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.
Sanvid Tuljapurkar recently completed an LL.M. from the Georgetown University Law Centre (’19). In this FPA, the graduate of Symbiosis Law School, Pune (’18) discusses how she went about selecting which law school to apply to, financial aid for LLM students, and a whole lot more.
In terms of planning, when did you start the LLM application process? And how much time do you think prospective applicants ought to set aside for the applications?
I developed an interest in international trade law in my third year when I participated in the ELSA Moot Court Competition. After the moot court competition, I tried to participate in and gain exposure in the field of international trade law through all possible means. Understanding that international trade law is a combination of economics, political science and law, I focused not only on the legal aspects trade but tried to gain exposure political science and economics as well.
I interned at a think tank to develop my understanding of political science and policy analysis and to improve my writing skills. I also attempted to write on issues that lie at the intersection of economics and law to comprehend the effect of socio-economic realities of a society on international trade. I pursued all these opportunities to holistically understand international trade law but having these experiences proved to be beneficial while applying for my LL.M.
“I pursued all these opportunities to holistically understand international trade law but having these experiences proved to be beneficial while applying for my LL.M.”
During my fourth year of law school, I had attended the International Trade Law and Policy Certificate course conducted by the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. This course had invited practitioners from India as well as all over the world to teach the basics of international trade law. During this course, I realized the difference between the perception of international trade law between the global north and the global south. To me, it was important to delve into a deeper understanding of these differences to be able to appreciate international trade law.
I didn’t definitively decide on pursuing the LL.M. till the end of my fourth year. For me, the LL.M. was the next step to develop a deeper comprehension of international trade law as it is a very niche area of law that requires specialized training. I decided to pursue the LL.M. for an academically enriching experience.
Since I focused on my interests all through law school, my application automatically fell into place when I decided to apply. I strongly believe that an application involves merely conveying your interests. If one pursues their interests through the best possible means, an LL.M. application becomes a very effortless exercise.
I would recommend that prospective applicants start the application process well in advance to be able to meet early application and scholarship deadlines, some of which are very early on in the academic year.
What were the factors you kept in mind while shortlisting where to apply?
From the very beginning of the application process, I was certain about wanting to specialize in international trade law. I think it is very important for applicants to know why they are pursuing the LL.M. before they decide on which schools to apply for.
While shortlisting universities, I started by designing the LL.M. program, choosing courses, professors I wanted to study with, and co-curricular opportunities offered by universities. This research helped me shortlist my choices to three universities.
Although I applied to three universities, I leaned more towards Georgetown Law because of the variety of courses it offers. It allowed me to choose from a wide variety of courses through the International Business and Economic Law LL.M. and the WTO and International Trade Studies Certificate.
“I leaned more towards Georgetown Law because of the variety of courses it offers. It allowed me to choose from a wide variety of courses through the International Business and Economic Law LL.M. and the WTO and International Trade Studies Certificate.”
For me, it was very important to balance the traditional international trade law courses like that of trade remedies with courses dealing with more current issues of internet and international trade as well as courses that deal with international trade issues faced by the global south like access to medicine. Being able to qualify to take the New York Bar Examination was also a consideration when I applied for Georgetown Law.
In addition to the choice of school, the city where the school is located was also a major consideration. For example, in addition to all the courses that interested me at Georgetown, the fact that it is in Washington D.C., a place that moulds international trade policy and houses several major law firms and think tanks was a major factor.
“In addition to the choice of school, the city where the school is located was also a major consideration.”
Narrowing down on three universities gave me the time to focus on each application. Having designed my course from the very beginning gave me a clear picture of what I wanted from the LL.M. program which was a very helpful to customize applications for each school.
Any advice on how to go about the application itself, more specifically sourcing recommendation letters and writing the personal statement?
An application is a combination of researching about the school and conveying one’s interest in applying for a specific program in that school. Applying through the early application process is very advantageous as it helps increase the chance of acceptance.
With respect to recommendation letters, I chose to get the recommendation letters from professors who taught me relevant courses. In my opinion, having personal anecdotes in the recommendation letter is very helpful.
Writing the personal statement was a very natural process. I was advised by everybody I consulted to spare at least a month or two to write my personal statement. But personally, it took me a very short period to write my personal statement after researching about the universities, knowing what they expect from their applicants and knowing my reasons for applying. I strongly believe that if you know what interests you and if you have taken all possible efforts to develop an understanding of your interests in a holistic manner, writing a personal statement will be a very effortless process.
“But personally, it took me a very short period to write my personal statement after researching about the universities, knowing what they expect from their applicants and knowing my reasons for applying.“
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
It is very important to apply for scholarships well in advance since the deadline for some scholarships and fellowships are very early on in the application process.
I received the KC Mahindra Scholarship and the R. D. Sethna Scholarship. Most universities also have their own scholarships.
How has the LLM experience been? Looking back, is there anything that you would have perhaps done differently?
Before the LL.M. started, I attended the Summer Experience offered by Georgetown Law. As a part of this experience I arrived at the University a month and a half before the LL.M. courses commenced.
As a part of the Summer Experience I studied the basics of U.S. legal system taught by Prof. Charles Abernathy (those who have watched the TV show ‘The Good Wife’ may recall him being mentioned in some episodes). His classes involved not only studying the U.S. legal system but developing the ability to question every word in a law or a judgment.
The Summer Experience set a tone for the LL.M. program, gave me a chance to get familiarized to the U.S. law school system, adjust in a foreign environment and develop strong relationships for the year to come. Since the courses I studied during the Summer Experience were included in the list of mandatory courses required to be taken to qualify for the New York Bar Examination, it also allowed me to take more trade related courses during the year. I would recommend opting for such an experience if it is offered by the University. Training received on how to read a judgment and having taken an examination before the LL.M. started was very use and gave me a head start.
The LL.M. experience has had a profound impact on my understanding of international trade law and my ability to perceive and present a legal issue. I had the opportunity of studying with professors such as Joost Pauwelyn, Jennifer Hillman, Jessie Krier and Gary Horlick. I also worked on a project that involved drafting a post Brexit trade agreement making procedure for a beneficiary. The LL.M. was a combination of academics and hands on practical exposure to some of the most complicated trade related issues.
Through the Institute of International Economic Law Fellowship, I had a chance to attend conferences and hear some of the most distinguished international trade professionals and understand the most current international trade related issues from them. I also served as the LL.M. adviser for the Georgetown Journal of International Law which completed my U.S. law school experience.
The opportunity to intern in at the UN and WTO’s International Trade Center in Geneva immediately after the LL.M. gave me a very international experience. Georgetown’s Post Graduate Fellowship was very helpful in terms of funding since most UN internships are unpaid.
What is your reading of the recruitment opportunities available to international LLM graduates in the US?
Recruitment in the U.S. is a very competitive market. Obtaining a job is dependent on various factors. Law firms prefer candidates with a J.D. over those with an LL.M. and preference is also given to those who have a few years of experience.
The Optional Practical Training program provides for a one-year work authorization so long as LL.M. graduate has obtained some work (paid or voluntary). This gives graduates some time to look for more permanent opportunities in the U.S.
Since a degree from the U.S. is valued all over the world, it also provides for a chance to explore options elsewhere. In my opinion, it is important to start exploring these options from the very beginning. Networking is a very big component while looking for a job. It is also very important to make use of the alumni connection that the University offers while looking for recruitment opportunities. Meeting people from the very beginning of the LL.M. and building my own network has been very helpful for me.
“In my opinion, it is important to start exploring these options from the very beginning. Networking is a very big component while looking for a job.”
If one is pursuing the LL.M. for obtaining employment in the U.S., having a work experience makes a difference. Prospective applicants may also consider doing a J.D. if the goal is to obtain employment in the U.S.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is looking to study abroad?
The LL.M. is a once in a lifetime experience from the application process to graduation. It is a very academically enriching experience but working on several tasks, including completing readings for classes, participating in co-curricular activities, networking and looking for a job can be very challenging.
Living away from home has its own challenges.
I would certainly recommend balancing the various tasks and using time judiciously. The LL.M. year passes by very quickly and it is very easy to lose sight of one’s goals in the busy year. I would recommend prospective applicants to define their goals and what they expect to achieve before commencing the LL.M. and begin working for it from the very first day.
“I would recommend prospective applicants to define their goals and what they expect to achieve before commencing the LL.M. and begin working for it from the very first day.”
The entire process gives a unique opportunity to not just obtain world class education but develop one’s personality and perception of the world.