Late last year, I had written about three Executive LLM’s that mid-career legal professionals could look at. That article had briefly mentioned the Executive LLM offered by Columbia Law School, a course that they had introduced last year. Given the pedigree and prestige that CLS brings with it, I was quite keen on knowing just how the E-LLM course was for those who went ahead and enrolled in the programme.

Which is how I got in touch with Indian lawyer and E-LLM graduate, Neelu Mohan.

A graduate of ILS Pune (’13), Neelu is currently a junior counsel in the chambers of Senior Advocate Nakul Dewan. In this FPA, she talks about the reasons behind taking up this course, the online and offline components of the course, and why the course made sense to her as a litigating lawyer.

I am curious as to what got you looking at the executive LLM as opposed to the traditional LLM – what were the aspects of such a course that you found more appealing than a regular LLM? Were you bothered by the fact that such courses don’t usually allow you to sit for the Bar? 

This programme actually fell upon me by chance! I had applied for the traditional LL.M. at Columbia University.  Given this was their maiden year, the administration reached out to me asking if I was interested in the Executive LL.M., given that I fit the profile of students they were looking for- which included students with around 5 years or more of post-qualification experience from diverse backgrounds.

Being a litigating lawyer, I always knew at the back of my head that staying away from Delhi for an entire year could cost me heavily, especially when I knew that I wanted to return to litigate here. At the same time, I knew I wanted to pursue an LL.M. The duration of the course definitely tilted the scales in its favour!

This programme allows you to complete the entire LL.M. in a period of six months, from start to finish. This includes an online component of two months, and an on-campus experience of 4 months, which happens to coincidence with the court vacations in Delhi.

Bearing these factors in mind, I was inclined to take this up over the traditional LL.M. courses.

“This programme allows you to complete the entire LL.M. in a period of 6 months, from start to finish. “

Although initially I was bothered by the fact that I couldn’t write the NY Bar, on a pros and cons analysis, and again, knowing that I wanted to return to India to litigate, I didn’t let this affect my decision.

What were some of the other courses, if any, that you looked at? 

I had applied to schools such as UChicago, UPenn, NYU, Sciences Po and Stockholm University.  My main focus was to apply to schools which boasted of excellent faculty in arbitration.

Any advice/tips on the application process for the executive LLM? 

Focus and highlight one’s achievements post-graduation in the statement of purpose. This programme is looking for an older class that brings their personal work experience, whether as a corporate lawyer, or a litigator, to the classroom learnings.

Focusing on this aspect could give you an edge over other applicants.

When it came to the learning experience, how easy or difficult was the online component of the course? How many hours would you say you required for the online component? 

The subjects taught to us through the online medium were Introduction to American Law, Contract Law and Professional Responsibility in Global Business. The online classes were each of a duration between 90-120 minutes, twice a week. We also had weekly assignments and readings before each class.

“The online classes were each of a duration between 90-120 minutes, twice a week. We also had weekly assignments and readings before each class. “

So, I would say a commitment of around seven hours a week is required for the online component.  Most of us continued our day jobs during the online part of the course!

How was the 12-week residency component? Looking back, what were some of the highlights of studying at CLS?

I won’t lie, the 12-week residency programme was very intensive, with classes five days a week for around 7 hours a day, covering 2 subjects. We were also required to submit assignments on a regular basis and of course, complete our readings for the next class! We also had several leadership building sessions that were woven into the course, in addition to the classroom teachings.

It goes without saying that the faculty members were some of best from around the world, and it was inspiring to see them in action. In addition, the fact that the class size was small (and I am told, they intend to keep it that way) meant that the classroom discussions were very engaging.  It was very interesting to see the different approaches to the same issues.

“It goes without saying that the faculty members were some of best from around the world, and it was inspiring to see them in action.”

Our professors were also very indulgent with their teaching methods. Prof. Talley, our M&A professor took us on a day trip to the Delaware Chancery Court to observe a matter where a very interesting merger structure was being tested.  This was followed by lunch with Vice Chancellor Slights, who was happy to share his experience from the other side of the Bench and his thoughts on the way the matter was proceeding.

Another highlight was sitting in the jury box and observing an entire day of court proceedings at the New York State Supreme Court with Judge Laura Ward as part of our International Criminal Investigations course with Prof. Davis.  The presiding judge even took out the time to explain some of the procedural aspects to us in between her cases!

The CLS Executive LL.M. team also threw in at least one social event a week to make sure that we blew some steam off! This included broadway shows, a jazz concert (featuring one of our professors) and kayaking in the Hudson.

In short, it was one of the best summers of my life! I got to meet and learn with some amazing people from different parts of the world, and share stories over different cuisines and accents!

“In short, it was one of the best summers of my life! I got to meet and learn with some amazing people from different parts of the world, and share stories over different cuisines and accents!”

Lastly, what did you find to be the most beneficial aspects of the course?

There are actually two things that make me really glad that I chose this programme over a traditional LL.M.

The first is the class size. I was amongst eight people selected for this programme. This size made all the difference to the learning experience.  You are able to engage with the professors and peers at a much deeper level!

The second is of course the time factor. I was able to complete my LL.M. within a period of six months, and without having to be absent from the Indian courts for a long period of time. This could prove very expensive for a litigating lawyer!

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