First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (LL.M. or otherwise) from different universities across the world.

Sumridhi Kaur is one amongst a small, but growing, number of Indian graduates who have opted to study law outside the country. A final year JD student at Cornell Law School, Sumridhi holds a BA in English Literature from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi. Here, she talks about the reasons for opting for a JD instead of, say, an LLB degree in India, US and UK law schools, and a lot more.

I suppose the most obvious one would be why a JD outside the country as opposed to the LLB in India? 

I went to LSR, DU for undergrad. I was certain quite early in my time at LSR that I wanted to pursue law. In the final year of college, I decided that I would give US law schools a shot and would head in the direction of Faculty of Law, DU if the former did not work out.

I chose US law schools over law schools in the UK, for instance, because US law schools offer doctoral degrees (J.D.) instead of a bachelor’s degree. I prioritized foreign schools over schools in India because of their reputation, faculty and the exposure they provide.

“I chose US law schools over law schools in the UK, for instance, because US law schools offer doctoral degrees (J.D.) instead of a bachelor’s degree. I prioritized foreign schools over schools in India because of their reputation, faculty and the exposure they provide. “

And now that you had decided that it was going to be a JD, what were some of the schools that you looked at and applied for? And what got you to narrow down on Cornell?

I obtained a 169 on my LSAT. Based on that and the LSAT cut-offs for law schools, I picked ten that I eventually applied to. I divided the ten schools into roughly three equal categories of schools — reaches, within-range, and safe schools. I also considered whether the schools were on the list of law schools in the US that are approved by the Bar Council of India and degrees from where would be considered valid for the practice of law in India.

“I divided the ten schools into roughly three equal categories of schools — reaches, within-range, and safe schools.”

The final variable that lead me to Cornell was the fact that I had a three-year long undergrad instead of a four-year undergrad.

The Law School Admissions Council, which administers LSAT and is the central body managing admissions to law schools in the US, explicitly noted on my transcript that I was not a graduate and that I needed another year of education to fulfil that criteria. Some great schools rejected me for that reason and recommended that I apply after a Master’s. Cornell met all my criteria and was the best-ranked out of the schools that admitted me regardless.

How long did you spend on the application process, more specifically on LSAT prep? Any advice on how to go about it?

I took the LSAT once and spent three weeks on it. However, I did do intensive studying during that period.

Based on what I read online when I preparing and my personal experience, I recommend taking a test before starting preparation to see what your baseline score is.

Next, take no more than a week to go through the Bible Trilogy on all the sections. Then spend all your time practising past exams (available on LSAC’s website) and analyzing your answers.

Invariably, there will be patterns to where you go wrong and what you get right. Identify them to start improving your scores. At the peak of my preparation time, I took 3 tests a day and spent at least 1 hour analyzing how I did on each test.

“At the peak of my preparation time, I took 3 tests a day and spent at least 1 hour analyzing how I did on each test. “

Did you apply for/receive financial aid?

International students are not eligible for financial aid but they are eligible for scholarships. I did receive a partial scholarship from Cornell.

How has the JD experience been? Now that you are a 3L, what were some of the most challenging aspects in the first two years?

My experience has been fantastic so far. J.D. students at T-14 law schools come from a very wide range of backgrounds and all of them are inspiring in their own ways. You learn a lot from your peers. Top Indian educational institutes have some of the best minds out there, but we seriously lack worth ethic.

My peers at Cornell are different than my peers at LSR, not because of their intelligence, but because of their discipline. Adapting to life in a new country and adapting to a quasi-religious work ethic was very challenging. It demanded more than my best. I do not regret my decision for a day.

“My peers at Cornell are different than my peers at LSR, not because of their intelligence, but because of their discipline. “

What is your reading of the US legal market in terms of recruitments in general, and international lawyers in particular?

If you perform decently well at a T-14 law school, you will get a job. Big law is genuinely trying to diversify (at least at entry level) and being international may actually work to your advantage. Most people have jobs by the end of their second year.

What are your plans after the JD?

I will join Dechert LLP (New York) as an associate in Fall 2020. I foresee developing and shaping myself as an attorney for about 5-10 years in the U.S. Eventually, though, I want to come back to India and work in the Indian legal market. To that end, besides giving the bar in New York in 2020, I will also appear for the bar exam in India.

And lastly, any advice for the Indian graduate who may be also be considering a JD v LLB?

J.D.s are extremely expensive; the first-year of law school brings the worst of memories to even the minds of seasoned lawyers with decades of experience; how writing is taught in India and the way people write in the US is so different that you will inevitably start with a huge disadvantage (seriously, just pick up an Indian Supreme Court judgment and compare it to a SCOTUS judgment).

All of this makes J.D.s a huge gamble.

Potentially, an LLB from India in combination with an LLM from Harvard, Yale, Columbia will get you to the same place, employment wise. But, three years of legal education in one of the most sophisticated legal systems with the most powerful supreme court in the world will reshape you as an individual.

“Three years of legal education in one of the most sophisticated legal systems with the most powerful supreme court in the world will reshape you as an individual. “

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