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.
Riya Jain, unlike most other participants in the FPA series, is not only an LLM candidate at the University College of London but also undertook her LLB course at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom. In this interview, she explains the reasons behind studying law in the UK at the undergraduate level, why she chose to do an LL.M., and much more.
What got you to consider an LLB from outside India, as opposed to within the country? How did you go about selecting where to apply?
I had applied to law entrance exams for law in India (CLAT, NLU-Delhi, etc.) and was unable to secure a place at a coveted law school in India.
It was my parents who encouraged me to apply to universities abroad, specifically the UK after consulting our neighbourhood friend and an educational institute about career prospects abroad. The reason I chose the UK was because I was fascinated with how commonwealth countries like India derive their legislative acts from the UK.
Consequently, upon doing my research regarding the best-known universities for law in the UK I had come across Durham, which at the time I applied was ranked 3rd in law after Oxford and Cambridge. I was immediately attracted to the experienced faculty and international exposure that Durham offers to its students.
While India is a growing hub for law opportunities, I personally do think it is quite behind other developed countries like the UK in regards to infrastructure, globalisation and international exposure. Another reason for applying to Durham was because it offered me the ability to explore international opportunities such as comparatively studying different legislations like the UK, the EU and some bits of the civil legislation system in the US (which is remarkably different from commonwealth legislations!).
“While India is a growing hub for law opportunities, I personally do think it is quite behind other developed countries like the UK in regards to infrastructure, globalisation and international exposure.”
Durham also gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in a plethora of extracurricular activities like sports and societies – I enjoyed playing basketball for my college team and was part of the Project Citizens Advice Line where I helped provide legal advice to Durham citizens and students regarding housing and employment issues.
I think the opportunities at a university like Durham is pivotal towards becoming a lawyer. At first I thought becoming a lawyer was simply about scoring well in exams due to the way curriculum is taught in India. However, my university experience taught me how to become a well-rounded individual who is not solely focused on studies but also on being more proactive in terms of using my social skills and for that I am extremely grateful to Durham.
“My university experience taught me how to become a well-rounded individual who is not solely focused on studies but also on being more proactive in terms of using my social skills and for that I am extremely grateful to Durham.”
How easy or difficult was the application itself? Any advice for those who may be also considering following in your footsteps?
A well-focused personal statement detailing reasons for studying in the UK is recommended. My advice would be to focus on your personal strengths and how you can use your skills to contribute to studies abroad.
If you are applying to a jurisdiction like the UK or even the US, extracurricular activities (any kind of passion or hobby that you enjoy) can really work in your favour. If you are interested in a career in law, giving the LNAT (Legal National Aptitude Test) is necessary for UK universities. Moreover, you are required to take the IELTS so make sure you are extremely fluent in your English speaking and writing skills as a high IELTS score is very desirable.
I would also recommend doing some self-researching into universities that rank highly for studying law as not every single university abroad is worth the hype and you don’t want to get swayed away by certain educational institutions who can misguide you on this topic.
“Not every single university abroad is worth the hype and you don’t want to get swayed away by certain educational institutions who can misguide you on this topic.”
Did you apply for/receive financial aid of any kind?
I didn’t receive financial aid. There are extremely limited scholarship opportunities for international students and we are encouraged to look for educational loans and scholarship opportunities from our home country.
I think the Indian Government needs to improve its funding for its citizens who wish to study abroad. In the UK, students are usually on a student loan that is funded by their Government. This is one of the many areas that the Indian Government should seriously reform. In a country like India where competition is super fierce and talent is abundant, the Indian Government should seriously look into opening more institutions with better infrastructural facilities and stronger financial aid for its citizens.
Looking back, what were some of the more challenging aspects of the LLB course? And given that you got internships in both, India and the UK, what do you think are some of the bigger differences between the two countries from the perspective of a legal professional?
The most challenging aspects of the LLB course is the reading and legal research. The requirement that assignments must not be plagiarised is heavily emphasised upon and helped me perfect my research skills. The LLB course was rigorous in regards to the reading we were required to do and I can’t remember a day that went by where I did not read a case online or an article that analysed legal issues related to our curriculum. I also learnt how to organise my time more wisely in relation to my extra-curricular activities and my studies.
“The LLB course was rigorous in regards to the reading we were required to do and I can’t remember a day that went by where I did not read a case online or an article that analysed legal issues related to our curriculum.”
I think the biggest differences between India and the UK in regards to internships is that in the UK, vacation schemes (internships) give you an insight into the workings of an international commercial law firm. In India, there is an absence of exposure to international-clientele deals. Moreover, the assessment centres in the UK tend to be quite challenging as there are various stages that they utilise in order to test a candidate’s ability to train at the firm. Of course, not all UK firms hire candidates based on a transparent assessment centre and I have come across a few candidates who have secured internships at high-end London law firms through a mere close connection.
Nonetheless, I do believe that a transparent and rigorous assessment centre that tests a candidate’s capability and motivations for working at a firm in India should be introduced. The practice of hiring interns through close connections should be banned.
Being an international student qualifying for a job opportunity (known as a training contract) for a law firm in the UK is notoriously difficult because most firms do not sponsor international students. You would have to score really well at University and/or look for other factors to seriously distinguish yourself to even make it to assessment centres in the UK. That being said, the opportunities to work with high-end clients at an international law firm offered in the UK are still very attractive to international students.
This is quite evident due to London’s status as the leading global financial country. Even though Brexit could potentially change this status, studying in the UK for budding Indian corporate professionals is still desirable. Nonetheless, I do believe that job opportunities in India in relation to the corporate sector has the potential for real growth (Intellectual Property Law, Competition Law and Arbitration are sectors predicted to grow in the coming years) and it would be remarkable to see India expand its offices globally.
When it came to the LLM, what were some of the schools you looked at? What made you narrow down on UCL?
For my LLM I looked at LSE, UCL, Oxford and Cambridge. I did not get into Oxbridge and instead narrowed down my choice to UCL. UCL is currently a top 10 university as reported by QS rankings and having UCL as a brand name on my CV was an important factor for me to pursue an LLM there.
I also aim at specialsing in Competition law at UCL as this course was ranked no.1 very recently so I am quite confident that the faculty and individuals I will get to interact with at UCL will help me become a proficient competition lawyer in the near future.
I am also looking forward to my non-specialist module Environmental law as it will help me understand policy related matters to climate issues more closely, another area of law UCL is highly esteemed for.
What are your expectations from the LLM course itself?
My expectations from the LLM course is that I hope it helps me gain a better understanding of Competition Law in order to become a strong lawyer. I believe this is an area law that is currently growing in not just India but other jurisdictions of the world. I also aim to study more about algorithmic collusion in the Digital Economy and how competition law can curb the dominance of digital companies like Facebook.
I wish to also delve into the area of environmental law which will be a challenging and dynamic area of law to study. Therefore, I believe studying at UCL will bring me closer to my career ambitions.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who may be considering a master’s abroad?
My advice would be to plan ahead of time about whether you want to pursue a master’s abroad. The field you specialise in your masters should be of serious interest to you as it requires a lot of time and effort. Carefully consider scholarship or educational loans that you can apply for a year or two in advance.
An LLM is also a good way of demonstrating your passion for your desired field of law and is valued by recruiters. By pursuing an LLM, you can not only increase your changes for working at a reputable company but also enter into the research field about things like public policy.
Many of the professors I interacted with at Durham University are highly accomplished and respected academics in their field. A career in academics should not be underestimated at all and an LLM provides you scope in this area.
“Many of the professors I interacted with at Durham University are highly accomplished and respected academics in their field. A career in academics should not be underestimated at all and an LLM provides you scope in this area.”
Lastly, I also think an LLM is a good way of helping students distinguish themselves from their competitive group of peers when applying for any kind of job opportunity.