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, I get to speak with Tanmay Patnaik , Principal Associate in the Private Client Practice at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. In this FPA, he talks about his LL.M. experience at Fordham Law School (LLM ’11), the reasons behind enrolling right after his undergraduate law degree from Government Law College Mumbai, and a lot more.

(Edited excerpts)

You did not wait to work for a few years before deciding to enrol for an LL.M.? What was the thought process behind this?

I was quite aware of the fact that with time, my priorities would change. I didn’t want to reach a stage in my career where I would be torn between holding on to a good job profile or putting it all aside for academic pursuits.

It’s a conundrum which many associates have faced in the past and still do till date. My advise would be to enrol for an LL.M for the right reasons (whenever one chooses to). It shouldn’t be because it’s an option to fall back on.

“My advise would be to enrol for an LL.M for the right reasons (whenever one chooses to). It shouldn’t be because it’s an option to fall back on.”

Did you only look at US law schools, and what were some of the schools that you considered apart from Fordham? Also, why did you finally choose Fordham?

I intentionally chose to apply to US law schools as I wanted to be exposed to a wider construct of business law. The interpretation of Contract law for example or business structures varies notably between the two jurisdictions. It was a conscious decision to augment my knowledge on the subject matter.

I had applied to Cornell, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington and USC. I received acceptances from all the schools I had applied to but chose Fordham because of its excellent faculty for the corporate law program and the fact that living in New York would offer me a fantastic networking opportunity. NYU Law runs a great tax program but at that time it wasn’t a subject I was keen to pursue.

Any advice on how to go about the application process for US law schools? 

This is a very critical issue in the scheme of things. Prospective applicants need to develop a certain degree of clarity as to why they have shortlisted a particular law school/program.

One needs to ensure, to the extent possible, that your expectations are aligned with what a particular program/school is offering you. Very often, candidates are far more fascinated with the brand value of a law school rather than the market value of the program they’ve applied for.

“Very often, candidates are far more fascinated with the brand value of a law school rather than the market value of the program they’ve applied for.”

It’s important to do a SWOT analysis on each option because it’s certainly a significant investment of your time and money! I prepared my applications independently but did quite a bit of research on this matter in my fourth year of law school.

Thoughts on prepping the personal statement, and letters of recommendation?

I am currently the Co-Chair of Fordham Law School’s India Chapter and I receive such queries quite often. The only advice I would give to students is to present an honest representation of themselves.

I must admit that my law school days were anything but what one would call ‘normal’. In my free time I dabbled in the world of acting – tv shows and advertisements. This raised a few eyebrows as to whether I was even serious about law! However, each audition was learning experience for me. It taught me how to deal with rejection. For every 10 auditions I’d probably not get a call back for 5-6 of them. It helped build my resolve to work harder on myself.

I applied this same philosophy in the study of law and penned down an honest representation of this journey in my application. Law schools aren’t simply looking at you as a candidate with an excellent scorecard but what you will bring to the class as a personality. It is after all a ‘personal statement’ – it shouldn’t be just a summary of your internships or publications.

“Law schools aren’t simply looking at you as a candidate with an excellent scorecard but what you will bring to the class as a personality. It is after all a ‘personal statement’ – it shouldn’t be just a summary of your internships or publications.”

This is your single opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Make it count.

As far as letters of recommendation are concerned,  I’d recommend obtaining it from a faculty member/senior professional with whom you have had a long standing acquaintance with. The admission team of most schools can tell if a recommendation is  genuine or not.

Did you apply for financial aid of any kind?

No. I did not. However, simply based on my application, I did receive the USC Gould School of Law Scholarship to cover half my tuition. Certain schools offer such scholarships as an incentive for candidates they are keen on admitting. That was a pleasant surprise.

How was your LL.M. experience at Fordham? Any particular learnings that, looking back, are far more valuable than you thought they would be at that time?

I cherish the time I spent at Fordham. I found the teaching method in US law schools was quite refreshing. The classes were quite engaging as they tend to focus on real time issues and not drone on into being too theoretical. We weren’t required to submit regular essays but actively focused on in class discussions and deliberations. Importance is given to the application of the law in the real world scenario. This helps sharpen your analytical thinking abilities as a lawyer.

What would you say are the best ways in which to maximise the LLM experience given that the course itself is barely nine months long?

Being at Fordham I had the advantage to network in the grand city of New York. It truly is the city which never sleeps and you need to keep pace. It was one of the critical reasons why I chose Fordham.

Given your experience, how do you think Indian law firms view a potential hire who has a foreign LL.M.? Any advantages?

A foreign LL.M is not a guaranteed advantage per se. This is a very subjective matter and varies on a case to case basis. I believe it’s ultimately how a candidate is able to market his skill set to a prospective employer which is critical.

Lastly, what advice would you have for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s course outside the country?

It is important to have clarity of thought on two aspects:

  • Reasons why you want to do an LL.M (be very honest with yourself)
  • Reasons why you have shortlisted a school / program

My advice would be to deep dive into these issues at a granular level.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.