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

Shagun Parekh graduated from the Pravin Gandhi College of Law in 2017, and enrolled for the LL.M. at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law immediately thereafter. Currently a legal consultant with Chugh LLP, Shagun shares her reasons for opting for an LL.M., how one can make the most of the nine-month course, writing a good personal statement, and a whole lot more.

You opted for an LLM right after your undergrad. So, when did you start preparing your applications? And did you ever consider working for a while before the LLM? 

I knew right from my first year of law school that I wanted to go to the United States for my masters degree. I started networking on LinkedIn and talking to seniors about it as early as my second year.

Although most times I was told that it was still very early to discuss these things and that my fourth year would be an ideal start, I think knowing what I wanted to do early on gave more time to curate my CV according to what I wanted it to look like when I finally applied for the LLM.

“I think knowing what I wanted to do early on gave more time to curate my CV according to what I wanted it to look like when I finally applied for the LLM.”

My application process however, started towards the end of the first semester of my final (5th) year. I definitely considered working for 1-2 years and was also advised to do the same by most of my mentors, counsellors and peers but eventually decided against it as I did not want a break in my studies. Getting some work experience is always a good idea though and I would recommend it even though I did not end up taking that route.

One of the most difficult aspects is deciding just where to apply – how did you go about selecting schools, and what got you to narrow down on Northwestern? 

I applied to around 10 schools out of which 2 were my “safety nets” – a concept counsellors push on you to ensure that you get in at least somewhere. I would recommend not doing that since most applications end up costing around $80-$100. It is easy to get swayed by what people tell you and what people around you are doing, but if you know you don’t want to go to that school, don’t apply irrespective of how easy it is to get in.

“It is easy to get swayed by what people tell you and what people around you are doing, but if you know you don’t want to go to that school, don’t apply irrespective of how easy it is to get in.”

An LLM is a financial decision as much as it is an academic one.

During my early research phases, I used the LLMguide website a lot to read about universities and then narrowed down to a list on the basis of location preferences and courses. I decided on Northwestern because they offered great courses, some financial aid, and the fact that they were 9th on the top 10 ranking at the time. A big personal factor was also that I had close family residing in Chicago.

Another tricky aspect is the Statement of Purpose (SoP) – any advice here for prospective applicants?

Irrespective of what people may lead you to believe, an SoP can literally make or break your application. Every applicant will have a star studded CV because every applicant has worked just as hard as you to be considered worthy of the university they are applying to. The only thing that sets you apart is your SoP.

“Every applicant will have a star studded CV because every applicant has worked just as hard as you to be considered worthy of the university they are applying to. The only thing that sets you apart is your SOP.”

It is important to firstly, begin early. Do not underestimate the time, efforts and number of drafts it will take before you reach your final SoP.

Secondly, write it yourself. Do not outsource it to educational agencies who help write it for you. An SOP stands out when it is personal and talks to the admissions committee as if it speaks for the applicant. A generic draft may save you time and effort but it can cost you your dream university!

Thirdly, seek help without reservations! Reach out to seniors, fellow students, teachers, mentors, colleagues and get them to proof read your drafts. Take suggestions and be open to criticism.

Lastly, when you seek help, beware that too many cooks spoil the broth – and approach only selective trusted resources around you – you need honest opinions, strong suggestions and someone who understands the process and how much it means to you.

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

There are a lot of scholarships available and if you do the right research early enough you maybe able to clinch a few! However, I did not apply or any financial aid with universities or scholarships as I did not know enough when I was applying.

Most universities will offer an amount of financial aid as per the quality of your application. Northwestern did offer financial aid to me and although it was useful, it was much lower than what some of the other schools offered me. Looking back, maybe I would not mind taking up admission at the University which offered more financial aid since it was still within the top 20 universities but this is a completely personal decision and it depends on a lot of other factors!

“Looking back, maybe I would not mind taking up admission at the University which offered more financial aid since it was still within the top 20 universities but this is a completely personal decision. “

Like I said before, an LLM is as much a financial decision as it is an academic one. I would only advise that before you choose a school which offers little/no financial aid over a school which offers a lot more, compare every single factor and really think it through rather than deciding per what people have to say!

What were your expectations from the LLM program, and looking back, were these expectations met?

My LLM experience has been life changing and I would not trade it in for anything! Going into the program I expected to learn more about the areas of law which I really liked and wanted to eventually practice in. Right from Day 1 I learned not only what the law was but how I could apply it to any situation or case that came up. They train you to think differently.

The way they structure the syllabus, target the core aspects of the subject and teach you not only the law but how to practice in that area of the law was a phenomenal change from what I had experienced back home. The program did not just meet my academic expectations, it exceeded them!

However, placements and job opportunities for LLMs in the United States continue to dwindle and it is really tough to get a job – much tougher than I originally anticipated it would be.

How do you think LLM candidates can make the most of the (relatively) short programme? 

Network with as many people as possible, friends, roommates, classmates, teachers, visiting faculty etc. Try and step out of your comfort zone each day and enjoy the process. Make use of this time to learn as much as you can, academically as well as on a personal development basis because this opportunity will never come again.

The quality of education offered by almost all universities abroad is extremely high so absorb everything possible to shape your career the way you pictured it to be. Even if 9 months is a short time compared to other masters programs which are about 2 years, when you go into the program knowing you have only 9 months, you need to make each day count!

And lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who may be considering a master’s abroad? 

Oh yes, tons! Firstly, too many people will try to tell you what country you should go to, when you should apply, where you should apply, and how you should decide every aspect of this process – but remember, this is for YOU.

What you are looking for. your finances, educational background and what you expect to achieve from this degree are the only things that matter.

Secondly and at the the risk of sounding repetitive, NETWORK! Talk to friends, colleagues and expand your connections on LinkedIn to know more about this process and make informed decisions.

Thirdly, if you want to find a job in the United States then before you go, research about the bar exam requirements that the state you wish to settle down in would require. For example, New York, Illinois and California all have very different eligibility criteria. You can also not ignore the immigration aspects if you are currently eyeing the United States but do not let that discourage you from doing what you always wanted to do. The process is difficult but it is not impossible!

“You can also not ignore the immigration aspects if you are currently eyeing the United States but do not let that discourage you from doing what you always wanted to do. The process is difficult but it is not impossible!”

Lastly, I know this process can be exhausting and would love to help in any way I can. Feel free to reach out at shagunps.sp@gmail.com or on LinkedIn for any questions you may have and I will try my best to address them!

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