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.

Nayanthika Ramakrishnan is a graduate of the National Law University, Jodhpur (’12) and currently enrolled as a JD student (’20) at Cornell Law School. In this FPA, she talks about her reasons for opting for the JD instead of an LL.M., her reading of the US legal recruitment market, the JD course itself, and a whole lot more.

Alright, let’s get the obvious one out of the way – why not an LLM? It is cheaper, quicker and also gets you US Bar eligibility. So then why the JD? 

I think the choice between an LLM and a JD depends on what applicants are looking for from an education in a US law school.  You are absolutely correct in pointing out that the LLM is faster, and also gives you eligibility to appear for the NY and California bar exams (and for a few other states).

But a student’s “exit opportunities” from the two are vastly different.  I enjoyed my experience as a litigation attorney in India and wanted the best option available to pursue litigation here.

While the LLM may help you get your foot in the door at the top law firms here, the number of LLM graduates from India going into litigation as compared to corporate/transactional work at those firms is quite small – and of that number, those starting their careers in places other than NY and California is smaller still.  I wouldn’t say it’s impossible (nothing is!) but it would definitely be an exception to the rule.

“While the LLM may help you get your foot in the door at the top law firms here, the number of LLM graduates from India going into litigation as compared to corporate/transactional work at those firms is quite small – and of that number, those starting their careers in places other than NY and California is smaller still.”

With the LLM, you’re also competing with several highly qualified graduates for a very limited number of associate roles. I moved here in 2017 after my wedding, knowing well that I would probably be here long term, and so I decided to invest the 2 extra years and graduate with a JD so that I would have the freedom to start off in Chicago (where my partner is based), and also have several opportunities to pursue litigation.

And once you decided that JD it was, how did you go about selecting where to apply? And why zero in on Cornell Law?

I applied to most of the T14 schools (barring the ones way above my LSAT reach) and ended up choosing between Cornell and a few others. Why I ended up choosing Cornell was a combination of several factors: its high rate of placement in Big Law, the small class size, and the financial aid I was offered.

I would be remiss to not mention how beautiful Ithaca is and how completely awed I was by Cornell’s campus the first time I visited.

How much time did you devote to LSAT prep? Any advice on how to go about the exam? 

I spent about two months prepping for the LSAT. It’s not an easy exam, and I would recommend giving the exam in June so that applicants can assess where they stand and retake the December/February administration if needed. LSAT scores play a huge role in deciding where you’re admitted, although with an increasing number of schools now accepting the GRE, I am not sure how the metric has changed.

“The LSAT is not an easy exam, and I would recommend giving the exam in June so that applicants can assess where they stand and retake the December/February administration if needed. “

Taking the time to assess your mastery of the underlying concepts makes it significantly easier to do well on the LSAT. You can self-study for the exam, and I’d recommend doing several practice tests before writing the actual exam.

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

Most US law schools use the FAFSA for need based aid – unfortunately non-citizens/non-permanent residents are not eligible for this. But most schools automatically consider you for a merit based scholarship based on your application for admission, LSAT score and other factors. Yes I did receive a scholarship to attend.

How has the JD experience been? How have you found yourself using your litigation background as a JD student? 

It’s been a challenging but extremely rewarding experience. Challenging because of the amount of work one is expected to put in – the oft-quoted math is almost three hours of studying for every one hour of class.

Rewarding because of the plentiful opportunities that you will be presented with: to attend class with some of the smartest minds in the country, and to work with top law firms, judges and public interest organizations. The 1L year is the hardest, most hectic year of law school and I think my legal background in a common law country definitely helped me feel more sure footed through that initial experience. I already had the vocabulary, and that definitely helped.

“The 1L year is the hardest, most hectic year of law school and I think my legal background in a common law country definitely helped me feel more sure footed through that initial experience.”

Am also curious on how you would compare the JD experience to the BA LLB one at NLU Jodhpur?

 Pursuing a degree in law as a graduate vs. as an undergraduate course of study is vastly different in terms of the mind space a student is in and for that reason, I would hesitate to compare them because they’re really not the same.

Graduating from NLU Jodhpur provided me with a solid foundation to build upon, but I find myself able to think and express myself better now than I could as a 21 year old freshly graduated with a BBA LLB.

Any advice for prospective applicants on scoring internships during the JD course? 

Doing well your 1L year (grades are not everything, but there are “unofficial” cut-offs), researching the firm you’re interviewing with, networking, and having great talking points on your resume so that you can set yourself apart from other candidates.

What is your reading of the US recruitment market when it comes to international lawyers?

Most international students in my JD year at law school have secured positions at top law firms (if that is the career route they chose); visa uncertainties notwithstanding. I think this is largely true for all the T14 schools.

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering studying abroad? 

It’s not a decision to be taken lightly – it is a significant time and money investment; but it’s an experience I would recommend. Even if you’re sure that you want to return to practice in India, I think it is worthwhile to live in a different country, experience a different culture, try new things, meet people from around the world and grow your professional network, and bring that experience back home with you.

“It’s not a decision to be taken lightly – it is a significant time and money investment; but it’s an experience I would recommend.”

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