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.

Radhika Saxena graduated from Delhi University’s Campus Law Centre in 2015, and worked in the chambers of senior counsel, Indira Jaising, before enrolling for the LLM at the University of Pennsylvania (’19).

Not quite connected with the LL.M. but given your interest in law while in school, what made you opt for an undergraduate in English literature? And how did you find yourself using this degree while studying law at Delhi University?

While in school, I had no real interest or exposure to law as a career. As a daughter of a doctor and an architect, I was expected to pursue engineering. When I graduated from school and took various entrance examinations for engineering colleges, I realized that the science life was not for me.

I then focused my energy on the Bachelor of Arts programmes at Delhi University. I was interested in pursuing Mathematics, but I chose college over course and landed at Sri Venkastewara College having enrolled in the B.A. English (Hons.) programme.

I am not kidding when I say that it changed my life!

I had some amazing professors, who taught me a lot, not just in the classroom but outside it too. A subject I studied in my final year – Literary Theory – had the most impact on me. The subject focused on four thematic areas – Marxism, Feminism, Poststructuralism and Postcolonialism.

As a result, I read the works of Derrida, Edward Said, Spivack, Althusser, Simone de Beauvoir, etc. which taught me a lot about life in general, but most importantly it trained me on forming opinions and to have a critical eye on everything around me and thus began a feminist uprising, which I hoped to carry forward, and finally decided to study law.

“I read the works of Derrida, Edward Said, Spivack, Althusser, Simone de Beauvoir, etc. which taught me a lot about life in general, but most importantly it trained me on forming opinions and to have a critical eye on everything around me”

While in law school, given my background in literature, I was able to appreciate law better and learned how to analyze it and be critical of it. It also made me choose the unpopular subjects such as Gender Justice, which eventually led me to a career in women’s rights.

“While in law school, given my background in literature, I was able to appreciate law better and learned how to analyze it and be critical of it. It also made me choose the unpopular subjects such as Gender Justice, which eventually led me to a career in women’s rights.”

Do you think the 3-year LLB holds an advantage over the 5-year integrated course? And if so, what would they be?

I’m not sure if the 3-year LLB has any advantages over the 5-year integrated course. But having pursued a separate undergraduate degree, I think I had a lot of time to engage with a particular subject and could apply my learning there to my time at law school and beyond.

For me personally, that was the biggest advantage.

Being affiliated to Delhi University throughout also gave me access to a politically active campus and a chance to fully pursue extra curricular activities like music, which may have been tough to manage with a 5-year programme.

“Being affiliated to Delhi University throughout also gave me access to a politically active campus and a chance to fully pursue extra curricular activities like music, which may have been tough to manage with a 5-year programme.”

I also had the opportunity to meet different people, learn and grow with them throughout the six years that I was affiliated with Delhi University, which I may not have experienced at such a magnitude on a residential campus.

Was the plan to always enrol for a master’s, or was this something you decided to do after working for a few years? 

I was very candid about my future plans with Ms. Jaising, when I interviewed with her. She required a minimum 2-year commitment from me and inquired if I had plans to pursue higher education, which I did.

I knew I enjoyed studying and wanted to pursue a master’s degree, not just for the learning but for growth in my career too. At the same time, I was aware that professional experience prior to that would add not only to my applications, but also to my individual growth as a women’s rights lawyer.

With this in mind, I worked for three years before pursuing my LL.M. at the University of Pennsylvania. I had in fact decided to apply right after graduating from Campus Law Centre, but I abandoned the process so as to work.

While I planned to work before applying, I did not decide how long I wanted to work for, which was something that I figured out once I started working.

How did you go about selecting just where to apply, what were the schools that made the shortlist, and why narrow down on UPenn? 

Since I wanted to continue working on women’s rights after my LL.M., I primarily focused on institutions with a strong academic focus on women’s rights and human rights.

I applied to universities in the US and the UK. Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, Cornell University, Harvard University, University of California Berkeley, and University of California Los Angeles were my picks in the US and School of African and Oriental Studies in the UK.  The former all had professors or courses that I was interested in, while the latter provided me with the option to specialize in Gender and Sexuality.

When I was applying, I was keener on studying in the US since you have the option to work for one year after the degree and I wanted some professional experience there, given that many of our laws on women’s rights are adapted from counterparts in the US.

“I was keener on studying in the US since you have the option to work for one year after the degree and I wanted some professional experience there, given that many of our laws on women’s rights are adapted from counterparts in the US.”

Moreover, I received a 65% tuition scholarship from UPenn, which helped me pick it over Columbia and Michigan. I had also spoken to many people about which college I should pick and the advice I received was to either study in New York or Washington D.C. and UPenn only being two hours away from New York City and four hours from Washington D.C., I decided that it would be a good fit for me.

UPenn also has multiple cross-disciplinary courses and certificates of study and you are allowed to take one class outside the law school without any additional fee. It therefore offered me some flexibility in designing my schedule and helped me graduate with a certificate in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, which I was looking to do and something that neither of the other US universities except UCLA offered.

“UPenn also has multiple cross-disciplinary courses and certificates of study and you are allowed to take one class outside the law school without any additional fee. It therefore offered me some flexibility in designing my schedule.”

Did you apply/receive financial aid of any sort?

I was awarded the Human Rights Scholarship at UPenn, which covered 65% of my tuition fee, which was a substantial expenditure.

I also received funding from the Lady Meherbai D. Tata Education Trust, which helped defray some of my costs associated with living.

Could you tell me a bit more about working at the Transnational Legal Clinic at UPenn? And how did this work tie up with your previous role as a litigation counsel?

My experience with the Clinic at Penn Law was exceptional. I was looking for some exposure to international advocacy and that’s how I decided to apply for it. It was an extremely supportive environment and the weekly schedule was such that I learned both by doing and instruction. It also gave me the space to work on specific skills and/or issues that I felt were important. The clinic allowed me to represent clients in the immigration court under the supervision of my professors.

Unlike the J.D. students, I had prior experience with litigation, so I wasn’t looking to work on my drafting or oratory skills. Nevertheless, I learned a lot in that department. The manner in which we approached a client’s case was very comprehensive and very different from what I was conditioned to in India. I learned a great deal about dealing with client trauma and managing it during interviews, counselling sessions, etc. I also had the opportunity to focus on my own experiences with vicarious trauma, which was lacking in my practice in India.

“The manner in which we approached a client’s case was very comprehensive and very different from what I was conditioned to in India. I learned a great deal about dealing with client trauma and managing it during interviews, counselling sessions, etc.”

The clinic organized a trip to a detention facility for immigrants, which was eye opening for me. It forced me to think about immigration in a human rights context, which did not occur to me/affect me so much before that. It made me very aware of my own position as an immigrant in the United States and provided me with added motivation to work for women’s rights in similar settings.

Looking back, what do you think have been some of the most valuable components of the LL.M.?

For me, the most valuable components have to be the relationships I built at the law school, both personal and professional. I will forever be grateful to my professors and friends for supporting me in everything that I did.

Given that all of us were international students, we learned to support each other academically and otherwise, which was very refreshing compared to my previous experience at law school in India.

What is your reading of the recruitment opportunities available to international LLM graduates in the US? 

Opportunities for international students certainly exist, but you are constantly competing for them with a J.D., so your chances of securing employment are relatively low. Your specialization during the LL.M. also impacts the kind of opportunities open to you. I felt that not being in big cities and being an international student interested in human rights limited my opportunities.

Nevertheless, I was able to secure a Fellowship with Women Enabled International where I’m engaged in international law advocacy at the intersection of women’s rights and disability rights. It’s hard securing a job, but not impossible. It requires a lot of work, knowing exactly what/where you want to be, and so, I would advise anyone looking for a job to start early.

“It’s hard securing a job, but not impossible. It requires a lot of work, knowing exactly what/where you want to be, and so, I would advise anyone looking for a job to start early.”

And lastly, what advice would you have for the Indian law graduate who may be considering a master’s abroad?

I would advise anyone who’s interested in pursuing an LL.M. abroad to give it a go. Even the process of applying teaches you a lot about yourself and the world. It is expensive, but definitely worth it.

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