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 Manasi Chatpalliwar who completed an LL.M. from the National University of Singapore (Class of ’18) where she was awarded the Faculty Graduate Scholarship. Manasi opted for an LL.M. more than five years after getting a law degree from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University.

In this FPA, Manasi shares her reasons behind studying law, gaining work experience before embarking on a master’s, Indian law firms and the LL.M., and a whole lot more.

Slightly off-topic but why did you choose the 3-year LLB course? Did you ever consider the BA LLB course? 

I was an “Arts” student in 11th and 12th grade. This is not because I wasn’t interested in science or commerce but simply because the there’s no option to do everything together in those grades. After the Board exams, all of the research threw up either law, journalism or a B.A. Hons. course in a reputed university.

Not being sure about the former two, I chose to study history  Sri Venkateswara College (University of Delhi) till I was able to figure out what I actually wanted to do. By the end of those three years, I was fairly certain that I wanted to do something which required application of the mind, lots of reading, and no fixed timings. I then decided to give the entrance exam for law at Delhi University and enrolled in the 3 year LLB course.

Did you consider enrolling for an LLM right after your law degree? Or was this something you decided to only after working for a few years?

Enrolling for LLM was something I always wanted to do. Right after getting my law degree, however, when I actually started working and going to court, I realized that I was not really sure of which field of the law I was most interested in.

Plus, there were mixed opinions on whether an LLM is actually beneficial for lawyers in the long run if your end goal is to practice in India. So I deferred even thinking about it.

Around 2016 (I had been in the profession for about four years), I started to feel like I was not reading enough, was not informed enough and wasn’t taking out time to actually study the subject. This is the point where I started seriously contemplating enrolling for an LL.M.

“I started to feel like I was not reading enough, was not informed enough and wasn’t taking out time to actually study the subject. This is the point where I started seriously contemplating enrolling for an LLM.”

How did you go about course/university selection? Did you apply to any other schools?

I researched a lot on NUS and read up about the programmes they offer, the alumni and most importantly, the course structure and faculty. I did apply to other schools but I must confess it was a half hearted attempt because mostly my focus was on completing the admission and scholarship requirements for NUS as I was attempting it at the last minute and the application deadlines were mere days away.

Did you apply for financial aid of any kind?

I applied for scholarship and was awarded the Faculty Graduate Scholarship at NUS.

Any advice on how to go about the SoP requirements? How much time should an applicant devote to the entire application process?

I think when people think of writing an SoP they think of it as quite a daunting exercise. A statement of purpose however, is nothing but an introduction of yourself on paper.

Just like you wouldn’t tell someone you meet for the first time everything there is to know about yourself, similarly in a statement of purpose, an attempt should be made to focus on the following:

  1. Why you chose that particular school;
  2. Why that school should choose you (what do you bring to the classroom and your peers if you are admitted for that programme) ;
  3. Your accomplishments and achievements and reason for applying for an LLM – basically what you think the programme will do for you; and
  4. Anything significant that you have done or accomplished that would set you apart from the other applicants.

I personally don’t think a statement of purpose should be given more than a week to write. My advice on getting this done with as little stress as possible is to jot down points, give the draft a structure, and then get someone to proof read it and discuss it.

“I personally don’t think a statement of purpose should be given more than a week to write. My advice on getting this done with as little stress as possible is to jot down points, give the draft a structure, and then get someone to proof read it and discuss it.”

How was the LLM experience? What were some of the biggest learnings during the course? 

The LLM experience was amazing.  The classes were well structured, the readings voluminous  and the faculty excellent. My peers and class mates were some of the brightest lawyers I have come across which meant that everyone was learning and competing with the best. Singapore is such a beautiful and safe country with amazing weather, food and places to see! I remember the first weeks there I would just take in all the green and the clean air and felt on top of the world for having enrolled in the programme.

However, what you do find out the hard way is that being part of a gruelling programme in a place far from home does take its toll.  I think our whole batch went through phases where everyone had Impostor Syndrome. Once the initial euphoria of having successfully enrolled in the programme wore off, we learnt fairly quickly that procrastination was just not our friend. It was then a whirlwind ride of classes, no sleep, research papers which seemed to be perpetually due and class assignments which were all graded.

“Once the initial euphoria of having successfully enrolled in the programme wore off, we learnt fairly quickly that procrastination was just not our friend.”

Was it difficult to switch back to student life given that you had worked for half a decade before the LLM?

I think I was relieved. I enjoy reading and studying. The LL.M. gave me an opportunity to take a break from work, and at the same time retain productive use of the year while exploring a beautiful city.

The traditional perception is that Indian law firms don’t place much of a value on LLMs – thoughts? 

I am not really sure if this perception has any actual basis. I think candidates need to be more worried about how they look at their LLM and whether they are honestly able to place a value on their effort in completing the same.

If LLMs are being pursued for some sort of external validation or in the hopes of negotiating a higher salary with a law firm etc. then that’s just silly.

“If LLMs are being pursued for some sort of external validation or in the hopes of negotiating a higher salary with a law firm etc. then that’s just silly.”

Lastly, any advice for Indian law graduates looking to apply for a foreign LLM?

For those looking to study abroad, it is really important to recognize that a lot of things change very fast and you have one year to cope with it all. So I think it is really important to decide whether you actually want to do it.

Once you are certain, look at each university, courses offered and the faculty and the alumni and decided accordingly.

Another thing to really think about is how you are placed financially. A foreign LLM entails expenses towards air travel, accommodation, food and medical insurance etc. in addition to the tuition fee and other university expenses. It is really important to organize colleges with these factors in mind before picking one which suits.

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