show why I want to do LL.M. plus what makes me the most eligible candidate.

But students should keep in mind that everything positive you write, it should be implied and not seem like you are praising yourself. The readers should get a feeling that the candidate has the eagerness to learn the subject and has taken reasonable steps towards it. For instance, students should show that they have done short courses, moots, paper publication relating to the subject.

The biggest mistake students commit in the Statement of Purpose is plagiarism!

The Academic Committee evaluating your application is experienced and know whether the application is plagiarised or not, they do not need software for it. The golden rule is “Write your own story in the Statement of Purpose”

For Letter of Recommendation, the candidate should think about two things:

  • The Referee should be able to write a personalised letter. The answer depends on how well the Referee knows you, what was the Referee’s relationship with you and whether the Referee has time to write the letter. By personalised letter, I mean how much the Referee is referring to the candidate’s work, approach, improvement. The most common mistake students do is to get the letter from a legal luminary without any in-depth analysis of your profile.
  • The Referee’s post in the letter is not the most important criteria for evaluation. How the Referee supports your application and appreciates your studies/work during the law school/internship becomes decisive to make or break your LL.M. application.

Early days yet, but how has the ICAL experience been thus far? What were some of the bigger differences in the learning experience in Stockholm as compared to TNNLS?

Like I said here, one of the best features of the ICAL LL.M. programme is its practical approach coupled with the theory, like law firm visits and guest lectures on trending topics of the subject. The ICAL class consists of 30 plus students from over 19 jurisdictions which results in the positive spillover and helps in exploring the non-conventional aspects of arbitration.

“The ICAL class consists of 30 plus students from over 19 jurisdictions which results in the positive spillover and helps in exploring the non-conventional aspects of arbitration.”

The “War Stories Seminar Series” is a part of the ICAL programme where the top practitioners of the arbitration team conduct a seminar with the ICAL students. This year we had law firms like Baker McKenzie, Rochier, Manheimer Swartling, Lindahl for the seminar. Apart from this, the Vis Team got an opportunity to attend the Vis Colloquium conducted by the White & Case.

Apart from this, the students are divided into groups and attached to the law firms for the “Mock Arbitration”. This activity provides an overview of arbitration proceedings starting from sending the request for arbitration to challenging the arbitral award.

The law faculty of Stockholm University consists of stalwarts like Prof. (Dr.) Patricia Shaughnessy who started the ICAL programme in 2003 and the present Supervisor of the ICAL programme Prof. (Dr.) Christina Ramberg. The ICAL Course Lecturers include Dr. Daria Kozlowska Rautiainen and Dr. Andreas von Goldbeck.

The major differences between Stockholm University and TNNLU are the practical approach of the coursework and a greater number of activities involving the subject. During my graduation I opted for the “Comparative Constitutional Law” which demanded a lot of readings to be done before attending the lectures.

This helped me for the ICAL programme because the students need to do a substantial amount of reading before attending the lecture/seminar. There are similarities as well, for instance, the interactive sessions, essays, open book subjective exams, multiple choice examinations, presentations, seminars and guest lectures.

Lastly, any advice for Indian law grads who are considering applying to ICAL or similar courses outside India?

The candidate should research thoroughly about the course and the University. There are certain Universities which are ranked higher for “law”, while the others are ranked highly in the specific subject. Keep this difference in mind while deciding the law school.

“There are certain Universities which are ranked higher for “law”, while the others are ranked highly in the specific subject. Keep this difference in mind while deciding the law school.”

The LL.M. degree from abroad is a substantial investment, therefore plan your expenses and try to finish the application process as soon as possible because some of the scholarship deadlines are before the deadline of the application.

I have been told that “By the time you will settle down, your LL.M. will be over”. In other words, most of the LL.M. is 11 months, use your abroad experience to the fullest. For instance, try to attend the networking events, pre-moots, conferences, seminar conducted by the law firms or the arbitration institute. You need to expose yourself to the opportunities and grab them with both hands.

I advise law students to secure a coach before starting the application. Having a coach helps in making the process much easier and making the content of your application more authentic. I was fortunate to have Mr. Mrityunjay Kumar as my coach and it worked for me. To be specific and highlighting the importance of having a coach, I completed my application process within a very limited time because of the valuable guidance of my coach. So, secure your coach beforehand and ace your admission applications.

Lastly, I would say enjoy life with family and friends. Though your professional life is important, its just part of your life. Don’t be sad if you score low in a paper or don’t get through the college admissions or could not secure a job in your dream law firm. Life is like test cricket where the run rate does not matter, the impact comes from the score you make. In other words, people have their own time zone, just keep working hard and bouncing back!

Akash can be reached on LinkedIn here in case anyone has specific questions on the ICAL course, or LLM applications in general. 

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