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, we speak with Yashaswini Mittal who recently graduated with an LLM from Georgetown University (Class of ’18).
The Jindal Law School graduate (Class of ’14) worked with the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy for three years before enrolling for an LLM.
Yashaswini shares her thoughts on the Global Health Law LLM, being a research assistant, the benefits of an international LLM and more.
Did you think about doing an LLM right after you graduated from JGLS? Or was this something you realised you wanted to do after working for a few years?
When I was in my final year of law school, I made the decision to not apply for an LLM immediately. I had studied for five years already and wanted to get a sense of what it felt like to be a lawyer.
I also spoke with some of my professors at JGLS, who advised me that I would gain more from an LLM, if I did it after working for a couple of years.
How did you go about selecting law schools? And did you look across countries, or was the search limited to US law schools?
I applied for an LLM for two consecutive years. When I applied the first time, I only applied to the top colleges in the US and UK. While I did get into a couple of places I had applied to, there was little to no financial aid that was offered to me. So, I rejected my offers and decided to reapply next year, specifically targeting colleges that gave more than 50% financial aid.
The second time around, I applied only to US colleges, as I knew that the US education system was more suited to my interests and capabilities. I applied to some Ivy League colleges, but a lot of second tier colleges, which were in the top 10, but not in the top 5.
All of these colleges offered generous financial aid to LLMs, including a full tuition fee waiver in some cases. All the colleges I applied to this time around were very well-known for the courses I wanted to pursue, i.e. public health law and policy.
Did you apply for financial aid of any kind?
I would like to point out that I applied for not only an LLM, but also an MPP. For both courses, I applied for a full or at least a 50% tuition fee waiver award.
The Director of the Global Health Law LLM at Georgetown interviewed me over the phone and offered me a 90% tuition fee waiver award on the basis of my credentials and financial need. Hence, Georgetown was naturally the best and the most practical choice for me.
So, one of the most common problems applicants face is those limited to writing the personal statement – any advice on how one should go about it?
I think that writing personal statements can be very hard. As Indians, we are not in the habit of praising ourselves and our abilities openly. I particularly struggled with it. However, I spoke with my supervisors at Vidhi (who were very supportive of my decision to pursue an LLM), who had pursued LLMs themselves and who guided me in presenting a real picture of myself before the admissions committee.
“I think that writing personal statements can be very hard. As Indians, we are not in the habit of praising ourselves and our abilities openly. I particularly struggled with it.”
I think an SOP should be divided into four parts:
Depending on when you graduated and what you did before and after graduation, you need to discuss your education, internships and work experience briefly, explaining what your key takeaways were from each of these experiences.
The final part ought to discuss why you are applying for an LLM and why you are applying to the specific college for an LLM. You can decide the format you want to follow to incorporate all these points, but they should certainly be a part of your SoP. You need to make sure that your own true voice comes out clearly and distinctly in your SoP.
By that, I mean you should be honest and discuss how your experiences have actually shaped you and prepared you for an LLM. I think prior to writing an SOP, each person should think and reflect a little bit about their experiences as a lawyer/law student and put down their thoughts in writing.
How was the LLM experience? What were some of the biggest learnings you made during the course?
My LLM year experience was fabulous! Throughout the year, I became more and more sure that my decision to pursue an LLM after working for a couple of years was correct. I approached the degree with a very different perspective. I did not care so much about grades, but more about the courses I was taking.
“I became more and more sure that my decision to pursue an LLM after working for a couple of years was correct. I approached the degree with a very different perspective. I did not care so much about grades, but more about the courses I was taking.”
I took a lot of practical courses that were not evaluated on the basis of an exam. They either involved formulating an advocacy plan on a public interest issue, writing a memo, investigating human rights abuses, or doing a mock TV interview to discuss a public interest issue. I also took several seminar courses, all of which had take-home, open book exams. I did not give a single exam in the classroom on a strict deadline! I thoroughly enjoyed all the courses I took.
Georgetown has some of the best professors in the US on account of its location in Washington, DC. Many of my professors were pioneers in their respective fields, they were either former/current diplomats, senior officials in the US government or on Capitol Hill, or officials at the World Bank/Organization of American States. My interaction with many of these professors made my time at Georgetown truly enriching!
During the LLM, you interned, worked as an RA, and also did research work – how did you go about planning this out? And how did you balance these activities and the LLM coursework itself?
While I secured a tuition fee waiver award for pursing my LLM at Georgetown, I was keen to cover my living expenses by working on campus. Luckily, Georgetown’s institute for global health law offered me a paid position to work as a research assistant.
I usually worked 10-15 house every week, which sounds a lot, but isn’t difficult to manage, if you plan your day well. I also did not have classes every day of the week, which allowed me to spend some time on my research work. In addition, I participated in a practicum course, for which I was a graduate student researcher.
While this was an intensive course, I had some of the best experiences of my life pursuing this course. I travelled to Guyana (which Georgetown paid for) to investigate human rights violations and thereafter, coauthored a report detailing these violations in the country.
I would like to mention that I did not intern or extern during my LLM, even though I had the option to do so. Instead, I chose to continue working on campus. After graduating, I secured a paid internship at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to work on law and policy relating to non-communicable diseases.
What is your reading of the US recruitment market, especially for international LLM graduates?
I think it is certainly very hard for anyone (not just Indians) to secure a job in the US at this point. However, all LLM graduates from a US college get a one-year permit to work in the US. Through that permit, one can try and secure short-term employment, which can possibly turn into something more permanent.
While applying for positions, you need to discuss how your skills make you different from the other LLMs and why you should be hired. Here, past work experience really helps, as you can discuss your understanding of the Indian legal market.
Lastly, any advice for Indian law graduates looking to apply for a master’s abroad?
When I had applied for an LLM initially, I was running behind big names, instead of figuring out the college and the course that was best for me, given my capabilities and my funding situation.
The second time around, I was more careful and made the best choice for myself! I would recommend the same to everyone. In India, we are always fascinated by big names, which is understandable.
“The second time around, I was more careful and made the best choice for myself! I would recommend the same to everyone. In India, we are always fascinated by big names, which is understandable.”
However, I think that the most important takeaway from an LLM is the experience, i.e. meeting people from different parts of the world, understanding the culture of a new country and learning about the law in a totally different way.
As long as you are assured that experience, I believe that the name of the college matters little.