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.

Pallavi Railkar graduated from NLIU Bhopal in 2011, and spent close to five years working in the field of corporate law. In 2016, she enrolled for the LL.M. at Columbia Law School. In this interview, she discusses her methods for shortlisting law schools, choosing Columbia over UPenn, writing the NY Bar, and a whole lot more.

Did you ever consider an LLM right after your undergrad? Or was the plan always to work for a few years and then apply?

I never seriously considered an LLM during or after my undergrad in India. This is because I was aware of the fact that an LLM degree does not add any business or economic value to our career in India. However, I did want to have some international exposure in my career at some point. So, although I had no immediate plans for LLM degree after my undergrad, I might have planned for it at a later point, if I did not have an opportunity to work outside India for sometime otherwise.

Having completed an LLM degree now, to answer the second question, it is always better to work for sometime before pursuing masters, especially for US masters. The US [law schools] have a very work-focused approach and they value work experience before pursuing masters degree. Therefore, I recommend gaining some experience before an LLM degree. It also gives you clarity about your interest areas which helps you to design your LLM program accordingly.

“I recommend gaining some experience before an LLM degree. It also gives you clarity about your interest areas which helps you to design your LLM program accordingly.”

How did you go about shortlisting the schools you would to apply to, and what were the schools that you finally applied to?

Shortlisting schools was easy for me. My criteria for shortlisting were schools that were good for corporate law and geographic convenience. All Ivy League law schools and other top universities in the US have very good courses, faculty and other resources for corporate law.

So, meeting the first criteria was not difficult.

Therefore, for me, it came down to geographic convenience. I reside in Pennsylvania, therefore, I applied for schools in Pennsylvania and New York. I applied to Columbia Law School, Upenn, Cornell Law School, NYU, and two other law schools of Pennsylvania State University – Penn State Law and Dickinson Law.

What got you to narrow down on Columbia Law School?

This was a very difficult decision for me at the time. I was accepted at all the above law schools that I applied to. I had narrowed down on Upenn and Columbia Law School. Crossing out NYU, Cornell and Pennsylvania State Universities was easy.

Hence, I was left with deciding between Columbia and Upenn.

Upenn was a very convenient option geographically, it is only 30 minutes drive from my residence. It is also an Ivy League and well known for corporate law. Upenn also offers a certification course from Wharton Business School. This was a unique feature which I was highly considering given the outstanding reputation of Wharton Business School as well.

Speaking with the current students at both Columbia and Upenn was extremely helpful to come to a decision. I compared all the factors between both the schools such as finances, courses offered, geographic convenience, etc.

Financially, both schools were equally expensive, more or less. It seemed earlier that Upenn’s tuition was cheaper than Columbia, but when you add the Business certification course fee from Wharton Business School, it turns out that Upenn’s total tuition is slightly higher than Columbia.

In terms of courses offered, like I said, certification course from Wharton Business School was something unique that Upenn offered. I spoke with the then current students at Columbia, and I learned that students of Columbia Law School and Columbia Business School have the option to take courses at the other school. Therefore, if a law student likes a course at the business school, he can register for one course per semester.

“Students of Columbia Law School and Columbia Business School have the option to take courses at the other school. Therefore, if a law student likes a course at the business school, he can register for one course per semester.”

This was common for business school students also to register for courses at the law school. I was then convinced that Wharton Business School certification at Upenn is not a huge advantage over Columbia after all. After crossing out courses and finances, the only advantage with Upenn for me was I would not need to move and rent another place near the school. I could have comfortably operated from my residence.

I felt this advantage was a bit small compared to the vast resources that Columbia offered in terms of faculty, courses, advantage of being in NYC. Columbia is a much bigger brand and is extremely resourceful in every field that it offers. This is how I narrowed down on Columbia.

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

I had applied for, but did not receive any financial aid from Columbia. However, Pennsylvania State University had offered me 71% Scholarship at the outset.

When it comes to studying in NYC, any advice on how to go about finding accommodation? And any suggestions on what the approximate monthly spend would be?

If you are joining Columbia, it has an online system of registering your housing preferences. Based on your preferences and the lottery system, you are allocated housing when you arrive at Columbia just before the school starts.

If students prefer to change their accommodations during the LLM, the housing department at Columbia is very flexible and it allows students to terminate the lease before its term without charging any penalty.

“If students prefer to change their accommodations during the LLM, the housing department at Columbia is very flexible and it allows students to terminate the lease before its term without charging any penalty.”

There are also Facebook groups for accommodations where students constantly post information on sub-letting the apartments. This is another way to directly get in touch with other students or find roommates to share the apartment without going through the process of Columbia Housing Department.

The approximate monthly spent on rent could be anywhere from $1000 to $3000, depending on the size of apartment, whether it is shared or rented solely. I spent $2100 for a 1-bedroom apartment right in front of the law school.

What were some of the highlights of the LLM experience?

The LLM experience was very fulfilling both personally and professionally. Some of the highlights of my LLM program were the courses I took, the incredible people I met, faculty, classmates.

The faculty for all the courses that I registered for was outstanding. Most of them were full time partners at leading law firms in NYC.

My M&A deals workshop class was very fast paced, highly competitive and extremely exciting. I absolutely enjoyed the class. The professors were partners from a top M&A law firm in the city. Similarly I enjoyed my corporations and evidence class a lot.

Earlier this year, you also managed to pass the NY Bar – any advice on how to go about prepping for the bar exam?

The NY bar is a tough exam, and I think everyone has their own way of prepping that works for them. I can share a few things that worked for me. I had subscribed to Barbri bar exam prep course.

I made my own personal notes from the lectures offered by Barbri for each subject. This made my revisions easier. I would also supplement my notes each time I learned a new concept or wanted to add to the existing topics and concepts.

Besides Barbri, I also bought Steven L. Emanuel’s MBE bar review book and subscribed to Adaptibar online for practicing the MBE (multiple choice questions) part of the bar exam. I therefore, used more than one bar review course. Adaptibar is very good for practicing MBE questions. It gives short explanations for all the choices. It also offers a mobile app, so one can just practice a few questions on the phone while taking a break.

In addition to practice questions, Emanuel also offers 8-10 pages of short summary of all the important topics for all 7 MBE subjects. I found this summary helpful for a few topics. Sometimes a concept which we might find difficult to understand, explained or phrased differently, might become easier to understand. This is what happened when I used more than one bar prep course.

A few concepts that I did not understand from Barbri materials, I could easily understand from Emanuel summary. I also learned many concepts through practice questions from Barbri, Emanuel, Adaptibar, which were sometimes not covered in Barbri lectures.

Therefore, I think practicing MBE questions in parallel while reviewing concepts and topics is important. Another factor I think is most important is time. Most students give the bar right after graduation, which leaves them with barely two months. But if you are taking the Bar later, I would say start the preparation slightly ahead of two months.

“Most students give the bar right after graduation, which leaves them with barely two months. But if you are taking the Bar later, I would say start the preparation slightly ahead of two months.”

These are a few things that worked for me. I know many of us passed exam very comfortably by sticking to only one bar exam prep course, Barbri or Kaplan. So it is an individual choice. The Bar exam ultimately just needs sincere commitment. It does seem overwhelming at times during the prep time, but by just keeping at it and not giving up can see you through the exam.

Also spread your time equally among all topics. Do not blindly rely on Barbri or Kaplan recommendations about important topics. Bar exam is very unpredictable, therefore, it is best to treat each and every subject and topic equally important.

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

An LLM abroad is a very fulfilling and enriching experience. I would say working and gaining some experience before pursuing masters definitely goes a long way. For an LLM from US, if the goal is to get a job in the US, one may want to consider doing a JD instead.

Having said that, students are able to secure jobs in the US with an LLM degree as well. Every individual case is different. It is just slightly trickier on the job front with an LLM compared to a JD degree.

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