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.
Sabarish Suresh is currently pursuing a JSD at the Cardozo School of Law in New York City. A graduate of Jindal Global Law School (’18), Sabarish enrolled for the LL.M. at Cardozo immediately after his law degree. In this interview, he shares a few words on his experiences at Cardozo, why he chose to opt for a JSD, and a whole lot more.
Quite curious about your decision to enrol for the JSD, but let’s discuss the LLM first. Why not work a while before the LLM?
From the end of my first year of my undergraduate program, I grew an affinity to teaching as a possible career. This was quite an unexpected realization actually, given that I had enrolled into a BBA LLB to pursue a career in corporate law.
As the adage goes, things took their own turn.
Critical theory and interdisciplinary study of the law was something that pushed me further away from corporate law and entrenched my interest firmly towards a career in academia and teaching. My decision, therefore, for an LLM right after my undergraduate degree stems from this context – to secure a stable foundation for a potential career in academia.
How did you go about selecting just where to apply? And while making your LLM applications, was the plan to always apply for the doctorate program?
I wanted to study in a place that had a rich tradition of critical jurisprudence and interdisciplinary scholarship.
I knew before hand that traditionally celebrated schools such as Ox-Bridge and (most of) Ivy League would not be the apposite place for my interests.
While they do have lustrous ranks and ratings behind them, I found their scholarship quite arid and following a monotonous drumbeat. Consequently, I began searching for places that had a rich intellectual history in critical legal studies and interdisciplinary scholarship. Cardozo Law and Birkbeck London stood out as top contenders. I did not realize, then, that my academic sojourn at Cardozo would exceed beyond my Masters.
“I began searching for places that had a rich intellectual history in critical legal studies and interdisciplinary scholarship.”
Why narrow down on Cardozo?
Although I also got accepted to the programs at Edinburgh, Queens and Leeds, my priority in the UK was Birkbeck London. I had applied only to Cardozo in the US. Cardozo seemed more attractive of the two for two primary reasons.
First, it had an idiosyncratic LLM program in Comparative Legal Thought that exclusively focused on studying law in conjunction with theory, comparatively and across disciplines. It was a course tailored for students interested in a serious academic career. Second, it was also the place where I felt I could work on psychoanalysis and law – my primary research interest – most favorably.
I was given the opportunity to write my thesis under the supervision of Professor Peter Goodrich, who really grounded a psychoanalytic mode of reading the law in the 90’s.
As a result, New York it was!
Did you apply for/receive financial aid of any kind?
Yes. When you apply to Cardozo, you also have the opportunity to apply for institutional scholarships. There are a number of factors that they take into consideration such as financial capacity, academic merit, publication history or work experience et. al. I was awarded a Dean’s Merit Scholarship that enabled me to pursue the degree.
Any advice on the LLM application itself, more specifically the written requirements?
Well, it all depends on what you aim to achieve. If clearing a Bar Exam is one’s primary goal, there isn’t much that can be offered in terms of advice: follow the ranks, tabulations, Bar Exam clearance records et al.
But if studying to enhance one’s knowledge in a particular domain is the criteria, you need to break away from just looking at rankings and do more work. You need to be well versed with the intellectual histories of the Universities you’re interested in, to gauge how much you’ll be able to learn in your area of interest.
“But if studying to enhance one’s knowledge in a particular domain is the criteria, you need to break away from just looking at rankings and do more work. “
The history of a University can be quite telling. For example: when I began looking at Cardozo’s history, I realized that Derrida’s reputed 90’ lecture on the Force of Law was given at Cardozo; and also that prolific and radical minds like Zizek, Derrida and Drucilla Cornell have been on the faculty at Cardozo. It gave a clearer picture, thereby, of the tradition of theory that Cardozo inherits and cherishes.
The written requirements may be crucial, and often can tip the scales if your grades are not too high. I view the Statement of Purpose as a critical document. Most SOPs are drafted teleologically, exclusively concentrating on the purpose of getting into the program. While, of course, that is your purpose: writing it from a certain distance to yourself will give the document a more objective and fair value.
Speak not just about why you are well qualified for the program, but also about yourself as a person. Admission panels receive hundreds of SOPs, if not thousands, mostly in the same self-serving manner. A critical distance to the self in writing the SOP can prove not just to be different (brownie points for strategy), but will also offer a refreshing perspective to the admissions panel. They have your CV to decipher your experience and everything that you’ve accomplished; you don’t need an SOP to repeat the same facts.
“They have your CV to decipher your experience and everything that you’ve accomplished; you don’t need an SOP to repeat the same facts.”
How early on into the LLM did you know that you wanted to do a JSD, and did you tailor your LLM experience accordingly?
When I began working on my LLM thesis, I soon realized the scope and ramifications with what I was working on. I worked, and continue to work, on a psychoanalytic reading of the Indian Constitution given its contentious (in fact repressed) relationship with the Partition.
My, somewhat narrow, emphasis on repression alone as a pivotal factor in the Indian Constitution, gradually moved on to expanding the study to include politics of space, time, cartography, chorography, antirrhetic, emblems and architecture. I realized that what I aspired to work on needs a more rigorous and longer commitment.
The Partition affected the Constitutional discourse in India not just apropos textual inscriptions and juridical discourses, but through visible, yet unacknowledged (precisely unconscious), signs and symbols all around the Indian body-politic. This realization and countenance demanded further study ; and it took the form of a JSD.
Could you tell me a bit about the JSD application, and how you went about it?
The JSD program at Cardozo is quite small. No more than two candidates are usually selected in a given year. I wanted to continue, and expand, the work I had already laid out in my LLM. I sent an application with a detailed research proposal and plan.
Fortunately, I was selected to read for a JSD and continue my work under Professor Goodrich.
Looking back, what have been some of the highlights of the LLM experience?
Meeting Sanford Levison and talking about theological underpinnings of constitutional documents certainly stands out.
I took a class at the New School for Social Research on Levinas, taught by Simon Critchley, which opened a hitherto unexplored world in continental philosophy. That course affected my work, thinking and method in many ways; and continues to do so.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a doctoral degree outside the country?
I would highly recommend that one knows who one wants to work under. Having a Doctoral advisor in mind is crucial, and ideally that should be what directs one’s application to a particular place.
Writing to the scholars beforehand and discussing one’s work and its potential helps significantly. Scholars do not usually refuse to supervise a serious and rigorous research proposal, and more often than not, assist in many ways to bring the student on board.
“Scholars do not usually refuse to supervise a serious and rigorous research proposal, and more often than not, assist in many ways to bring the student on board.”
However, it is a tradition in most places that one is admitted to a Doctoral program only if they have also completed a Masters from the same school. One might want to keep this mind when applying for a Masters as well.
Nice interview Sabareesh.