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, Siddharth Tewari talks about his time as an LL.M. candidate at The George Washington University. A graduate of Symbiosis Law School, Pune (Class of ’16), Siddharth enrolled for the course right after his law degree, and is currently the Managing Partner at Tax N Legal Partners in Noida.

(Edited excerpts)

You chose to enrol for the LLM right after your undergrad. Did you consider working for a few years before an LLM?

To be honest, I was very clear in the head that I wanted to finish my masters before joining work. A lot of people advised me that a better option would be to gain work experience for a few years and then apply for the LL.M. but I was sure that I wouldn’t be able leave my job abruptly and go for a Master’s degree in the middle of everything.

Given the fact that I was confident about pursuing my masters in the field of Intellectual Property Law, I consciously chose to not work and instead pursue higher education right after graduation.

“A lot of people advised me that a better option would be to gain work experience for a few years and then apply for the LL.M. but I was sure that I wouldn’t be able leave my job abruptly and go for a Master’s degree in the middle of everything.”

I did not even sit for any campus placement because I didn’t need any distraction from my plans. I had started working towards this goal in my 3rd year of law school in Pune. Having said that I would particularly caution anyone who wishes to pursue masters to be certain about the course or specialisation before applying for the LL.M. programme.

For me, personally, the course matters more than the college!

How did you go about selecting just where to apply, and what got you to narrow down on George Washington? 

The idea behind searching the most suitable college depends on one’s choice of specialisation. Since I had already decided I wanted a Master’s degree in Patents and Trademark Law, my search was filtered down to only those colleges which were known for their I.P. law programme and faculty.

Keeping in mind that the US has the strongest traditions of Intellectual property rights, and has the most developed I.P. market in the world, my natural choice was a university in the States.

Now, selecting universities in the U.S. was a little difficult as my search involved several factors such as curriculum, expanse of syllabus, teaching methods, ranking, faculty etc. in tune with my specialization, which was I.P. law. I did apply to other universities as well which got me through for a course at New York University but when it finally came to picking a college, I preferred the course over the university.

The George Washington University School of Law has been the most prolific academic institution when it comes to Intellectual Property Law as a field of legal education. The GW School of Law has the oldest intellectual property law programme amongst all the universities in the United States, and has been consistently ranked amongst the top 5 universities for this specific field of law.

“The GW School of Law has the oldest intellectual property law programme amongst all the universities in the United States, and has been consistently ranked amongst the top 5 universities for this specific field of law.”

The traditions of patent law at the university carry the legacy of one of the first patent application being filed in the U.S. in late 19th century by GW Law’s faculty, and later, the same being filed for the Wright brothers. All this and the fact that the campus was located in the capital and a few hours away from New York City, gave me the confidence to go for the course at GW.

Any advice on how one ought to go about the application process in terms of time management, personal statement etc?

The planning for a Master’s application should start well before the time when the final application has to be submitted. One should ideally start with research on specific colleges one wants to apply to and find out the details of the requirements of the preferred courses in that college.

A lot of universities prefer an application made directly to them and some others are flexible about the mode of application. My suggestion is to make a chart of universities/colleges with their last day to apply, and requirements in terms of certificates and other supporting documents and then work backwards. This would also help one not to miss any deadline. There are many social media groups and alumni associations of various universities/colleges, putting queries to such forums also gets a lot of clarity.

“My suggestion is to make a chart of universities/colleges with their last day to apply, and requirements in terms of certificates and other supporting documents and then work backwards”

Furthermore, it is important to note that almost all the universities consider your academic skills and achievements of your graduation years. They look for a candidate who has a dynamic personality and a positive attitude. Keeping that in mind, one has to consistently maintain academic excellence, engage in curricular and non-academic activities in the graduate law school, to be able to showcase a versatile outlook in the application. That includes your grades, your moots, your research publications, sports, social or pro-bono work etc. I believe this is a very important part of your applications which also forms the major percentage of the selection criteria.

Another more significant aspect is the ‘Statement of Purpose’ that represents your whole candidature before the committee on admissions. It’s the top of the pile one-pager which makes or breaks your candidature. One should work on this statement earnestly and diligently to reflect insightfulness, originality and a sense of purpose as to why should one be admitted in the applied course.

“One should work on this statement earnestly and diligently to reflect insightfulness, originality and a sense of purpose as to why should one be admitted in the applied course.”

Did you apply for/receive financial aid of any kind?

Yes, I did apply for the GW specific merit scholarships and was awarded a partial scholarship of US $ 15,000 (approximately Rs. 10 Lacs) .

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

In all honesty, it was the most studious one year of my life, especially considering the four-months’ fellowship with the federal government and preparations for the New York Bar exam right after the term ended.

One of the good things with the curriculum there was the flexibility of picking courses of your liking. I was allowed to sit in lectures and avail the course-structure before having to decide the subjects I wanted to pursue. In terms of pedagogy, the faculty consistently encouraged us to look beyond grades and train our minds to apply the principles and concepts in real life situations. The emphasis was to prepare for each lecture before-hand and participate in class discussions so that the lessons are broken-down in multiple ways and are internalised.

“One of the good things with the curriculum there was the flexibility of picking courses of your liking. I was allowed to sit in lectures and avail the course-structure before having to decide the subjects I wanted to pursue. “

This meant spending more hours in Library and comprehensive understanding of the concepts rather than the eleventh hour cramming and rote-learning that we are used to. If you don’t give the required hours of study and research then you would feel lost during the lectures as the professors teach on the presumption that the students already have a basic idea about the topic. For someone like me, who likes to be at par, if not ahead of the class, it became necessary to devote my time in the application-based study.

One highlight is the friends and connections I made while pursuing my masters. As my course especially catered to International Students, the class consisted of students from all over the world. This was a wonderful learning experience for me. Not to forget the connections I made while completing my fellowship with the federal government agency. Discussing world cultures, legal systems and global issues with representatives of different countries in a group was an amazing experience.

Sometimes, it feels unreal to have real relationships with friends from all the continents of the world. I don’t know what can ever match this experience in this lifetime.

“Sometimes, it feels unreal to have real relationships with friends from all the continents of the world. I don’t know what can ever match this experience in this lifetime.”

When it comes to the NY Bar, how early did you start your preparations, and how would you advice future applicants to approach the exam?

I did not start the preparations at an ideal time for the NY bar, mostly due to my engaging fellowship, even though most of the people around me started 4 to 5 months before the day of exam. I think planning your studies subject-wise, devoting substantial time each day on them and working a bit extra on your weaknesses clicked for me. There are several online and in-class tuitions available for the bar but you always have to devise your own methods and strategies if you’re running against time.

I had two-and-a-half months in toto so I dedicated 16 to 18 hours every day on the NY bar preparations. One needs to be mentally strong, patient and have perseverance to set daily goals and achieve them irrespective of failures. After all, achieving several smaller goals allow you to accomplish bigger things in life.

What is your reading of the US legal recruitment market when it comes to international LLM graduates?

My personal experience is that the U.S. market is not very favourable for immigrant lawyers, even after completing the LL.M. They do import a lot of scientists, engineers and mathematicians but that doesn’t seem to apply to the legal job market.

Having said that, I would still not discourage anyone from giving it their best shot like I did. Fellowships and trainings help a great deal as they let you establish contacts and give you an experience of the working environment there. It always fancies your chances to apply at a firm where you have already worked earlier.

By the time I graduated, the recruitment scene had changed a lot as the new regime did not employ favourable policies for immigrants. However, I know for a fact that things will not remain the same always and one should always have a positive attitude towards any of their goals.

Looking back, how do you think the LLM has helped you in your professional growth?

It gave me a 360 degree perspective and a habit of pushing my limits when it comes to hard work and determination. Doing a masters is not only about the degree, it teaches you about living a life in unfavourable conditions and making you work for every small thing as nothing comes for granted.

“Doing a masters is not only about the degree, it teaches you about living a life in unfavourable conditions and making you work for every small thing as nothing comes for granted.”

Another important aspect is the opportunity to get connected to a global network of lawyers because of the exposure it gives you. Preparing and passing the New York Bar has given me a great deal of confidence in my abilities and some recognition which helps every now and then.

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

I reckon the most relevant questions to tackle are

  • What your career path is going to look like eventually; and
  • What will your specialisation be in.

The subjects you pursue remain with you for the entire life so it is important to either have a passion for that field of law before or a utility of it later. Doing an LL.M. means spending a lot of money, and it will only be wise to make an informed decision. Getting work experience before applying, increases the value of your application and you tend to have a better chance of getting a good college.

But not everyone can leave a job abruptly and go back to student life with financial dependence on parents or loans. A lot of times people enrol in LLM and go through it without recognizing any value addition to their experience or learning. It looks good on a resume but what it will do for you personally is the question that should have an answer for.

“A lot of times people enrol in LLM and go through it without recognizing any value addition to their experience or learning. It looks good on a resume but what it will do for you personally is the question that should have an answer for.”

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