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, we get to speak with Aakanksha Chauhan, who is currently pursuing an LLM from Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Canada. The graduate of Jindal Global Law School (Class of ’17) shares her thoughts on the LLM itself, qualifying for the Bar in Canada, and a whole lot more.
At what stage of your undergraduate did you consider a master’s? Were you considering working for a few years before the LLM?
I was keen on working before I did my Masters in Law. I wanted to be sure of my area of law before I dove into a Masters program. Another thing that I was sure off, was that I wanted to be qualified as a lawyer in more than one jurisdiction.
I think with the growing number of lawyers in the world, the competition has become cut throat. There are so many wonderful candidates being called to the Bar every year! I wanted to set myself apart in some way and bring something new to the table. Which is why I decided to get a little international experience in the early days of my career. My boss, Mr. Pervez Rustomkhan, was a driving force in this decision. I was doing very well in his practice which is based out of Bombay. He is one of the most respected and well-spoken lawyers I have ever come across. When I suggested to him a year into work that I was considering doing a masters abroad. He was completely on board. He asked me to go for it because the world is becoming smaller day by day. Having knowledge about foreign jurisdictions will truly help in the future.
“He asked me to go for it because the world is becoming smaller day by day. Having knowledge about foreign jurisdictions will truly help in the future.”
This is, in fact, your second stint at Osgoode. You spent an entire semester as an exchange student in 2015. What was that experience like, and after you graduated did you look at any other law schools for a master’s?
The experience during my exchange was positively wonderful. I met some of the most amazing people and studied under some of the best professors. I studied trial advocacy which entailed me learning the craft of cross-examination, examination in chief, opening and closing arguments, and studying evidence. The final exam was an actual trial in a Court House, before a judge and jury. It was truly an experience apart. This eventually helped me when I briefly worked as a litigation lawyer in India. I was successful in drafting some very helpful cross-examinations.
I also studied “Lawyer as a Negotiator” which taught me the art of negotiations. This art is really not given enough importance in India. It is usually looked at as a part of corporate law. But it really is a skill on its own and deserves more recognition. The reason this exchange was so wonderful was that it made me fall in love with a new city but more than that, I was taught by actual practising lawyers in Canada. Which was so helpful. They would use examples of cases they tried maybe a few days earlier to class. That just made the class more real and exciting!
I was accepted into other schools. However, I chose Osgoode because of the program offered.
Any advice on how to go about the application process, the statement of intent and/or writing samples?
The writing sample should usually be one which you managed to publish. If not, let it be one that is short crisp and grammatically correct. Grammatical errors are very obvious, and a lot of importance is given to the same so maybe proofread everything more than once. And have someone else read it as well.
In my SOI, I was very clear about what my future plan was and how the college catered to my plans. I was never vague. I never spoke about what I “might” do. It was always about what I “am” going to do. I think they appreciate it when you bring to the table a clear plan of your future. They want to know that you’re using their resources to the best of your ability.
“I think they appreciate it when you bring to the table a clear plan of your future. They want to know that you’re using their resources to the best of your ability.”
How has the LLM experience been thus far? What are some of the bigger learnings that have been made in the last six-odd months?
It has been lovely! It is tough. Because you are squeezing in heavy duty subjects in a short span of time. However, Osgoode works really hard to make the experience as helpful as a JD experience. I was taught criminal law by an actual active Judge and a partner of one of the biggest criminal law firms in Canada. I was taught ethics by a working lawyer.
So you’re given a very realistic outlook on all the laws you’re being taught. I am also part of the executive of the Criminal Law Society of Osgoode which has again given me the chance to meet so many criminal lawyers. Canada gives a lot of importance to networking. Being part of this LLM has been so helpful because I am constantly guided towards new networking events. I have met some of the finest lawyers and it has been an experience apart.
Osgoode also gives you a chance to work with the Pro Bono Chapter. So I secured a position with the Justice For Youth and Children department [Criminal Law] in Canada. I am currently working on a Hague Convention case and a few judicial reviews. I get to work with lawyers on actual cases. It really helps. Because you get work experience as well as academic experience.
You have enrolled for the professional LLM in Canadian Common Law. Why did you choose this course in particular as opposed to say, a thesis-based LLM?
As an internationally trained lawyer to practise in Canada you can do two things:
- Get an NCA Assessment –> Write the NCA exams which are listed in your Assessment –> Get a certificate of Qualification after passing these exams –> Article for 10 months or do an LPP program –> Write the Barristers and Solicitors Exam during your articleship/LPP or after –> Get called to the Bar.
- Get an NCA Assessment –> Attend a Canadian LLM Common Law Program and study the subjects listed in your assessment –> Get a certificate of Qualification after passing these exams –> Article for 10 months or do an LPP program –> Write the Barristers and Solicitors Exam during your articleship/LPP or after –> Get called to the Bar.
The Common Law LLM helps you towards qualifying as a barrister in Canada within a short span of time. The LLM in Canadian Common Law provides the opportunity to take core courses in Canadian common law topics taught at the graduate level along with a wide range of elective options.
So, students who are lawyers from jurisdictions other than Canada can do this LLM to transition into the Canadian Legal Market. That was my goal from the beginning. I wanted to be called to the Bar and work in a foreign jurisdiction for a while. Which is why I chose this program.
What is your reading of the Canadian legal market when it comes to recruitments of international law graduates?
It is not easy. The job market is very competitive, and JD students definitely have an upper hand over LLM candidates. However, if you network enough, get out there and find new opportunities you will be fine. It is definitely better compared to other jurisdictions. The likelihood of being called to the Bar within a year or two is great! Especially if you just have to study for a year and article for 10 months. Again, no one is going to be waiting with a job for you. It’s tough but not impossible!
“However, if you network enough, get out there and find new opportunities you will be fine. It is definitely better compared to other jurisdictions.”
That being said the work environment in Canda truly makes the struggle worth it. Working Hours and just the work, in general, is amazing!
Lastly, any advice for Indian law grads who are looking to study in Canada?
Read up thoroughly on each program. If you just want to specialize and head back to India, I would suggest looking at schools like the UK or the USA or even Germany! But if you want to work abroad then Canada is definitely the place to go. Make sure your SOI is very clear on why you want to do a certain course.
Reach out to lawyers or students in Canada, they are very nice! They love to help. Ask them whether your future plans make sense. It is a very expensive investment so make sure you know what you’re doing. That being said Canada is lovely, you will genuinely meet the nicest people here. If not, the poutine and snow make up for everything!