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.
Niyati Ahuja is graduate of the University School of Law & Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (’17) who completed her LL.M. from Berkeley Law last year.
In this FPA, she talks about the LL.M. application process for US law schools, narrowing down on Berkeley Law, employment prospects in the US, and a whole lot more.
As an undergraduate student, when did you start considering an LLM? What were some of your expectations from the LLM course?
I started considering options for further studies in the third year of the five-year integrated Business Administration and Law (B.B.A LL. B) course that I pursued in India. I aimed at applying only to universities in the U.S. for the reason that most schools offered a variety of options for empirical learning.
I expected and was provided with an exposure to courses as well as to some of the best professors in their respective areas. Our batch of 200 students consisted of lawyers from 80 different countries, and understanding the legal systems of different countries and their culture was truly an enriching experience.
How did you go about shortlisting schools, and what got you to narrow down on Berkeley?
I knew that I wanted to apply only to American law schools from the get go. I shortlisted a list of law schools with an International law program as well as Business law program which are both areas of law that I was interested in.
I only applied to a small number of law schools and Berkeley was amongst the top two best ones that I got accepted to. I also considered the quality of journals published by various law schools.
“I only applied to a small number of law schools and Berkeley was amongst the top two best ones that I got accepted to. I also considered the quality of journals published by various law schools.”
During my time at Berkeley, I was able to interact and be a part of renowned journals. I was an Associate Editor for the Berkeley Technology Law Journal; a member of the Berkeley Business Law Journal; and the President of Programming for the Berkeley Information Privacy Law Association.
In hindsight, the number of opportunities an American law school provides are as many as you decide to take advantage of, so research the law schools which are the best fit for you as an individual irrespective of their ranking. It’s in your hands to make the best of your time at whichever law school you decide to go to.
Any advice on the application process itself? Could you shed some light on specific aspects such as drafting the SoP as well as getting good recommendation letters?
The application process for applying to U.S. law schools is pretty uniform. We are required to create an account on LSAC and upload application materials, e.g., statement of purpose, transcripts, letters of recommendation, TOEFL scores etc. on the online portal.
Everyone has different reasons and motivations for pursuing an LL.M., for some it is the exposure to new opportunities in the United States, for some it is a particular specialization area the school is known for and some want to build connections with lawyers and law firms from their other countries.
I wrote my personal story in the SOP and how my background contributed to my interest in international law. At the same time, a Statement of Purpose must contain what unique aspect you would bring to your cohort and how the law school will benefit you in achieving your long-term goals. It is also important to maintain your individuality as no one can tell your story better than yourself and law schools look for what sets you apart.
“It is also important to maintain your individuality as no one can tell your story better than yourself and law schools look for what sets you apart.”
For the letters of recommendation, I only approached the professors who knew me personally and was sure would be willing to write a good letter for me. I would advise applicants to confirm with the professors/lawyers they approach for recommending them if they are comfortable writing a good letter of recommendation. A vague or generic letter of recommendation could harm your application more than one less letter of recommendation.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid of any kind?
I did apply for financial aid to whichever law school I could. I received the Asia Pacific scholarship for the professional track course in Berkeley. However, I opted for the traditional track as I intended to take the New York bar after the LL.M. and needed to fulfil a specific course requirement.
Unfortunately, I was not aware of the various scholarships provided from other sources and by the time I did my research, the deadlines had passed. I would definitely advise students to look into scholarships like the Fulbright, Agha Khan et al. The financial burden on Indian students pursuing an LL.M. in the U.S. is quite high, in part owing to the weak Indian currency as compared to USD.
“The financial burden on Indian students pursuing an LL.M. in the U.S. is quite high, in part owing to the weak Indian currency as compared to USD.”
Looking back, what were some of the highlights of the LLM course?
From the academic courses to witnessing my first American football game to learning about different cultures, it was indubitably a beautiful ride. In particular, some courses impacted both my personal and professional growth. The International Foreign Legal Research course was a practical course which helped me refine my research skills. We were required to submit a research guide at the conclusion of the course based on any legal area that interested us.
I drafted a research guide on International Commercial and Investment Arbitration. It was one of the most engaging and fun courses that I opted for. Another one was the Oral Advocacy course taught by a retired judge which helped me build my advocacy skills as at the end of the course, we were to present the opening and closing statements for a case provided to us.
Another course taught by one of the kindest professors was transactional drafting, which despite being a short course, helped us recognize mistakes made by lawyers and organizations inadvertently having huge legal impacts in the event of a dispute.
Last but not the least, my International Commercial Arbitration course taught by Professor Popovic which reaffirmed my interest in arbitration and is the career path that I intend to pursue for the foreseeable future.
I also opted for a Yongmudo (Korean Martial Arts), Taekwondo, and Ballet course with the UC Berkeley School of Physical Education, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Now that you have had the chance to work in the US for a bit, what is your reading of the employment prospects of international LLM graduates?
There are various things to consider with regards to employment prospects for international LLM students. A majority of U.S. law firms hire through their summer associate programs which is during the second year of the J.D. program.
Despite the low number of LL.M. graduates who receive a permanent position immediately after the LL.M. is possible, and can be done by persevering and being patient.
Some qualities which may raise the chances of getting employed in the U.S. are additional language skills, particularly Spanish, and sufficient years of practice in one’s home jurisdiction.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law grad who may be considering a master’s abroad?
Firstly, if you are sure of the area you want to practice in, shortlist law schools that offer courses or a specialization in that particular area. Secondly, instead of going for an LL.M. right after graduating from LL.B., gain some work experience and apply to law schools. Not only will that raise your chances of getting into the law school of your choice but also of getting employed with law firms outside India.
“Secondly, instead of going for an LL.M. right after graduating from LL.B., gain some work experience and apply to law schools. “
Lastly and most importantly, focus on the academic part of your LL.M. but do not forget to absorb the wonderful experience that it will be and the lifelong connections you will make during the program.
If you would like Amicus Partners to provide some personalised advice on your LLM applications, please fill in this form and we shall get back to you as soon as possible.