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 Riya P. Raaj discusses her LL.M. experience at the University of Toronto where she completed the Global Professional LLM (Class of ’18). A graduate of the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (’16), Riya worked for a year as a corporate lawyer before enrolling at UoT. In this interview, she discusses the reasons behind opting for Canada, and the GP LL.M. in particular, becoming a lawyer in Canada, and a whole lot more.

(Edited excerpts)

What got you thinking about an LLM? Was this something you had considered doing right after your undergrad?

I wanted to earn a little bit to contribute to my own masters tuition. I did want to pursue one, that much I knew, just when and how long would it be since I actually got to do it, was something I did not plan out.

I was working at a law firm in Bangalore and I wasn’t doing so well there, the corporate environment wasn’t something that suited me. That’s how it started. I applied to universities, eager to get my masters under my belt and work in academics because firm life did not agree with me at all.

“I applied to universities, eager to get my masters under my belt and work in academics because firm life did not agree with me at all.”

How did you go about selecting where to apply, and what were some of the other schools you applied to? Also, what got you to narrow down on the University of Toronto?

I wanted somewhere that had a mix of courses and something other than business law which was my major in college (turns out I’m not good at that but oh well, I tried). So I decided to research on other courses and read about the different universities.

I found that this course would put me on the path to getting certified in Canada faster and Canada seemed much less scary (they call it Bada Punjab for a reason) than the UK or the US.

I had applied only to the University of Toronto and York university here. Once I narrowed the country, schools were easy enough. I didn’t apply anywhere else. It was Toronto or nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to show off but I knew it was just these two that had the course I wanted.

“Once I narrowed the country, schools were easy enough. I didn’t apply anywhere else. It was Toronto or nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to show off but I knew it was just these two that had the course I wanted.”

Any advice on the application process, more specifically writing a personal statement, and sourcing the letters of recommendation?

Know your dates. I cannot specify this enough. Know when your application is due, what documents are required. Do not depend on hearsay, sounds stupid but believe me, people have missed deadlines because they took a lax approach.

Be on alert with deadlines and try submitting everything at least 4-5 days before so that you know you have done your part. More or less all application processes are the same – CV, cover letter, personal statement and letters of recommendation (2-3).

When you’re writing a personal statement, make sure you’re writing it in a way that expresses you, and why you want to do this course (not flatter them, I’m sure they can see through that). Make sure that the personal statement reflects you, your reasons for the University choice, the course choice, the reason why you picked this path.

The Letters of recommendation are your teachers perspective of you. Those years of law school that they taught you, coached you and mentored you. Pick the teachers that you know would be:

  • writing favourable stuff about you;
  • knows you enough to give a holistic perspective of you (eg. I picked my literary and debating society head’s teacher who knew how I was in academics and with extra-curricular activities); and
  • would be able to shed light on your writing or research skills (that’s what the college wants in a masters/Ph.D student).

At UoT, what prompted you to take up the GP LLM program?

In Toronto, you have to write a set of exams that equate your bachelor program courses with the Canadian equivalent. This is called the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA)

I got my five year program evaluated and had to write ‘x’ number of exams, there was a choice that if you go the GPLLM, you won’t have to write those exams and best of all, you get a masters degree as well.

That light bulb lit up and I decided to pursue that. Good courses, good foundation, spread out and I could even choose some business law courses to take (Public Private Partnerships) just because they seemed interesting. Also, did I mention, no thesis! We have exams so that was in keeping with my Indian education learning.

So basically two birds with one stone was the goal.

“Good courses, good foundation, spread out and I could even choose some business law courses to take (Public Private Partnerships) just because they seemed interesting. Also, did I mention, no thesis!”

How was the LLM experience? What were some of the highlights along the way?

I met lots of interesting lawyers who were pursuing the same course as me to get their qualification in Canada. I made some friends, and attended some interesting lectures (one case that always stuck with me was the case of the guy who sleep-drove 20kms to kill his in-laws with a hatchet)

I liked the classes and most of all, they gave us food after the classes (which helped getting through the class as well). I learnt to balance working part time in a restaurant and studying, travelled a bit, and mostly adjusting to a new country. Learning their ways and trying very hard not to pick up an accent.

“I learnt to balance working part time in a restaurant and studying, travelled a bit, and mostly adjusting to a new country. Learning their ways and trying very hard not to pick up an accent.”

What was your reading of the Canadian legal market when it comes to recruiting international LLM graduates?

Honestly, not great, but I figured the GPLLM gave me some ammunition. I was on par with a Canadian bachelor’s degree and had the NCA’s under my belt. It’s a long road to go though. There are two exams, barrister and solicitor, seven hours each and then one year of articling (interning but paid) and then you would get called to the bar, all to finish in a three year span.

I’m still working my way through the rigmarole.

It’s not easy, but maybe, just maybe, if you hang in there, you’ll make it is the hope. I’ve known people who apply with their own communities, and it seems to work. But that’s true in any country – having connections works like magic.

Lastly, any advice for Indian law graduates who may be considering an LLM abroad?

Do it from somewhere you are actually interested in their course. I did like the idea of no tax course, no thesis and of studying common law as my main subject, but if I didn’t like the course or place, I might have hated that one year. I found that I liked the course, my classes, my friends, and even my work.

I liked having other things except law to talk about to people who did other things and not law.

Think about the course that calls to you, that you can proudly say you hold a master’s degree in. What you can proudly say, not your family and not society. Do an LL.M only if you want to.

Mine was a purpose served degree that helps pave the way for academic pursuits. Decide what yours is to be, a title or a purpose.

One other thing I’d like to point out is that student loans are real. As much as you would like them to be the fine print that everyone ignores, they are super real and you do not want to take on the burden without some mental preparation.

“One other thing I’d like to point out is that student loans are real. As much as you would like them to be the fine print that everyone ignores, they are super real and you do not want to take on the burden without some mental preparation.”

It’s not impossible to avoid it but almost everyone takes a loan and some part is contributed by family or your own earnings, so paying it back is part bank and part, Papa/mumma, ab bacche se aap paise loge? (Father/mother, you will now take money from your children?)

It’s a scary world out there, but if you really want to do an LL.M, I’d suggest going abroad, because that one year can change you in ways you won’t even realise till you’re back.

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