First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian 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, Anirban Roy Choudhury shares his thoughts on the LL.M. Finance at the Institute for Law & Finance, University of Frankfurt, a course he is currently enrolled at. A graduate of Symbiosis Law School in Pune, Anirban worked for several years on the corporate side of things before deciding to enrol for an LL.M.
Did you contemplate a master’s fresh out of your undergraduate degree? Or was this something you decided to take up after working for a few years?
I always did harbour a realisation that a greater academic exposure was needed beyond my undergraduate degree in law from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. However, I wanted to work for a few years in different practice areas in the Indian legal market before opting for a particular practice area to pursue and doing a specialised masters in the chosen area.
It is irrefutable that the academic approach at the undergraduate level, especially in India, is more theoretically inclined and little importance is paid towards the practical insights required for the practice in real world. Therefore, it is worthwhile to work in a few practice areas post qualification to truly understand the practical aspects and the market before settling on an area of specialisation. Plus it also helps in developing a more wholesome approach towards the practice of law, and this is why most large firms, globally, has the rotation system in place where during the first one or two years one works with three to four teams before choosing the practice area to pursue.
Right after graduation, when I started working with DSK Legal in Mumbai, in the first year I worked in the projects and infrastructure practice and general corporate practice. Thereafter I transitioned in to banking and finance practice space and there has been no looking back ever since. I also went on to work with Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and AZB & Partners in Mumbai, where my practice was focussed on banking, finance, restructuring and insolvency.
At what stage one should pursue an LL.M. is a question that has been discussed and debated many-a-times. However, I always believed that it is best to work for a few years after qualifying as a lawyer in India before taking the leap to pursue masters.
Accordingly, after gaining a few years’ experience in the banking and finance practice I wanted to pursue a specialised masters in financial laws not only to develop a deeper understanding of my chosen practice area but also to learn about the practical aspects of the practice.
How did you go about selecting universities? And what got you to narrow down on the Institute for Law & Finance?
Very few universities offer a curriculum at the masters level more leaning towards pragmatism than theory. That is what makes the Master of Laws in Finance (LL.M. Finance) degree at the Institute for Law and Finance, University of Frankfurt (Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main) different.
The inter-disciplinary programme in law and finance, which has been continuously ranked as one of the top ten LL.M. programmes in banking and finance laws globally, offers a wide range of highly practical courses taught by leading professionals and academicians. For example, on one hand, law of investment banking is taught by Dr. Manuel Lorenz, senior partner at Baker McKenzie (head of the German financial services regulatory practice); restructuring and insolvency is taught by Peter Hoegen, senior partner at Allen & Overy (heads the German practice group for restructuring); law of international trade and export finance is taught by Timo Matthias Spitzer, head of legal at Banco Santander S.A.; drafting of contracts is taught by Dr. Thomas Schürrle, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton. While on the other hand, Dr. Philipp Paech from the London School of Economics teaches international financial law; Dr. Andreas Hackethal, a leading professor of finance (also a member of the advisory council of the German financial services authority – BaFin) teaches financial markets and institutions, and Dr. Andreas Cahn, a noted German jurist teaches law of corporate finance together with Dr. Klaus-Albert Bauer, a former partner of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. While most LL.M. programmes are theoretically disposed, the opportunity to learn from the market-leading professionals give the LL.M. Finance programme an incomparable practical edge.
Further, the tuition fees at the Institute for Law and Finance is substantially lower than at any of the other nine universities on the top ten list which includes Harvard Law School, University of Oxford – Faculty of Law, and Columbia Law School amongst others, and this also played a crucial role in selecting the programme.
Also the opportunity of living in Frankfurt, a global financial hub, was an important factor.
As I wanted to do a specialised masters in financial laws, I had narrowed down on the Institute for Law and Finance at the University of Frankfurt very early on account of the aforesaid points, and in fact this was the only university I had applied to.
Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?
Yes, I applied for the ILF Scholarship which I was granted. The ILF Scholarship reduced the tuition fees payable by a large extent and this has supported me in pursuing the programme.
Any advice on how to go about the application process, such as SoPs and sourcing recommendation letters?
The Institute for Law and Finance at the University of Frankfurt, like any other institution of its standing has very stringent requirements for admission. The application process, requires a letter of motivation, which is more or less akin to a statement of purpose, a curriculum vitae, along with two letters of recommendation.
The letter of motivation/ statement of purpose forms an integral part of the LL.M. application and is the only opportunity for an applicant to introduce themselves and convince the admissions committee to select them for the programme, and therefore it should reflect applicant’s candidature in the best way highlighting on the applicant’s educational background, work experience, achievements, motivation to apply for the particular programme, and future career goals. Most importantly, the letter of motivation/ statement of purpose should be a reflection of the applicant’s persona in the truest form. The key to writing a good letter of motivation/ statement of purpose is carefully researching and planning and then spending the necessary time to write it. Remember, it is not a four hour job.
As for the letters of recommendation, again the key is planning on time. When requesting someone for a letter of recommendation it is important that you pick the right person. As soon as you narrow down on the universities you want to apply to, start identifying and approaching potential referees who know you well. If you need two letters of recommendation, shortlist at least four persons you will approach, so that even if someone is unable to write the recommendation or is simply unavailable, you still have the options.
Further, even if your potential referee knows you well, chances would be high that they don’t keep track of your achievements and career progressions, and therefore when approaching a potential referee, you should always provide them with a copy of your curriculum vitae, a list of your academic and other achievements and any specific information which you would want them to consider while writing the recommendation.
Finally, remember that the key to preparing a good application is planning and preparing everything well on time.
Could you tell me a bit more about the LL.M. experience at the Institute for Law and Finance?
In short, extremely enriching and colourful. The programme is extremely demanding. At the Institute for Law and Finance you will be taking a minimum of twelve courses (eight financial law courses and four finance/ economics courses) during the year, translating to up to three to four classes on each day; and that’s a lot of in-class discussions and readings.
As aforesaid, we have an excellent faculty consisting of both academicians and professionals, who are all market leaders in their practice, and it is a very enriching experience to learn from them. The LL.M. Finance programme, this year, has students from more than 30 countries, so it is also a great opportunity to network with financial lawyers from various jurisdictions and make some great friends on the way.
After completing the first semester of the programme, I also had the opportunity to work with Ashurst as a trainee at its Frankfurt office where I worked with the global loans team. This has, further, added to my learning curve.
The Institute for Law and Finance is located in the House of Finance at Campus Westend of the University of Frankfurt. The House of Finance which also houses various research bodies and think-tanks like the LOEWE Center: Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe, Center for Financial Studies, and E-Finance Lab, regularly hosts various lectures and workshops on financial policy, laws, and economics. These provide an exceptional platform to further broaden the understanding of the world of finance beyond the legal aspects.
The Institute for Law and Finance also offers a LL.M. International Finance degree designed for Chinese and East Asian students. This programme is slightly less demanding and includes various language and professional skill development courses specifically tailored for students from China and other East Asian countries.
Was the thesis component difficult given that you had worked for nearly five years, and may have been out of touch of academic research?
The LL.M. Finance programme requires you to write a thesis of approximately 40,000 words. My research is primarily based on financial technologies and related laws and I am currently narrowing down on prospective supervisors for the thesis which I will start writing around July/ August. While the thesis comes as one of the most challenging part to many, writing (academic or otherwise) comes to me naturally and I am confident that my work experience of nearly five years will not pose as a hinderance.
While at Symbiosis Law School, I worked as a part of the editorial board of its law review journals for all five years. During the first two years I served as a student editor for the Symbiosis Law Times Journal followed by three years as a student editor for the Symbiosis Student Law Review Journal. In addition, I also regularly presented research papers at various international conferences. After graduating from law school also I was involved in writing and publishing, and served as the associate editor for DSK Legal’s in-house quarterly journal on infrastructure, energy and project finance laws for more than three years. The learnings from these experiences will be of immense help in the process of conceptualising and writing the thesis.
I can say that I have always been very interested in writing and I am very keenly looking forward to my term in academic research in the coming months.
Not many people know, but in addition to legal writing, I have also worked as a freelance journalist with The Times of India for nearly five years prior to joining law school. During this time, I wrote on various topics ranging from cinema to technology and also interviewed various eminent personalities in Kolkata including Shah Rukh Khan, Saurav Ganguly and Amitav Ghosh amongst others.
Lastly, any advice for Indian law graduates who are considering a master’s abroad?
“That’s how you accomplish things in life. You don’t sit around talking about it; you just do it. If you really want to go far in life, you do things that are hard and that you think you can’t do.”
~ K. Martin Beckner
If you see, almost every facet of our lives are touched by the law in some way or the other and there are various roads that a lawyer can take in their career; at the end of the day, it is about finding what excites you. Considering we spend a major part of every day at work it is cardinal to find something that truly excites and stimulates you.
It is also critical to be clear as to why you want to pursue the masters programme, because after all there is substantial opportunity cost involved. Nevertheless, I would always encourage people to pursue an LL.M. abroad, because in addition to attaining specialised knowledge it gives you the opportunity to really open your world-view, and to learn about the various aspects of the law and the market in different jurisdictions.