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.

Swati Sharma, World Trade Institute
Swati Sharma

Swati Sharma is currently pursing the the advanced Master’s in Trade and Investment Law (TRAIL+) at the World Trade Institute, University of Bern (WTI). A graduate of ICFAI Dehradun (’16), Swati worked for a few years before enrolling for the TRAIL programme. In this FPA, she discusses how she shortlisted the schools, the application itself, and her time thus far at the WTI.

(Edited excerpts)

The WTI is an interesting choice to make. What were the other universities that you applied to, and how did you go about selecting just where to apply?

My first assignment in international law was early in my undergraduate degree, during a moot court competition. Gradually I developed a passion for the subject and started preparing my resume to purse LLM in international law. However, I still kept on exploring more and decided to pursue an LLM specialization in international trade and investment law on completion of a post-graduation diploma in international trade and business law.

Along with WTI, I applied to UC Berkeley, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Graduate Institute Geneva, Amsterdam Graduate School of Law and Columbia University.

My selection of the universities was based on certain factors such as opportunities during the course, the diverse programmes provided and the opportunities available after completion of the degree. In doing so, I listed the pros and cons of European schools and universities in the USA. Personally, I was more inclined towards Switzerland and American schools.

The major aspect which I always considered while shortlisting the universities was not the location per se but the various integrated course offered by the university, such as International Trade and Diplomacy, International Trade and Investment and Economics, and International law and Diplomacy. However, I also gave some importance to the location of WTI, which is in close proximity of the WTO.

“I must say the biggest challenge for me was not to apply but to select the university on receiving the acceptance letter from these universities.”

However, I must say the biggest challenge for me was not to apply but to select the university on receiving the acceptance letter from these universities. My passion for international trade and investment law finally brought me to WTI, University of Bern.

What are some of your expectations from this LLM? 

Before coming to WTI, I was clear on the purpose of pursuing a master’s degree. And, I am delighted to say that it is helping me to move forward with that purpose every single day spent at the university. I tend to learn day-to-day with a new challenge as it comes, and passionately work towards each opportunity I receive.

On completion of my LLM degree, I intend to build on a definite base of international trade and investment law and prepare myself as a qualified lawyer to work in different jurisdictions to practice WTO law. Furthermore, work at the WTO in the enhancement of trade facilitation to maximize the growth of developing countries.

In the future, I want to work towards developments in Human Rights including labour rights in the era of increased investment worldwide. Consequently, as I am actively working with ‘Humara Haq’ (our rights), I seek to grow the organization cross-border establishing association with international organizations.

Did you contemplate an LLM right after your undergraduate degree? 

Being a first-generation lawyer it was quite difficult for me to go for a master’s degree right after my college, and today I am glad I made that decision. I took my time to research and explore more to understand what I wanted to specialize in. Even though I was well aware of my quest to pursue an LLM degree, I wanted to gain some experience before I apply for LLM.

“Even though I was well aware of my quest to pursue an LLM degree, I wanted to gain some experience before I apply for LLM.”

Along with legal sector, I worked with an NGO ‘Teach for India’ as a fellow and thereafter founded the youth organization, “Hopebright Legal Empowerment Foundations” (Humara Haq) to bridge the gap between legal education, rights and marginalized communities. It was an enriching experience to work on the gaps between legislation and implementation of Hindu women’s land ownership rights in rural India which I undertook as a research associate to Dr. Reena Patel, (former professor of law at the Warwick University, UK, and former founding dean at the Maharishi Law School, Noida).

During my time as a research associate to Professor Narinder Singh (earlier the Chair at the International Law Commission), I worked on BIT’s and worked on specific provisions therein. Having said that, the cross-stream work experience I have had is quite helpful during the course. In my opinion, it helps you to get a better understanding of the subject if you have some practical knowledge in it.

Also, as you are a student in a class where people are coming from different areas and work experiences, your experience serves as an additional advantage.

Any advice on the application process itself? How much time do you think prospective LLM candidates should devote to the entire process?

I always start by saying that, if you aim to pursue LLM abroad, be ready to give sufficient time to your application. There are few things in the application process on which I would like to stress.

Firstly, the prospective applicant must always know the purpose of doing the LLM. What a person seeks out of the LLM degree and in which field, must be clear before starting the application. One must know the area of interest he/she is looking to specialize in, this helps to shortlist the universities.

“What a person seeks out of the LLM degree and in which field, must be clear before starting the application.”

Secondly, time management plays a critical role in the application process. For example, I started my application in the beginning of July, as most of the universities in the USA and Europe have deadlines from mid- November to December. It gave me sufficient time to write, re-write my sop drafts, and complete the application process before the deadline. Therefore, you should have sufficient time for the SoP draft, essay, collecting Transcripts, LOR’s and English language test. Also, it gives you sufficient time to select the law schools, their requirements and deadlines.

Thirdly, the Statement of Purpose and legal essay takes maximum time, so, my advice is, start them early so that you have sufficient time to edit and make changes. In my opinion, writing the complete structure once and then making necessary changes in the draft supporting your interest in the programme, your reasons to apply and career goals would help rather than writing multiple drafts. Also, one should choose wisely, who you want your Letter of recommendation (LOR) from, as it is critical to the entire application. The people writing the recommendation generally don’t have much time, so it is highly advisable to request for the letters, keeping sufficient time in favour.

“The people writing the recommendation generally don’t have much time, so it is highly advisable to request for the letters, keeping sufficient time in favour.”

Generally, people under-prioritize to request transcripts and degree from the previous university. Especially universities in the USA require the transcripts to be sent to them through postal mail to complete the application process, which cannot be sent otherwise through e-mail. Therefore, it is crucial to request for all external documents to be sent on time. For this purpose, make sure to check the policy of the universities in the beginning.

Last but not the least, language proficiency test (TOEFL/IELTS), even if the university gives a waiver for the English test requirement, it is essential for the Visa application. Therefore, giving the test early (I gave mine in October) is a better option.

In the end, I would highly advise you to have a mentor, it makes making a decision to choose a university much easier. For example, the guidance I received from Dr Renna Patel and Prof. Narinder Singh who not only helped me throughout the process but still continue to do so.

Did you apply for/receive financial aid?

Yes, I received financial aid (tuition) from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, a partial tuition grant at UC Berkeley, and the Dean scholarship at the WTI. However, it is quite difficult to get financial aid in Switzerland for master courses, especially if you are applying for a specialized course.

The financial grants depend on the continent, the university and the course, so it is advisable to search for the scholarships, fellowships or other financial aids based on the preferences.

Early days I know, but how has the LLM experience been thus far?

For me, the course brought challenges as well as opportunities. As a lawyer, I was never exposed to International Economics, therefore, the integrated disciplines have given me a unique outlook to make my arguments. A learning space full of government officials, lawyers and economists brings different dynamics to the debates in the classes.

“A learning space full of government officials, lawyers and economists brings different dynamics to the debates in the classes.”

Also, I find it important to gain advanced knowledge in global governance, international economics models, global political economy and their subsequent effect on the global trade, cross-border investment and dispute resolution.

The course structure is designed in such a way, where regular seminars and workshops are organised every week, by the dignitaries working on current issues of WTO law and investment law.  It allows me to think out of the box. As an international trade attorney, one needs to understand international economics, international relations and their impact on the trade and investment globally, the place certainly brings that dynamics.

One of the best experiences which I had, during the first month of my LLM class was to participate in the World Trade forum, 2019 and WTO, Public Forum, 2019.

In my opinion, no other platform gives you a better opportunity to network with the luminaries in the field and to understand the international trade and investment law and its implication in the world. The institute is focused on research in the integrated field of trade, investment, economics and sustainability that is certainly imparting a unique perspective in my research. Especially, the conversations I have with some of the greatest brains in the field like Professor Peter Van den Bossche and Prof. Michael Hahn is the cherry on the top.

I am learning every day and taking every opportunity to move forward on my desired career path.

“In my opinion, no other platform gives you a better opportunity to network with the luminaries in the field and to understand the international trade and investment law and its implication in the world”

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who may be considering a master’s abroad? 

My advice to the LLM applicants would be to consider carefully and see if the LLM programme would help you to achieve the goals. As the Programme demands commitments in terms of time as well as finance on accepting to the course, one must be clear on both terms before accepting the letter.

For the law students pursuing undergraduate studies, it is very much significant to spend their time reading, writing, interacting with professionals doing well in different areas of law and interning at the right place, I believe, it certainly helps students to understand their interest better.

Your LLM experience abroad would bring surely a better understanding of the subject as well as would prepare you as a distinguish professional. Therefore, I would highly advise pursuing LLM abroad, especially if you are seeking a career in international law.

Working with people coming from a different jurisdiction, background and cultural makes you understand the global economic, political and legal environment better.  It can be quite complex at times to cope up in that environment for some people. However, to specialize in one area within international law, an LLM is the best choice to make. In the end, I would say a career in international law or any specialized area is highly dependent on networking, therefore, the sooner the better.


 

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