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 Akber Ahmed who completed an LL.M. from Cambridge University (Class of ’18). Akber graduated with an Indian law degree from Amity Law School (Class of ’14) and worked as a junior counsel immediately thereafter. In 2016, he became a legal consultant to the Central Information Commission before finally deciding to embark for a postgraduate degree.
Were you planning on an LLM while you were studying law as an undergraduate? Or was this decision made only after you joined the legal profession?
While reading for Bachelors of law, I had no plans of pursuing an LL.M. However, it was only after entering the profession that I realized of how specialized law practice is these days and the cut throat competition in this profession.
In order to stand out in the crowd, one has to have that extra edge and exposure that can supplement hard-work, so I decided on pursuing an LL.M degree which would not only give me specialized knowledge in my chosen area of law practice but would also somewhere give me the exposure I was looking for.
“An LL.M degree would not only give me specialized knowledge in my chosen area of law practice but would also give me the exposure I was looking for.”
You made an interesting switch from junior counsel to working with a CIC Commissioner – what prompted the move? And did you use this experience while preparing your personal statement/applications?
I was always very inquisitive about the reason of people preferring Government jobs over private sector and because these days there are so many opportunities to work for the Government even as a lawyer so I decided to give it a shot and experience the workings of a Government department.
I came across the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) notification inviting applications for legal consultants. For me it was a good opportunity because of the increasing role of the RTI Act in bringing transparency and accountability in governance and at the same time one would experience the working of a Government department.
Honestly, the initial plan was to gain some experience for six months or so but the work turned out to be interesting. I was involved in drafting of some landmark decisions of the Commission. Therefore, my plan of leaving early was put on hold and it turned out that I ended up working for almost 20 months before leaving for the UK.
I did use my CIC experience in writing my SoP relating it to the UK’s Information Regime because the UK also has a strong Freedom of Information Act, 2000.
Apart from Cambridge, did you consider any other schools? What made you narrow down on the Cambridge LLM?
When I decided to pursue LL.M, I was very clear that I have to only concentrate on the UK, firstly because India and UK have a similar common law background and secondly, a self-funded Master program from US would turn out to be more expensive than UK.
“I was very clear that I have to only concentrate on the UK, firstly because India and UK have a similar common law background and secondly, a self-funded Master program from US would turn out to be more expensive than UK.”
I only wanted to apply to the top three UK schools i.e. Oxford, Cambridge, and LSE. Oxbridge was obvious because of the reputation and LSE because it has some very interesting course combinations. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I didn’t get through Oxford but I got through Cambridge.
I think the main reason to choose Cambridge and not LSE was the years of reputation attached with the name and particularly an interesting module on International Commercial Litigation that was taught by Professor Richard Fentiman who is considered to be an authority on commercial litigation.
How much time did you devote to the application process?
The application process takes a toll on you so the sooner it starts the better it is because it requires a lot of research to come up with a good SoP. So I had made sure that SoP and Letter of recommendations (LoRs) are ready before the applications are even open in the month of September/October. Since I was working and completing the application process simultaneously so I couldn’t have waited for the applications to open and then start the preparation of SoP and LoRs.
Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?
I did apply for a few scholarships like Commonwealth and Inlaks. Cambridge Trust also grants some scholarships for which prospective students are considered automatically on the basis of the same application form.
However, for the scholarships granted by the Gates Foundation, a separate process is followed.
How would you describe the Cambridge LLM, in terms of academic rigour and demands? Any advice for those considering this very course?
The Cambridge LL.M is rigorous and demanding for two reasons: one, because Cambridge would make sure that students when they graduate they live up to the name of the University and two, it becomes rigorous because it’s a ten months course so there is a lot to do in very less time.
As a Cambridge LL.M student, in roughly eight months (that excludes one month of winter vacations, one month of preparatory leave after Lent Term and almost three weeks for exams), one has to attend regular classes, then small group teachings for every module which are like tutorials. Also, write regular formative essays, work the practice questions for small group teachings and then finally appear for the examination.
“In roughly eight months one has to attend regular classes, then small group teachings for every module which are like tutorials. Also, write regular formative essays, work the practice questions for small group teachings and then finally appear for the examination.”
My advice to those considering to pursue Cambridge LL.M would be to enjoy the Cambridge experience. It is not just the course but the entire journey which would be important in redefining in who you are and so one should make the most out of this one year.
In an LL.M class, one would meet students from varied global jurisdictions and it can serve as a great platform to make friends and contacts, learn about different legal systems, engage in discussions on legal issues etc.
Looking back, what do you think are the tangible benefits of the LLM? And to whom would you recommend an LLM to?
It is beneficial in terms of broadening your horizon because you share a classroom with the brightest legal minds all over the globe. It makes you understand the various global issues pertaining to the subjects you have chosen.
The LL.M journey like mentioned above would add to your personality. It is recommended for everyone who aspires to delve into legal issues and are inquisitive to learn and look into the details of a specialized area of law and at the same time want to get a global exposure.
Lastly, any advice for those considering an LLM but are unsure if it is worth the time and money?
I have faced this dilemma myself even after holding an offer letter from Cambridge. I would say taking a call whether to go for an LL.M entirely depends on an individual’s priorities.
For me, the Cambridge LL.M was definitely worth the time and money because it changes you for the better. It is just 10 months and so not very crucial on the time front. As far as money is concerned, I am sure as a lawyer one would make much more later in professional life but this opportunity is not going to present itself every time. So it is definitely worth experiencing.
Having said that, I would like to add that potential LL.M. applicants should evaluate various factors including their financial conditions, the job market, family responsibilities and most importantly what are they aiming for and expecting out from an LL.M.
An LL.M would definitely add to your CV but I am not too sure if it would also add to one’s employability.