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, Pavithra Jaidev talks about her LL.M. experience at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) which she will complete next year. A graduate of Jindal Global Law School (Class of ’18), Pavithra shares her reasons for opting to study in Australia, joining the Australian legal profession, and a whole lot more.

(Edited excerpts)

At what stage of your undergraduate course did you consider an LLM? And were you ever planning to work for a few years before the LLM?

During my 4th year of study I decided to pursue an LLM abroad and no, I never really thought of working before pursuing an LLM, this was because during my 4th year of study I realised that i was really passionate about the area of dispute resolution, and therefore wanted to specialise and build my career in the same.

Also, I did not want to work immediately after my undergraduate studies because one, I wanted to first finish with my studies before I dived into full time work and two, I wanted to practice abroad.

How did you go about selecting law schools? And why narrow down on UNSW?

I enjoy the art of researching, and I personally believe that am a very organised person, and so, I combined these two interests of mine and started exploring my options. I was always very passionate about the area of Dispute Resolution and so, for me an LLM with a specialisation in the area of Dispute Resolution from a really good university was my top most priority.

Like any law school student, I aspired to study at one of best law schools in the world, and so drew up a list of the top 20 law schools in the world. I came up with this list making use of online sources like QS Masters in Law ranking, Times Higher Education Ranking for Masters in Law and read up various blog posts on the LLM guide. This list contained application deadlines, scholarship deadlines, application requirements, English requirements, annual fees, facilities etc.

However, while making this list I was very particular about the fact that I didn’t want to apply to any of the American universities, because without a scholarship, studying in America would have turned out to be a very expensive affair immediately after graduating from Jindal. Having taken off America from my list, i was left with universities in the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.

“I was very particular about the fact that I didn’t want to apply to any of the American universities, because without a scholarship, studying in America would have turned out to be a very expensive affair “

Amongst these places, I applied to 6 universities in total, got selected into 4, of which UNSW offered me two scholarships. Also I already had an internship with a premier law firm in Sydney called Mitry Lawyers arranged via Jindal.

Everything seemed to be working out towards Sydney and so I decided UNSW it is. Also, UNSW is one among the top few universities which has a full 5 star QS rating, is ranked one among the top 15 law schools in the world for Masters in Law, is ranked the second best law school in Australia after University of Melbourne, and is located in a booming city.

So for me, UNSW was the choice.

Australian law schools usually have a very compact writing requirement for LLM admissions – was this the case with UNSW? And any advice for prospective applicants on how to go about the application process?

That stands true for most of the Australian law schools but not for UNSW. This is because they give more weightage to the grades that you have achieved during your undergrad degree and your resume which more or less must enlist a diverse range of activities such as your work experience, publications, scholarships, competitions and any other skill sets that you possess.  Also each of these achievements must be properly documented, because at some point in time during the application process, they will ask you to provide the same, so there is literally no scope for faffing.

I believe, they rely on grades and resumes primarily because UNSW is a very competitive law school and you come to this realisation immediately after you start interacting with your peers and seniors.

These interactions make you understand that UNSW’s PG program is composed of both working professionals and highly competitive students. Students who know that their performance is being pitted against these working professionals who have already achieved certain amount of experience in their area of practice and are now pursuing this course either because they are taking a sabbatical or are planning to expand their areas of expertise.

UNSW wants to gain a holistic overview of the person they are admitting into their program, they want to see what kind of diverse skill sets does the applicant possess and what kind of contribution can he/she make towards their program.

“UNSW wants to gain a holistic overview of the person they are admitting into their program, they want to see what kind of diverse skill sets does the applicant possess and what kind of contribution can he/she make towards their program.”

I divided my SOP into three prime parts, the first part basically explained my motivation for pursuing a career in the area of dispute resolution. The second part described the kind of work i had undertaken previously, which in turn motivated me to pursue a career in this area of law and the course itself and the last part spoke about what kind of contribution I planned on making in the society by making use of the education and knowledge that I received at UNSW.

You were awarded the Future of Change scholarship – any advice on the scholarship application? How did you go about preparing the video testimonial?

I was basically awarded two scholarships, one was the Future of Change (FOC) scholarship like you rightly pointed out and the other one was The Faculty of Law Postgraduate Coursework Academic Excellence (FLPCAE) Scholarship and both of these scholarships have helped me out immensely.

For the FOC, I had to prepare a video testimonial which spoke about how I could bring about a change in the society using my career, and  how the scholarship would assist me in reaching that platform which i would use in future to bring about the required change. I looked up a few videos online, but couldn’t really find anything in relation to my field, and so i just listened to my heart, put out my story along with some creativity and hoped for the best (I still have it on my YouTube channel, people are free to view it, if it helps).

Secondly, for both the scholarships, I had to answer a lot of questions, interview style, ranging from questions which were about my academic credentials, to my work experience history, to my aspirations, learnings, ambitions and a lot more. Therefore, though some of the questions posed were very interesting, it was a long drawn process.

At UNSW, you changed courses midway – what was the thought process behind this?

So, initially I enrolled into the ‘Masters in Dispute Resolution’ (which i believe after 2018, is no longer offered at UNSW Law) a Master’s Program which was specifically curated for the area of Dispute Resolution.

However, the subjects lined up in this program were very specific and they gave me access only to a limited number of subjects, whereas on the other hand, my friends who were pursuing ‘Masters in Law’, specialising in fields such as criminal laws, business laws, or IP had more subjects to choose from, few subjects that were even outside of their specialisation.

These were subjects that I wanted to take up, and so I decided to move from a very specific course to a course which offered a wide range of subjects to choose from, the only criteria being that in order to graduate you have to complete 48 credits (8 subjects, each subject is worth 6 credits) and in order to gain a specialisation as a part of your Masters of Law degree, you have to complete 24 credits (6 credits per subject, you choose any 4 subjects relating to one particular area of specialisation that you are interested in), the remaining 24 credits can belong to any of the subjects offered.

You even have the option of writing an independent research paper under the guidance of an authorised supervisor or do an internship both domestically and internationally (for which there are a number of scholarships available).

So in short, I chose the Masters of Law program because of the flexibility that it offered.

Also, the transition process was very smooth, the credits that I had earned from my initial program, got easily transferred in to the new program, because I met all the requirements for a successful transfer such as – meeting the required WAM criteria (CGPA equivalent in Australia) and academic standing etc. Hence, because of the same reason my course also got extended by 6 months, therefore instead of graduating in September 2019 with a Masters in Dispute Resolution, I’ll be now graduating in March 2020 with a Masters in Law (specialising in Dispute Resolution).

How has the LLM experience been thus far? What are some of the bigger differences between your LLM and your undergraduate days?

The LLM experience so far has been really great, I have not only had the opportunity of studying under some really good academicians and practitioners such as Profs. Rosemary Howell, Alan Limbury, Natalie Klein, and Jonathon Rea, but also had the opportunity of building some meaningful lifelong connections.

I have also had the opportunity of participating in a number of events hosted by UNSW, such as the annual educative on-campus event ‘Private Law Careers Fair’ in which all the world renowned law firms such as Allens Linklaters, Minter Ellison, Baker McKenzie, Clayton Utz, White & Case LLP and many others participate, host different kinds of workshops for students who are interested in their clerkships and graduate programs.

UNSW also hosts tours for international students in and around Sydney and often organises cocktail evenings for PG/JD students interaction which in turn provides the students with ample opportunity to build their networks and make connections.

As far as the bigger differences between my LLM and my undergraduate days are concerned, my class is now composed of both working professionals and competitive students; the level of preparation and competition is definitely higher.

On the other hand it has also brought this sense in me that it’s not really about the marks anymore but also about understanding the subject material thoroughly. Therefore, Aamir Khan’s line in 3 Idiots stands true – ‘Don’t run behind success, run behind excellence and knowledge, which in turn will make you successful in life.’

“On the other hand it has also brought this sense in me that it’s not really about the marks anymore but also about understanding the subject material thoroughly. “

Furthermore, UNSW also offers certain courses which are called intensives, which usually run for 4 days, from 9 am to 5 pm and which mandate a 100% attendance. By the end of the 4th day, these courses turn out to be really hectic because there is so much going on study wise, assessment wise, interaction wise, that there is a lot to absorb and it’s better not to lose focus, and this was something that I wasn’t exposed to in Jindal Global Law School (JGLS).

Apart from these two differences, I don’t really think there was much of a change because, JGLS is a global university, and it does train its students in keeping with a global university’s standards, be it in regards to research, competitions, building networks, JGLS has trained me really well in all of these aspects so I was good to go.

What is your reading of the Australian recruitment market when it comes to international LLMs?

To be honest it’s not very open to foreign students who are pursuing LLM’s here, particularly because in order to practice in any of the states in Australia, one needs to be first enrolled as a solicitor in that particular state.

Unlike America and the UK where students have to give the bar exams to qualify for the same, Australia follows a very different system, domestic students such as those pursuing a JD or an LLB don’t really need to qualify a bar exam in order to practice as a solicitor here, instead they need to complete their undergraduate studies, finish their practical legal training, popularly known as the ‘PLT’ and then get enrolled with Supreme Court in the state in which they wish to practice.

As far as international graduates are concerned, they can qualify as a solicitor in either of these two ways:

  • You can get your degree assessed by the State Legal Board, post which they might ask you to undertake further studies which can range from 2 – 13 subjects, after which you would qualify to undertake the PLT and eventually qualify as a solicitor. Now, for those students who have been asked by the board to take up more than 3 subjects it’s a very bad situation because they don’t have enough visa time to complete those subjects and based on this ground there will be no extension of their visa either; or
  • If you have already qualified as a solicitor in your home jurisdiction, either of these three situations may arise – they assess your qualification and ask you to take up further studies and then qualify for your PLT, or if they are satisfied with your credentials they might just ask you do the entire PLT, or they might ask you to take up just a few subjects in relation to your PLT.

In any case, I would suggest its best if international students apply for graduate lawyer positions or associate positions with international law firms, if they wish to practice here.

Thankfully, as far as my situation is concerned, Jindal’s degree is the only Indian degree which is recognised by the legal profession board here in Sydney. As a result of which if students of Jindal score an A- or 65 in all their subjects, they would be asked to only take up 3 subjects post which they would qualify for a PLT and then eventually qualify for becoming a solicitor. This is my chosen path, so yes I am hoping for the best.

Lastly, any advice for Indian law grads who are considering a master’s abroad?

First decide what exactly you would like to do with your degree, chalk out what you expect out of it, put all your ideas in place and then calmly make the ultimate choice. Don’t be in a rush to submit the applications, think it through.

Also, if you plan to practice overseas, always remember this Latin phrase which is also my go to phrase ‘Labor Omnia Vincit’ which means ‘Work conquers all’. Be ready to work really hard, you will be facing some tough competition.

Do your research thoroughly, read the market carefully, see what kind of scholarships and opportunities you can avail, talk to people, network, collect information and plan ahead. You don’t want to get stuck once you land there and end up going back empty handed, because that would be just very disappointing.

“Do your research thoroughly, read the market carefully, see what kind of scholarships and opportunities you can avail, talk to people, network, collect information and plan ahead. You don’t want to get stuck once you land there and end up going back empty handed, because that would be just very disappointing.”

For those who just want to pursue an LLM at UNSW Sydney I would say it’s definitely worth the shot. It’s a great place to be at, with great minds at work, and a lot to study and explore.

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