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.

Sagnik Das graduated from National Law University Jodhpur (Class of ’16) and spent the better part of two years clerking in the Delhi High Court. He recently completed an LL.M. course from Harvard Law School (’19) and in this interview he talks about his time at Harvard Law School, the Inlaks scholarship, making the most of the LL.M., and a lot more.

Was an LL.M. always on the cards while you were an undergraduate law student? Or was this something that you decided to do after working for a bit?

It was always on the cards for me. In my time as an undergrad student at NLU Jodhpur, I tried out quite a few things. But at the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to pursue an LLM abroad. I worked for a while to both build my profile and to get a better sense of what I want to study or focus on during my LLM year.

Initially, I worked with a law firm for a while, and while I had a good time there, I always knew that I wanted to do something different from a law firm job in India. I tried it out so that I didn’t have any regrets later on. I later decided to do a judicial clerkship, both for the enriching learning experience and for the value add in terms of applications for LLM.

How did you go about the process of selecting schools? Did you look at UK schools as well? Lastly, why Harvard?

Selecting schools was actually quite a task and I picked six schools that I applied to eventually. I think this bit is rather important and every prospective applicant should spend quite a bit of time on this, rather than just applying to all the standard, reputed institutions, without doing in depth research. I picked a couple of schools in UK as well, but I always more keen on studying in the US, if not for anything else but for the academic environment here.

“I think this bit is rather important and every prospective applicant should spend quite a bit of time on this, rather than just applying to all the standard, reputed institutions, without doing in depth research. “

Why Harvard? Because of the sheer width of courses on offer and the critical perspective to academic instruction that it is famous for. The sense I have gotten is that HLS teaches you not just what the law is, but really much more about how to question it and develop a critical and analytical approach to its study.

Given that you were clerking at the time of applying, did you find it tough to balance work and the application process? How early did you begin the application process?

The clerkship wasn’t an extremely time intensive job. It gave me adequate time to work on my applications side-by side. The application process is long and requires a lot of patience more than anything else. It is pretty time consuming too. So I’d say that’s definitely a factor to be kept in mind for people whose jobs are more taxing. Mine wasn’t.

I began the application process by researching on the schools I wanted to apply to and preparing a table of what I wanted to study in each of those schools, what courses I was looking to take, which professors I was looking to work with etc. and the application requirements of each of those schools. I’d say I began in April of the year in which I was applying (usually application deadlines are between November-January).

Apart from Inlaks, did you apply for any other sort of financial aid?

I did. I applied to almost all the scholarships and/or interest free loans that were available to Indian students (Narotam Sekhsaria, JN Tata, KC Mahindra etc.).

Coming to Inlaks, what was the toughest part of the selection process? Could you share your experiences of the interview stages? 

The Inlaks scholarship is really competitive and the competition isn’t just against law students, but students from other disciplines as well. The interview was in two stages. The first stage was a technical interview with subject matter specialists. So, there are multiple panels for the different disciplines.

The law panel had four lawyers and it was quite a grilling interview. But it was a very good interview in the sense that most of the questions were on larger issues of legal policy in India, rather than questions requiring rote learning, like what does “x” section of “y” statute state. The interviewers were clearly specialists in the field and it was a good, challenging round.

“It was a very good interview in the sense that most of the questions were on larger issues of legal policy in India, rather than questions requiring rote learning, like what does “x” section of “y” statute state. “

The final round had one panel for all candidates from the various disciplines. There were experts from various fields on the panel, including   some trustees from the Inlaks foundation. From the legal profession, there was Justice Vazifdar on the interview panel.

The final round too was very challenging and Justice Vazifdar asked me the most number of questions, some of which were quite technical. Overall, there was a lot of grilling in both interviews.

Any advice for those looking to apply for scholarships in general, and Inlaks in particular? 

It is really difficult to advice on the various kinds of scholarships, because different scholarships look for different things in the candidates. But mostly, if you make it to the interview stage, you’re guaranteed to get a whole host of questions relating to things you have done so far in your career, so I’d say being extremely thorough with all the areas that you have worked in previously, is the first step.

One should also do some research on what kind of a candidate is the granting foundation looking for, and try to build a case on those lines. A one-size-fits-all approach is therefore ill advised.

For Inlaks in particular, there’s a lot of emphasis on academic and co-curricular achievements, so one must highlight that in their application forms. As for the interview, it’s really important to work very hard and prepare thoroughly, all the while being mentally ready for questions on a wide range of topics.

“For Inlaks in particular, there’s a lot of emphasis on academic and co-curricular achievements, so one must highlight that in their application forms”

It’s not necessary, and often unlikely, that if you want to study x area of law, that the questions are going to come from that area. So one must be pretty comprehensive in preparation, keeping also a keen eye out on relevant current developments in those areas (for instance, know all important legal issues that are playing out in the country currently).

What were some of the most challenging aspects of the Harvard LL.M. experience? Anything that you wish you had known before enrolling? 

Academics at Harvard is extremely rigorous. To be able to navigate through one’s courses, work on the dissertation, look for jobs following the LL.M. (provided that’s something one has to worry about), cumulatively make the year very busy and hectic.

Having said that, it’s a very rich academic environment, and for someone who likes that, it is an especially rewarding experience.

I had always expected the year to be hectic. The one thing I wish I had known before was the importance to streamline one’s academic and professional focus relatively early into the course. There isn’t enough time to try out a whole lot of options by keeping them all open – the course is too short for that.

“There isn’t enough time to try out a whole lot of options by keeping them all open – the course is too short for that. “

Looking back, how do you think one can derive the most value from what is a relatively short course?

Great question. I think focus is of utmost importance. It’s always worthwhile to think (and research) long and hard, before starting the program, on what one wants to achieve out of the LL.M. year.

Finally, networking is almost as important as what you study. You need to meet and talk to the right people (and there’s plenty of opportunity to do so at Harvard) in your areas of interest.

“Networking is almost as important as what you study. You need to meet and talk to the right people (and there’s plenty of opportunity to do so at Harvard) in your areas of interest.”

Last, but definitely not the least, it’s great to get to know your class and make friends from around the world. The LL.M. cohort is diverse and it would be a shame if one misses the opportunity to make relationships that last well beyond the year.

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