The Amicus Interviews are meant for broader discussions on legal education, and the legal profession at the global level. One of the goals of this series of interviews is to get the views of Indian academics on legal education, both in India and abroad.
In this edition, I get to speak with Shilpi Nanda who is currently pursuing her PhD at the National University of Singapore on a Commonwealth Scholarship. Shilpi has had an interesting journey thus far, enrolling for the LL.M. at Cambridge University right after getting a law degree from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in 2015. Her work as a doctoral candidate revolves around a comparative analysis of insider trading legislation in the EU, Australia, Singapore and India.
In the first part of the interview, she shares her thoughts on the Cambridge LLM (where she was a recipient of the George Spyrou Scholarship), what the Indian law graduate ought to keep in mind before enrolling for a master’s, and the utility of a doctorate degree.
You enrolled for the Cambridge LLM right after you graduated. Was an academic/research career the plan even back then? Or was this something you were not quite sure of?
My interest in choosing an academic/research career has been built gradually based on the experiences I have had during and after I pursued the LLM at Cambridge. I applied for a specialised LLM after my undergraduate degree as I wanted to gain a specialisation in commercial law before I began my career as a corporate lawyer.
During the LLM, as a part of the coursework requirement, I wrote an essay on the wave of change that India was experiencing after amending its insider trading laws for the first time in twenty-two years.
My essay showcased the need for India to amend its laws further and step up to the international standard of regulating insider trading, given the increased cross-border mergers taking place across the globe. The essay was well received in class, and the professor provided me with detailed feedback on how I could further develop the argument in my piece by examining the issue with a comparative and historical lens.
As I went on to work further on the essay, I discovered that the Australia, Singapore and the EU were also further amending their insider trading laws almost in synchronisation to each other which led me to suspect a harmonisation trend amongst these countries. The findings of the essay facilitated my interest in research on insider trading laws and raised questions that I became motivated to explore in a doctoral research project. I found the exercise of researching, writing and receiving feedback to create an original piece of work to be exciting and valuable!
Law students often believe that a doctoral degree is pursued only to undertake a career in academia or research. However, this is not necessarily true. A PhD teaches you much more than just research and writing. The degree plays a crucial role in enhancing skills of conceptual thinking and argument analysis, which are fundamental to making contributions in any field. One can always work in the industry at a law firm or an international organisation after completing their doctoral degree.
“Law students often believe that a doctoral degree is pursued only to undertake a career in academia or research. However, this is not necessarily true. A PhD teaches you much more than just research and writing.”
When I enrolled at the National University of Singapore’s PhD programme, I had not yet decided whether I wanted to pursue a full-time career in research and academia. However, after two years of the doctoral degree, my motivation to pursue a career in academia is quite strong. I intend to contribute significantly to the field of securities regulations and capital markets from a comparative viewpoint. Having studied law in three countries across two continents, I am well-versed with Indian, Singaporean, Australian and the EU securities law, with a specific interest in insider trading laws.
My doctoral work is a current topic that is extremely relevant to the financial markets in general, and the securities markets in particular. Given that price discovery and efficiency of financial markets is based on information, problems could appear in the context of information asymmetry when companies make disclosures regarding their activities selectively to certain investors. Although selective disclosures (such as due diligence) are necessary to facilitate large corporate transactions that are beneficial to shareholders and other stakeholders, they run the risk of violating insider trading norms if the selected investor leaks or trades upon the inside information in question.
Since this aspect of securities law has not been a subject matter of much research and analysis, and various players are still in the process of coming to grips with the problems, my doctoral thesis would make substantial contributions from the perspective of law, regulation and public policy. I intend to publish my doctoral research as a book which would be useful not just for legislators and regulators, but also market players such as companies, investment banks and lawyers.
“I intend to publish my doctoral research as a book which would be useful not just for legislators and regulators, but also market players such as companies, investment banks and lawyers.”
You have spoken about your LLM experience here, but looking back, were there any other benefits of the Cambridge LLM that you only realised over a period of time?
As time has passed by since my graduation in 2016, I have felt more grateful for having pursued my Master’s in law from Cambridge, as the university has connected me to an inspiring network of people.
Every year I return to Cambridge to attend the George Spyrou Scholarship dinner that once funded my education, and I get the opportunity to re-connect with my mentors at the college and the ever-growing scholar community. During my visit to Cambridge, I also make an effort to meet with some professors at the faculty who have over the past three years played an instrumental role in preparing me for my career in academia and research.
My advice to law students considering to apply for an LLM is to try and look beyond the short-term benefits of gaining the degree. Some law students don’t opt for masters in law as they don’t see an immediate raise in salary or a drastic change in the job options that they can undertake after the degree.
“Some law students don’t opt for masters in law as they don’t see an immediate raise in salary or a drastic change in the job options that they can undertake after the degree.”
However, in my opinion, the benefits of doing an LLM are experienced more in time than immediately. The degree exposes you to a wide variety of international scholarship and helps you sharpen your conceptual thinking skills, which become evident as you re-join the industry. Furthermore, the LLM allows you to gain a specialisation in a specific area of law and think beyond the traditional careers of a corporate and litigant lawyer.
And lastly, it connects you to an inspiring network of friends and mentors for the rest of your lives.
“The benefits of doing an LLM are experienced more in time than immediately. The degree exposes you to a wide variety of international scholarship and helps you sharpen your conceptual thinking skills, which become evident as you re-join the industry.”
Could you tell me a bit about what you ended up doing after the LLM, and before enrolling for the PhD? Was this time spent on identifying potential supervisors?
After I graduated with an LLM, I had two priorities. Firstly, to get selected in a leading doctoral programme; and secondly, to gain more research and writing experience at the International Bar Association and India Vision Foundation.
I spent considerable time researching and refining the research proposal that accurately reflected my vision and ideas for my intended doctoral study. Some of my main concerns at the time were designing a valuable research project, finding a suitable supervisor and procuring funding to support my research plan. I was looking for a supervisor who specialised in insider trading laws, and also had the knowledge of several jurisdictions that I was considering for my study.
“I spent considerable time researching and refining the research proposal that accurately reflected my vision and ideas for my intended doctoral study. Some of my main concerns at the time were designing a valuable research project, finding a suitable supervisor and procuring funding to support my research plan.”
Dr. Umakant Varottil from the National University of Singapore was an ideal fit for my project, and I was very grateful when he agreed to guide me in my doctoral study after I received my offer from the university. I was also fortunate to secure the Commonwealth Scholarship that financially supported me in pursuing my doctoral degree at NUS.
During the year, I improved my research skills by working as a trainee for the Legal Research and Policy Unit of the International Bar Association, London office.
The International Bar Association has a consultancy status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and so provides an excellent opportunity to work on several soft policy law issues. I researched and wrote articles on topics such as sextortion, under-representation of women in business corporations, enforcement mechanics of whistle-blowing law, discrepancies in bribery and corruption acts in developing countries and corporate social responsibility compliance by public-private partnerships in India. I also assisted Advocate Jane Ellis in drafting the ‘IBA Anti-Corruption Handbook’ and the Senior Legal Advisor Rocio Paniagua in preparing the ‘IBA Corporate and M&A Law Committee Legal Due Diligence Guidelines’ while I was working at the organisation. My stint at the IBA was highly beneficial in polishing my writing skills for a full-time research degree.
I also gained research experience with the India Vision Foundation in New Delhi, India, which is a non-profit that advocates for the humane treatment of prisoners in Indian jails. At the organisation, I conducted a review of the NGO’s compliance with the international human rights guidelines set out in the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules and Bangkok Rules. For the same, I gathered data from personal interviews with all-female inmates at the Bhondsi Jail, Gurgaon, India. By the end of my volunteer work, I drafted a report for the director of the organisation (Ms Monica Dhawan) with suggestions for improving the quality of life of female inmates at Bhondsi Jail Prison.
Some of the ideas that were included in their next year’s budget report – self-sustaining sanitary napkin production unit within the prison, maternal care services for pregnant inmates and nutritious food for toddlers (under six years of age) residing in the jail.
The experience at India Vision Foundation was unique as this was the first time I was collecting qualitative data through interviews and was dealing with an area of law that was not my specialisation. I had full flexibility in analysing the data, which tested my skills of managing and structuring a research project.
“The experience at India Vision Foundation was unique as this was the first time I was collecting qualitative data through interviews and was dealing with an area of law that was not my specialisation.”