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.
Vatsal Vasudev, a graduate of the National Law University Jodhpur (’16) is a dispute settlement lawyer at the WTO, an organisation he rejoined after an LL.M. from Harvard Law School (’19). In this FPA, he shares his thoughts on Harvard Law’s essay questions, how India qualified lawyers can move to foreign jurisdictions, and how to make the most of the LL.M. experience.
You have had quite an interesting career trajectory thus far. What made you think about an LLM while at the WTO?
The desire to gain new knowledge, meet interesting people, have a different experience, and explore another part of the world. In a more career-oriented way, I thought that experience at the WTO would would get me recognition as a technocratic expert in international trade law, but a Harvard LL.M. is a more widely recognized credential that I can use to my advantage in a number of different contexts in the future should I want to.
Plus, I thought that a masters degree will be generally helpful when it come to career progression prospects. I do not believe that someone’s knowledge or skill should be judged on the basis on their paper credentials, but because of the way the world works, I thought it would be nice to get a masters degree in my pocket.
“I do not believe that someone’s knowledge or skill should be judged on the basis on their paper credentials, but because of the way the world works, I thought it would be nice to get a masters degree in my pocket.”
The choice of HLS is also interesting – did you consider a more specialised course? Or was there something specific to HLS that made you choose the LLM course there?
I did not consider a specialized course, since I had specialized quite a bit in international trade law through my work and prior studies.
I was looking to go to a place where I would get to interact with the best peer group in terms of sophistication and diversity of interests, a wide range of subjects to choose from, and the best opportunity for learning in terms of pedagogy and competent faculty.
HLS was a natural choice once I applied these filters.
Sticking with HLS, any advice on how to go about tackling the essay questions? Don’t mean to put you in a spot but what do you think worked about your own essays?
I would just repeat the conventional wisdom about essay questions. For the personal essay, one should write the first draft as if they are the only one who is ever going to read it. That will help one write as honestly as possible. One could then work on making it presentable, coherent, and smoothly flowing. Having someone who has gone through the application process review the essay helps.
One should be prepared for revising the first draft a dozen times, if not more – so it helps to start early. One should focus on their strengths when writing the essay. If one was in the top-5 percentile of their class, that’s great, but if one was not, they can still write a great essay highlighting what they did well.
“If one was in the top-5 percentile of their class, that’s great, but if one was not, they can still write a great essay highlighting what they did well.”
I would like to put it out there that one need not have studied at one of the top law schools or have the best grades possible to have a shot at getting into their preferred law school, so long as they can show that they excelled at something they considered the most meaningful as a student or a practitioner.
For the legal essay, one should not merely write a doctrinal analysis on an aspect of law, but should try make a new or insightful point or suggest a solution to an existing legal problem. One should also bear in mind that the person reviewing the legal essay may not be an expert in the area of law that the essay is about, so one should write the essay in a manner that a non-expert can also appreciate. One should also demonstrate through their essay why their topic is of contemporary significance and relevance to their field of law.
“One should also bear in mind that the person reviewing the legal essay may not be an expert in the area of law that the essay is about, so one should write the essay in a manner that a non-expert can also appreciate. “
The HLS application also requires one to write about the courses they want to study and describe where one sees themselves five/ten years down the line. So one should carefully review the courses on offer and reflect about how their coursework would help them get to where they want to get to after the LL.M. I guess following the blueprint I have laid out above is what worked for me.
“One should carefully review the courses on offer and reflect about how their coursework would help them get to where they want to get to after the LL.M.”
Looking back, what were some of the most challenging aspects of the LLM experience? Anything that you think prospective applicants ought to be aware of?
An LL.M. degree is a big investment of time. The process starts when you start looking into which universities are of interest to you and ends with your graduation ceremony. In between, you have got to do a number of challenging things – make a good LL.M. application, write scholarship applications, sort out logistics like accommodation, get used to a new environment, deal with the coursework, write assignments and exams, write a thesis and apply for jobs.
If you want to do all of these things well, you need to keep yourself highly motivated at all times over a period of two years.
You must also be very clear internally about what you expect out of your LL.M. experience since a number of choices you make during the year – such as what kind of an application essay you write, what courses you take, how much time you allocate to coursework as opposed to things like socializing/networking or looking for jobs etc. – will depend on your goals and expectations.
“You will be much better off if you have done some introspection about what you want out of the LL.M. year before the year begins.”
You will be much better off if you have done some introspection about what you want out of the LL.M. year before the year begins. Otherwise, the number of choices you face regarding how you could spend your time could be overwhelming and FOMO-inducing, particularly in a place like HLS which offers just too much for one to take advantage of everything on offer in the span of one academic year.
Given your global outlook, how do you think the Indian law graduate can or ought to make the move to non-Indian jurisdictions?
I have found through my experience and of those around me that those who make a successful move to non-Indian jurisdictions have been highly focused on a particular area of law for a significant period of time to create an internationally competitive profile in that area of law.
I had pursued several academic and extra-curricular activities in WTO law during the second half of my law school years, including the ELSA WTO Law moot court competition, a summer academy on trade law, internships in law firms/think-tanks with a trade law practice, and working as an editor for NLU Jodhpur’s journal Trade, Law and Development.
All these activities helped me develop a strong profile in this area, and of course I gained a fair amount of knowledge and skill in the process. I would therefore say that those looking to work outside India should try to create a strong profile in the field of law that they want to work in by strategically engaging in activities focused on that area through their law school and early professional life.
“Those looking to work outside India should try to create a strong profile in the field of law that they want to work in by strategically engaging in activities focused on that area through their law school and early professional life.”
Lastly, are there any best practices you observed at HLS that you think Indian law schools ought to consider implementing?
I was impressed with how HLS makes use of technology to make class discussions more enriching and engaging. A number of courses I pursued had course blogs, where students would write short essays based on the readings before each class and the professor would stimulate class discussion through ideas that the students expressed in those blogs.
That is something Indian law schools could consider implementing.
I also feel Indian law schools could make much better use of their alumni network by inviting ex-students to interact with the current students. The perspective that current students stand to gain by hearing from more experienced peers could be immensely beneficial.
I also believe that compulsory attendance should be done away with. A certain percentage of the grades could certainly be reserved for class participation to encourage attendance, but I feel it is a pity that students get debarred for attendance shortages even if they could pass the examinations.
“It is a pity that students get debarred for attendance shortages even if they could pass the examinations.”
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