First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of law graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (LL.M. or otherwise) from different universities across the world.

In this edition, I speak with Ojas Patil who decided to opt for a Juris Doctor degree instead of the more common LLM. Studying at the James E. Rogers College of Law, Ojas talks about the Accelerated Juris Doctor programme, why it makes sense for the Indian Law Graduate, and a whole lot more.

Why a JD and not the traditional LLM? And was the plan to always gain some work experience before enrolling for the JD, or did you realise you wanted to pursue a JD only after you started working?

I am currently pursuing the Advanced Juris Doctor (AJD) from James E. Rogers College of Law, which is an accelerated version of the traditional Juris Doctor (JD). The way it works is that if a person is a foreign-trained lawyer, that is to say, if the person has acquired a Bachelor of Law from a jurisdiction other than the United States of America, then such a person would be eligible to apply for the AJD.

Essentially, the AJD saves you a year as compared to the normal JD, since it may be completed in two years instead of three. Twenty-nine credits, which fulfil the credit requirement of one year of JD, are transferred from the foreign legal degree which one possesses.

“Essentially, the AJD saves you a year as compared to the normal JD, since it may be completed in two years instead of three. Twenty-nine credits, which fulfil the credit requirement of one year of JD, are transferred from the foreign legal degree which one possesses. “

This is a game-changer since saving a year of tuition fees, room and board expenses and other miscellaneous costs makes a huge difference. The best part about it is that the AJD has the same standing as traditional JD. You attend classes with the regular JD students and would be awarded the regular JD certificate.

Now with respect to making a choice of pursuing either the JD/AJD or the traditional LLM, I would say that the answer would depend on a person’s final objective. Say for example, a person would like to practice in a specific field such as environment law, taxation, patent law or the like, then it would be advisable to pursue a specific LLM which would offer tailor-made courses providing in-depth knowledge pertaining to that specific field of law.

However, if your goal is to practice law or seek employment opportunities in the United States then I would highly recommend pursuing either a normal JD through the LSAT route or the AJD if you have already completed LL.B. from India. I say this because an LLM would only grant you eligibility to appear for the bar exams in a handful of states, whereas by pursuing the JD/AJD, you would be eligible to appear for the bar exam in any state. Additionally, I am of the opinion that an added advantage of pursuing the JD/AJD is that you acquire a firm grasp on the foundational courses of the US legal system. Pursuing an LLM would not generally give you that broad exposure into the core areas of law which are tested on the bar.

“I am of the opinion that an added advantage of pursuing the JD/AJD is that you acquire a firm grasp on the foundational courses of the US legal system. Pursuing an LLM would not generally give you that broad exposure into the core areas of law which are tested on the bar.”

Lastly, I would prefer pursuing a JD/AJD because the potential employers in a law firm or a corporation prefer JD/AJD graduates over LLM graduates for reasons aforementioned. Therefore, the chances of landing a job after you graduate through JD/AJD are significantly greater in my unbiased opinion than an LLM graduate.

After graduating from Government Law College, Mumbai, I started working as a Legal Associate at Krishna & Saurastri Associates LLP. The firm offers one of India’s finest Intellectual Property services and I got an amazing platform to get the exposure I needed to hone my legal skills. My portfolio mostly focused on the spheres of trademarks and copyrights. As a Legal Associate, I dealt with anything and everything under the sun with respect to trademarks, from filing applications for registration of trademarks to the post-registration disputes involving infringement, as well as passing off actions and addressing cease and desist notices. It was here where I gained the quintessential skills of research and drafting responses to office actions along with various other contractual agreements, third-party oppositions against the registration of trademarks, and affidavits substantiating and evidencing the use of trademarks. The tight time constraints for completing the drafts and research molded me into an attorney who can multi-task with efficiency and accuracy. The firm’s global clientele permitted me to transact with attorneys all over the world, including in the United States.

It was while transacting with several US attorneys, that I decided to take a step further in my career. While researching about different options available for law students, I came across the AJD program and was delighted when I got to know about the aforesaid benefits of the program.

How did you go about preparing for the JD admission process? How long did you spend on LSAT preparations, and any advice for Indian law graduates who are thinking about a JD?

To be honest, I started my applications for the AJD program quite late in the month of December. I would recommend future students to commence the applications somewhere around the beginning of October since majority of the law school applications start during that time-frame.

There is quite a dearth of counselling options available for law students who want to pursue JD/AJD, since majority of the students opt for the traditional LLM programs available in several countries, predominantly the United Kingdom. I had consulted with ‘The Chopras’ for assisting me in making my applications to several US law schools and found their assistance helpful. As a caveat, I would caution you that you would need to research on your own to finalize a program and a law school which fits your criteria and objectives. You could then provide the list of law schools to the counsellor and they would make the applications and revise your application materials accordingly.

One more advantage of pursuing an AJD which I did not mention earlier is that you would not be required to provide an LSAT score through your application. This is because several US law schools have now changed the trend of not relying too much on the LSAT scores. Instead, some of the law schools such as Harvard along with University of Arizona now accept GRE scores instead of LSAT for JD applications. This worked as a boon for me because preparing for the LSAT while working in a demanding law firm position would have been a nightmare.

“One more advantage of pursuing an AJD which I did not mention earlier is that you would not be required to provide an LSAT score through your application. This is because several US law schools have now changed the trend of not relying too much on the LSAT scores.”

With respect to your application materials, they particularly include a Statement of Purpose (SOP) which would lay down your intent and purpose for pursuing the degree, Letters of Recommendations (LOR) from your Indian Law School professors and from the Partners of law firms/Legal Counsels from corporations (if you have been working after graduation) and the transcripts from your LL.B. degree.

I would also recommend that a writing sample from your Indian law school would boost your application. Once you obtain your transcripts from the requisite university, you would then need to send them for evaluation to Law School Admission Council (LSAC). You would need to create an account on LSAC, which is a very convenient portal to make applications to several law schools. Note that there are different accounts for making JD/AJD applications and for LLM applications. You would be required to upload the aforementioned documents on the portal and then make applications to the desired law schools and programs. I would recommend allotting plenty of time for the application process because preparing the application materials takes a lot of time and could make or break your application. So, one should devote sincere efforts and get oneself acquainted with the nitty-gritties of preparing successful application documents.

How did you go about selecting law schools, and why narrow down on the University of Arizona?

Personally, I did all my research by visiting the different US law school websites and reading about the courses offered. The website called ‘LLM Guide’ also played a vital part in the research process since it has an effective shortlisting feature through which one can find all the information pertaining to specific LLM courses. It also provides threads on which past, present and future students discuss about their experiences and share information.

As to the selection for JD/AJD courses, I was focused toward researching for AJD courses and hence ran some searches on Google as well as read a few articles on Quora. The list of law schools offering AJD courses is going up every year, so I would recommend reading news articles which talk about the addition of new law schools which offer the accelerated program.

I narrowed down on University of Arizona Law for three reasons. First, it is a premier law school consistently featuring in the top 40 law schools in the United States. The quality of students admitted here is quite high and I get to compete with the finest minds. Second, University of Arizona Law has really affordable tuition fee as compared to other law schools in that ranking bracket. Keeping in mind the ever-rising dollar rate, this factor was indeed a pivotal one. And lastly, a familial reason being that my uncle stays in Phoenix which is a two-hour drive from Tucson. It is always advisable to stay close to some family relative as it gives you the moral strength to endure the strenuous law school life. All in all, University of Arizona Law was one of my first choices for AJD given all these factors and I am glad I made it here.

Did you apply for financial aid of any kind?

As an incoming AJD student, you would be automatically considered for a merit scholarship. However, one should not expect a substantial amount of scholarship with respect to pursuing AJD. This is because the law school rankings do not fluctuate with respect to the AJD/LLM programs.

The sole parameter for ranking a law school is with respect to the traditional JD class. Due to this reason, law schools tend to offer nominal scholarship amounts to incoming AJD students. Such a range would lie somewhere between 10-25% of the annual tuition plan.

Early days yet, but how has the JD experience been thus far? What have been some of the most challenging aspects of the JD course?

The JD/AJD course is immensely challenging which will test your grit and determination to cross the final line. The experience is exhilarating as well as exhausting. The course is really demanding and keeps students occupied throughout the day with tons of readings and assignments which have to be completed in a very short duration. One should ideally complete the designated readings which are assigned before each class otherwise he would feel lost when the professor gives references to certain things in the readings.

The system of ‘cold-calling’ may seem daunting at first, but one would get familiar with it pretty soon. All said, every bit of such a rigorous course is worth it and is greatly rewarding in the long run. One develops the quintessential skills which play a pivotal role in practicing effectively as an attorney.

As for me, I feel that the legal writing and research class has been the most demanding aspect of the law school life. One is required to extensively draft office memorandums and motions for trial as a part of the curriculum along with following a stringent method of citation called ‘Bluebooking’. At first, it is a herculean task for a student to cope up with the class, but the professors are always available to help us. You can ask for their help and assistance at any point of time and they are always more than happy to share their expertise.

If you could compare the University of Arizona with GLC Mumbai, what are some of the bigger differences between the learning experience at the two institutions? 

I feel that the biggest difference between Arizona University and GLC, Mumbai, would be the curriculum and method of discourse. The bitter truth about the curriculum which is offered with respect to the law degree in India is that many aspects have become obsolete and are out of date.

I remember that in my final year of GLC, fellow students used to complain about an elective for Banking Law having several statutes which had already been repealed but were still included in the syllabus. Studying such a part of the curriculum is utterly futile and should be scrapped. In my view, a more practical and practice-oriented approach ought to be adopted by the Universities which would give an insight to the students about the nitty-gritties of implementing the laws which they read about theoretically. The national law schools have set a commendable example of implementing such a system which is in line with the major universities around the world. Instead of being made to mug-up the answers from questions repeated through the last few years, students at the national law schools are intensively trained to study a concept through different perspectives.

Additionally, the method of discourse is totally different here from that of Indian law schools. As mentioned earlier, a student would be ‘cold-called’ in class and to avoid embarrassment amongst your colleagues, one needs to read thoroughly and between the lines. Professors test your understanding of the concept in several different ways which develops the knack of reading whatever is important and skimming through something which just needs a quick glance. The students are taught directly from the commentaries written by authors who have are authorities over the subjects instead of study guides which the students usually refer to as a last-ditch effort to simply pass that subject. Therefore, a prospective student intending to study at a US law school definitely needs to gear-up for a transition from the Indian study pattern.

“The students are taught directly from the commentaries written by authors who have are authorities over the subjects instead of study guides which the students usually refer to as a last-ditch effort to simply pass that subject.”

Again, early days, but what is your reading of the US legal recruitment market when it comes to international graduates (JD or LLM)?

In my opinion, it is extremely difficult to seek a job in the US legal market. This is because of the stringent immigration laws in place which require sponsorship from the employer for the H1-B visa category. Such a sponsorship is a substantial investment with respect to the amount as well as the documentation and procedure involved. Due to such a cumbersome procedure, employers are usually wary of offering sponsorship to a majority of law graduates who are international graduates.

Irrespective of this situation, it is my opinion that a JD/AJD candidate generally has much better chances to land a job post graduating than an LLM candidate. I say this based upon my aforesaid reasons differentiating the comprehensiveness of the JD/AJD course as compared to an LLM. There are exceptions for this though. Suppose, if you are an LLM student in an Ivy league college, say for example Columbia which has its own LLM job fair, then there may be genuine job opportunities which could be more concrete than those opportunities for JD/AJD candidates from non-Ivy league law schools.

Overall, I feel that law graduates have scant opportunities as compared to STEM graduates who have ample of demand in the US recruitment market.

Lastly, any advice for Indian law graduates who are considering a post-graduate education (JD, LLM or any other) abroad?

I would recommend Indian law graduates who are considering a post-graduate degree abroad, that they should first meticulously chalk out their career plan and accordingly finalize the appropriate country and degree.

Pursuing a post-graduate degree abroad involves substantial investment and should therefore be thoroughly thought out. A good way to go about it is asking yourself a question as to where you want to see yourself after completing the degree.

It is definitely not recommended if your sole aim is to return back to India, unless you aim to join a particular department of a full-service law firm after pursuing an LLM in that specific area of law. This would also be dependent on the foreign clients the law firm caters to as that would broaden your position accordingly.

Pursuing a foreign degree gives you an all-round exposure in the sense that it moulds you to be proficient in an international setting. However, a caveat to be kept in mind here is that you would be burdened with substantial educational loan. Thus, I would opine that one should try to weigh the options and balance out the pros and cons of each option and make the decision accordingly. I wish all the prospective students good luck for their future endeavours!

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