The Amicus Interviews are meant for broader discussions on legal education, and the legal profession at the global level. One of the goals of this series of interviews is to get the views of Indian law graduates who are working outside the country. Another goal would be to track the educational aspirations of the Indian Law Graduate (ILG), especially when it comes to studying outside the country.
Deborshi Barat is currently a PhD scholar at the Fletcher School, Tufts University the same institute where he completed the MA in Law & Diplomacy as well as an LL.M. In this interview, the NUJS graduate discusses his time as a postgraduate student, the changing face of Indian legal education, choosing a PhD supervisor, and a lot more.
You have had quite an interesting career trajectory thus far but going back to 2013 when you signed up for the MALD course at Tufts – what was the thought process then? What attracted you to a “non-law” master’s?
I had worked at a law firm (S&R Associates, New Delhi, mainly engaged in Capital Markets, General Corporate, M&A, and Dispute Resolution) and then at the Calcutta High Court. There had, thus, come a time when I wanted to marry legal practice with a comprehensive policy education to complete the picture.
The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University was a cherished destination, and hence the desire to seek a non-law Masters degree program without severing the ‘law’ connection.
Were there other schools that you applied to as well? And if so, what got you to narrow down on Tufts?
I did apply to Columbia University for its MPP program at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). In the end, I’ll admit it was a tough choice between SIPA and Fletcher.
Eventually I chose Fletcher because it seemed a better fit for what I wanted, and how I wanted to tailor my education. Boston was the extra incentive!
Any advice on how to go about the application process? Was it difficult to translate your previous experience as a corporate lawyer while making the applications?
Like many other things, the application process is not tough but requires a systematic approach. It’s good to be honest about one’s aspirations and build a compelling narrative therefrom as part of the Statement of Purpose.
Several of the admission committees of elite universities are exposed to applicants wishing to change their career trajectory. Accordingly, I found that the previous corporate experience provided a good platform to pitch myself better as a suitable candidate. It wasn’t an obstacle.
“Several of the admission committees of elite universities are exposed to applicants wishing to change their career trajectory.”
Did you apply for/receive financial aid of any sort?
I did. I received generous aid from both SIPA and Fletcher, thus complicating the decision-making process further.
It would have been difficult for me to confirm admission without financial aid, and I always knew that my enrolment was contingent upon receiving a scholarship.
How was the course itself? Any highlights in particular that you wish to share?
The multi-faceted faculty at Fletcher is, by far, the most valuable resource available for students. I ended up being at Fletcher for longer than I’d initially planned, completing two masters degrees (the M.A. in Law & Diplomacy and the LL.M. in International law, respectively), and finally enrolling for the PhD program.
The famous collegiality of the Fletcher ‘mafia’ is a different experience altogether, and one learns a lot from one’s peers as well, especially because the range of perspectives, nationalities, professional backgrounds, and world-views is staggering.
“The famous collegiality of the Fletcher ‘mafia’ is a different experience altogether, and one learns a lot from one’s peers as well, especially because the range of perspectives, nationalities, professional backgrounds, and world-views is staggering.”
I also find it interesting that after the MALD, you opted for an LL.M. at Fletcher – again, what got you to enrol for this course? Was it at this point in time that you had decided that a doctorate degree would be next?
I was already admitted to the M.A. in Law & Diplomacy (MALD) program at Fletcher – its keystone offering. Once there, I realised that it made sense to apply for an LL.M. as well, not least because the International Law faculty at Fletcher is outstanding.
I hadn’t yet decided on doctoral studies. I wanted to embrace Fletcher’s courses in full, and the options are plenty.
Clearly, you enjoyed your time at Fletcher – but can you tell me how you went about choosing your supervisor? And any pointers on what prospective doctorate scholars ought to keep in mind?
Fletcher requires a capstone thesis prior to graduation as part of its curricular requirements. I had already taken a few courses with Prof. Salacuse, and converted the final paper for one of his courses into my capstone, and eventually, my PhD pitch. Sharing a comfortable working relationship and mental wavelength, other than respect and curiosity to work with, are in my mind the chief determining factors while choosing one’s PhD advisor.
The advisor should be excited about your proposal. Obviously, prospective doctoral candidates should bear in mind that their future dissertation will stay with them a long time – perhaps define the rest of their academic life. Accordingly, it’s important to choose a topic or an area of research that one is passionate about.
Lastly, it is also important to note that a PhD is perhaps just the beginning of a lifetime’s worth of scholarship. The idea is not to get stuck with one stage of research, but to build something that can springboard you on to higher, better things. An exit strategy is as important as the decision to pursue a doctorate in the first place.
“Lastly, it is also important to note that a PhD is perhaps just the beginning of a lifetime’s worth of scholarship. The idea is not to get stuck with one stage of research, but to build something that can springboard you on to higher, better things.”
As someone who has had a fair bit of experience in academia and research outside the country, how do you think Indian law schools can build research centres and/or encourage research and scholarship?
At present, while I continue working on my dissertation thesis, I have assumed the position of Assistant Professor at the Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University. I felt the need to be attached to a research-based institution where I could teach and leverage the networks, opportunities, and available infrastructure to better serve my intellectual needs.
Jindal is, in my mind, a harbinger for things to come, especially in terms of law schools around the country, with its focused attention on research. A lot of interest among law students lie in getting jobs. As important as law firms and legal practice are, scholarship is indispensable.
“A lot of interest among law students lie in getting jobs. As important as law firms and legal practice are, scholarship is indispensable.”
The fact that two of my previous vice-chancellors at NUJS, Profs. B.S. Chimni and M.P. Singh, among other doyens of the Indian legal universe like Prof. Upendra Baxi, have also joined Jindal recently, clearly demonstrate that legal education in the country is changing, getting more geared towards a US law school model which promotes publications, pedagogy, and a robust intellectual ecosystem, rather than restricting itself within the confines of mass-producing graduates with a law degree.
What is your reading of the employment opportunities that international graduates can access in countries like the US? More specifically, international law graduates who are interested in academia and research?
Getting law firm jobs in the US after a US masters remains a viable option, but I think it’s not as prevalent as it used to be five or ten years ago. If one is interested in converting an LLM into a law firm job in the US, one should be careful about the choice of law school, the eventual Bar Exam, the eligibility requirements, and above all, the practice areas that will eventually open up.
For candidates interested in research, the opportunities are more seamless, and one may choose from a wide bouquet of interest areas. Several think tanks and research-based organisations exist that scout around for such applicants, depending on their unique requirements and the expertise offered therein.
“For candidates interested in research, the opportunities are more seamless, and one may choose from a wide bouquet of interest areas.”
In terms of teaching opportunities, especially faculty positions in Law, the market is a lot more competitive. Pursuing (and finishing!) a PhD and publishing prolifically in prestigious peer-reviewed journals remain indispensable requirements.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who may be considering a master’s abroad?
The most significant advice that I received on this subject was from a Partner at S&R Associates – that of remaining open-minded, to retain one’s intellectual curiosity, and to believe that a Masters abroad, other than the tangible benefits, provides an irreplaceable cocktail of experience and exposure.
Accordingly, other than being realistic about one’s chances of obtaining admission and scholarship/ financial aid, it is a good idea to plan in advance and build on credentials that could help sell one’s profile better.
“Other than being realistic about one’s chances of obtaining admission and scholarship/ financial aid, it is a good idea to plan in advance and build on credentials that could help sell one’s profile better.”