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.
Aakash Kumbhat is currently an LL.M. candidate at the University College London, where he is specialising in competition law.
In this FPA, the NUALS (’17) graduate discusses his reasons for opting for an LL.M, the challenges of living and studying abroad, and a whole lot more.
Were you ever considering an LLM right after your undergrad, or was the plan always to work for a bit and then apply?
I did have the intention of pursuing an LLM during my undergraduate course, but I was not certain of applying at that time primarily, because I thought I lacked the achievements or the expertise required to get admitted at a reputed law school.
However, it came as a late realisation to me that are no such mandatory achievements or accolades one needs to have accomplished for the purpose of such applications.
Having said that, I am in fact very happy that I worked for over a couple years before pursuing an LLM because it helped me develop the ability to easily understand things from a commercial practical and perspective.
Given the specialised nature of your interest, what were some of the schools that you shortlisted? And what got you to narrow down on UCL?
Knowing my intended specialism and the extent of financial investment I was willing to make, I had applied only to four universities, all within the U.K. These were, UCL, King’s College, LSE and QMUL. I got acceptances from three out of these four.
University rankings (specifically for competition law specialisms), the quality of professors and feedback from UCL alumni, mainly from those who had studied competition law here helped me to narrow it down to UCL. I had also spoken to a few practitioners in the field and professors in other universities for their views on these universities. Even though some of the most famous authors in the field of competition law are associated with one of the other universities, I was informed by its alumni it is not very often that these professors conduct lectures. So, finding such information can also be very useful in arriving at your choice of institution.
“Even though some of the most famous authors in the field of competition law are associated with one of the other universities, I was informed by its alumni it is not very often that these professors conduct lectures.”
What are your expectations from this LLM?
Thanks to some practical experience, I expect to be able to learn competition law with a more commercial mindset. While reading, as well as, in lectures, I am studying the subjects with more focus on their practical application and not just a theoretical understanding.
Further, I expect to learn a range of different views in these subjects since most of these are taught from a European and/ or an American perspective. These views that contrast with my existing knowledge, which was more theoretical and focussed on Indian laws, have certainly helped me in learning new aspects in these subjects.
So far, the LLM has contributed to this in a manner that is beyond my expectations.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
Yes, I have obtained external financing.
Any advice on how to go about the LLM application process itself? How early do you think prospective applicants ought to start planning their applications?
As is often recommended in this regard, it is never too early to start the application process. Having a checklist is a must. The research on the institute that offers courses that interest you, can take a substantial amount of time and navigating these websites, even more so. Talk to people who have already pursued courses you are looking at and get their views, too.
The biggest advantage of applying early is that some universities roll-out their first set of acceptances as early as in October- November of the year prior to the commencement of session. This gives you enough time to make an informed decision about pursuing an LLM and your choice of institute.
“The biggest advantage of applying early is that some universities roll-out their first set of acceptances as early as in October- November of the year prior to the commencement of session.”
This would also give you a huge advantage at applying for scholarships. An acceptance in-hand is always viewed positively and substantially increases your chance of procuring a scholarship.
I would also recommend contacting your potential referees well in advance of your intention to pursue an LLM. Apart from seeking their views on this, keeping them updated is always appreciated and is useful for avoiding any last-minute issues relating to their unavailability.
For your personal application documents, I would suggest running the drafts past as many people, as possible. These include those in the legal field as well as those who are not. The latter can provide surprisingly useful views from a different perspective. They can also help you express your own thoughts in a much more eloquent manner.
Lastly, if you are planning on pursuing an LLM abroad, make sure your identity and travel documents are available and updated, well in advance (e.g. a renewed passport, no disparity in details in different documents, especially your or your parents’ names, documents are in the required size, language etc.)
Early days, but how has the LLM experience been thus far? And, not directly related to the LLM, but was it easy to find housing in a city like London?
As is rightly advertised, the LLM experience is quite challenging. The short duration of the program makes it a lot more demanding than undergraduate law courses. There is more focus on personal and individual learning than group learning through lectures.
The pre-readings for each lecture for certain subjects can be voluminous. During the lectures, it would be expected from students to be contribute with their own opinions on these readings and some faculties even encourage us to challenge the existing views. This has helped me to express my own opinions, even when they may not be as conventional in nature and seek views of the faculty and other experienced students in the room.
The number of opportunities and events available outside of your academic life is extremely high. Because of the demanding nature of the program, I am not as regular as I would like to be with co-curriculars and extra-curriculars. However, I am glad that I am able train with and represent the UCL Ultimate Frisbee team and participate in a few events with some of the other societies.
Luckily, my application for a UCL accommodation was accepted before arriving to London so I did not face much of an issue, in that regard. At UCL, the university accommodations are mostly guaranteed if you are a non-EU citizen or have never lived/ studied in the UK before. Make sure you apply as soon as possible because there is a high demand for UCL halls.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
The primary advice would be to identify the purpose behind you pursuing an LLM. Ask yourself and others around you if it is a must, especially in your target field. Or if it would make more sense to gain some or more work experience before pursuing an LLM. I stress on this because of the considerable time, mental and financial investments you would have to make. Through your personal contacts or LinkedIn, get in touch with people who have already studied these programs.
Second, if one intends on working abroad after your LLM program, they must start working on knowing the application process from the day of confirming their enrolment. Identify the jobs you are interested in and the key employers in those fields. I would also suggest working on CVs and skeletal cover letters before joining the university because the first few weeks would unavoidable fly (literally) in ‘figuring things out’ and getting used to the environment.
Next, avoid unreal expectations from the LLM program. In your decision to pursue the LLM, do not think of it as a magical wand that would, solely by itself, create wonders in your academic or professional lives.
“In your decision to pursue the LLM, do not think of it as a magical wand that would, solely by itself, create wonders in your academic or professional lives.”
Finally, living alone, especially in a foreign country, is not as easy as it may seem. The weather, managing daily chores, and finances are just some of the several issues one must deal with, every single day. Be mentally prepared for handling these issues because they have the potential of affecting your academics.
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.