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.

Garv Malhotra
Garv Malhotra

In this edition, I speak with Garv Malhotra who is currently working in the dispute resolution team of Drew and Napier in Singapore.

Garv, who graduated from Gujarat National Law University (Class of ’15) worked in New Delhi before embarking on the Masters in International Dispute Settlement at Geneva (Class of ’17) on a full scholarship.

He also completed an LLM in International Arbitration, again on full scholarship, at the National University of Singapore.

What prompted you to take up an LLM? Was it always the plan to work for a year or two before embarking, or did you consider an LLM fresh out of your undergraduate law course? 

A master’s degree in law, like in most professions, is a way to boost your career. Like many bright-eyed graduating students, I too considered pursuing an LLM immediately upon graduation. However, as I wanted to pursue a career in litigation, I was unsure whether an LLM would be of any use to me.

In order to make up my mind, I decided to go for a short summer diploma course on international investment arbitration at the Paris Academy of Arbitration. The course made me realise that the experience of studying under leading global practitioners and with people from different jurisdictions gives both width and depth to one’s understanding.

“I decided to go for a short summer diploma course on international investment arbitration at the Paris Academy of Arbitration. The course made me realise that the experience of studying under leading global practitioners and with people from different jurisdictions gives both width and depth to one’s understanding.”

Working at the Supreme Court of India as a junior counsel to two excellent advocates, Mr Debesh Panda (LLM from MIDS) and Mrs Amrita Panda (LLM from QMUL) further fortified my resolve to pursue an advanced degree in law.

Interactions with students at the Paris Academy and my mentors at the bar impressed upon me that making the most of an LLM is possible only after actual practical experience. In hindsight, I could not agree more.

What got you to look at MIDS? Were there any other law schools that you looked at?

The MIDS program was just the ideal fit for me. I personally did not look at other programs although there are a number of good international dispute resolution programs.

The MIDS program or formally, the Geneva Master’s in International Dispute Settlement, is a joint LLM program of the Graduate Institute and the University of Geneva. I was very keen on the MIDS program because of the stellar global faculty, the program-structure, the networking opportunities and the possibility of a full-scholarship.

“I was very keen on the MIDS program because of the stellar global faculty, the program-structure, the networking opportunities and the possibility of a full-scholarship.”

Another reason was the perfect synergy of two great institutions to create the MIDS program.

The Graduate Institute, Geneva is one of the best places in the world to study international relations, international law, developmental sciences and economics. The institution counts one UN secretary-general (Kofi Annan), seven Nobel Prize recipients, one Pulitzer Prize winner among its alumni.

The University of Geneva or Université de Genève was established in 1559 and has one of the oldest faculties of law in the world. It is also known for exceptional science and technology programs. The University has produced 10 Nobel laureates and three field medal winners.

Both these institutions have massive library resources and offer you the chance to sit into classes relating to unrelated fields. I remember sitting in classes relating to anti-terrorism strategy, theology and genetics.

On the MIDS application, any advice on how to go about one, the SoP and two, the scholarship application?

The admission and scholarship are two independent and sequential stages. A candidate’s scholarship request has no bearing on his or her offer of admission.

The admissions committee of MIDS receives a large number of excellent candidates each year from across the globe. They look for people who can add a different perspective to the discussions inside and outside classroom.

Highlighting a particular experience that sets you apart from others is helpful for the SoP. Articulation is highly appreciated. If you can convey the strength of your candidature in less than the required word limit, it may earn you brownie points.

“Highlighting a particular experience that sets you apart from others is helpful for the SoP. Articulation is highly appreciated. If you can convey the strength of your candidature in less than the required word limit, it may earn you brownie points.”

Some people use the SoP to repeat their CV in a paragraph form. This is a bad idea.

You should use the SoP to say that: “I am here in my career, I want to go here and for that this program is exactly the boost that I need because ____.”

Also for recommendation letters, what is written matters much more that who is writing it.

Many people think, “Who will give me a scholarship?” and don’t even try. I strongly recommend against this. There is no harm in trying.

“Many people think, “Who will give me a scholarship?” and don’t even try. I strongly recommend against this. There is no harm in trying.”

For scholarship letters you should show a very strong yearning to attend the program, and show that you are a good, well-rounded personality deserving of a scholarship. Most scholarship application reviewers and not lawyers and thus your letter should be crafted keeping that in mind.

You also did an LLM in International Arbitration at NUS – what was the reasoning behind this move?

Frankly, I was lucky to get an offer that was too good to resist. In my second semester at MIDS, NUS offered me an ‘express’ LLM on full scholarship if I spent an additional semester in Singapore. NUS also offered me the opportunity to study courses like oil and gas law and arbitration in Asian centres.

Plus, Singapore is the place to be for International Disputes in Asia and I felt that this additional LLM could be a good way to develop my understanding and network in Singapore.

Given that you had the chance to study both, the NUS LLM and the MIDS course – what were some of the bigger differences in the learning experience at the two institutions?

The faculty at both programs is stellar. However, NUS is a much younger program which is evolving by leaps and bounds. MIDS on the other hand has already developed into a comprehensive and extremely rigorous program.

MIDS is a more practical course whereas the NUS arbitration program is more academic. I say this because at MIDS, the workshops and intensive courses are aimed primarily at practical issues that one faces in practice of international disputes e.g. workshops on accounting, written advocacy etc. Even in my practice, I often refer back to my MIDS study materials.

The second major difference was that the students at MIDS were much more experienced. The average MIDS candidate had about five years of work experience whereas at NUS most of the candidates were fresh out of law school.

“The second major difference was that the students at MIDS were much more experienced. The average MIDS candidate had about five years of work experience whereas at NUS most of the candidates were fresh out of law school.”

Another difference was that there were a number of networking events actively organised by MIDS where the professors would personally introduce us to the who’s who of the international law and arbitration work. There were numerous sit-down dinners with seating arrangements designed in such a way that students were paired with senior practitioners and academicians. Further, MIDS sends each student to two conferences of her choice (expenses paid). I attended one in Switzerland and one in London. Both these conferences were a great way to develop contacts in the higher echelons of the international disputes world.

However, NUS as a University and NUS Law as a faculty is far better respected than MIDS in the Asian market.

Singapore’s legal market is extremely competitive, the arbitration field even more so. Any advice you would have for Indian lawyers looking to move jurisdictions to Singapore, and work in dispute resolution?

Getting a job in Singapore is a mix of credentials, timing and luck. Prior work experience is a must if you want a Singaporean or Singapore-based international law firm to consider offering you employment. An advanced degree in law is preferred.

“Prior work experience is a must if you want a Singaporean or Singapore-based international law firm to consider offering you employment. An advanced degree in law is preferred.”

The work-permit regulations in Singapore are very strict and complicated. The employers need to justify the additional benefit of hiring a foreigner over a local.

Doing an internship is a good route to building a relationship which can eventually fructify in an offer of employment.

I know you maintain connects with Indian law schools through talks and lectures – any specific practices that Indian law schools should adopt from global best practices?

I have always enjoyed speaking to law students, both in India and globally. However, law universities in India are often disorganised and extremely bureaucratic. For an outsider, it is very difficult to coordinate with multiple committees, faculties, administrative departments etc.

My recommendations to law universities in India are:

Attendance

I believe that it is a lecturer’s skill to draw the students to his or her class. During law school, I had 100% attendance in a few subjects and major attendance problems in others. Thus, attendance should not be compulsory but students should get marks for their attendance.

Open book exams

Never in my practice have I come across a judge, client or boss who told me, I need an answer to this legal question but you cannot use any books or resources. Given the complexity of modern-day laws, it is not a lawyers job to know all the answers by heart. A lawyer should now how to find the answers from the rights sources in the least possible time.

“Never in my practice have I come across a judge, client or boss who told me, I need an answer to this legal question but you cannot use any books or resources.”

Over-stressing GPAs

No client has ever asked their lawyer’s GPA. It is true that grades are important for one to get a good job, a good LLM etc. Further, it is true that grades, to a certain extent, reflect one’s understanding. However, we know and so do others that good grades can also be achieved by mugging a few days before the exam.

What makes you a good lawyer is a wholesome experience. Universities should incentivize activities like moots, debates, drama, music, sports, internships and publications.

Young practitioner faculty programs

I have often felt that academics in India is detached from practice. Most graduating students feel this in the first year of their practice. I believe that Universities should develop relations with young practitioners and invite them to teach.

“I have often felt that academics in India is detached from practice. Most graduating students feel this in the first year of their practice. I believe that Universities should develop relations with young practitioners and invite them to teach.”

Universities can incentivise young practitioners by getting adequate public attention to their lectures on social media and through giving them honorary titles which adds to a young professional’s credentials. Many young professionals understand and are very accommodating in terms of the costs involved.

Lastly, would you recommend an LLM to Indian law graduates?

Yes, I highly recommend an LLM to Indian law graduates. The opportunity of studying a particular area of the law, at an advanced stage, with people from diverse backgrounds and under stellar global faculty will broaden one’s horizons.

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