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.
Tinaz Kalyanvala is currently pursuing the Comparative and International Dispute Resolution LL.M. at the Queen Mary University of London. A graduate of ILS, Pune (’17), Tinaz worked for close to two years before embarking on the LL.M.
In this FPA, she shares some advice for prospective applicants, discusses her reasons for wanting an LL.M., and a whole lot more.
At what point in time did you start planning for an LLM, and what were some of your expectations from the course?
An LLM, or just pursuing a masters was always a part of my education goals. But while in law school I had the privilege of interning at some of the best firms and working alongside some of the best lawyers in the country and not all of them necessarily had an LLM or an LLM from a foreign law school to be precise.
Moreover, pursing an LLM abroad is an expensive affair and hence post graduating I decided that it would probably be wise to put plans for an LLM on a hold and get some practical experience first. I always knew that I was disputes and particularly arbitration inclined. Through all my arbitration experiences a question that would often trouble me was why is it that Institutional Arbitration in my home jurisdiction is yet not that advanced despite certain other developing economies scoring so much better on this front.
I spent a lot of time reading about comparative dispute resolution and when I read about the program offered by QMUL in Comparative and International Dispute Resolution, I was instantly drawn towards pursuing the same. By this time, I had also worked for almost two years as a disputes lawyer in India.
As for my expectation from the course, to be brutally honest with you and I am sure as most other LLM applicants might concur, the entire application process when one thinks of pursuing a masters abroad is such a roller-coaster ride and especially when your managing the same alongside working as a professional that there really seems to be no time to think about what you expect exactly and before I even realised it I was on the flight to London. Thus, my expectations from the course was something I only exactly discovered upon commencing the program here.
Given the specialised nature of your LLM, what were some of the other schools that you applied to? How did you go about narrowing down on QMUL?
There are some great programs for arbitration in the US as well as Europe but as I was more inclined towards law schools in Europe, I applied for the MIDS program at Geneva, the IDR LLM offered by the Humboldt University of Berlin and the LLM program offered in Comparative and International Dispute Resolution by QMUL.
I was particularly keen on the MIDS program as well but as that did not work out, I was more than happy to accept the offer by QMUL. As for narrowing the scope, I would sincerely urge aspiring LLM candidates to reach out to the alumni of the Universities they are keen on. I personally reached out to past alumni of each of these law schools through LinkedIn and was glad to have sought valuable insights from most of them.
“I would sincerely urge aspiring LLM candidates to reach out to the alumni of the Universities they are keen on.”
Of course, one could always write to the administration office of the law school you are interested in directly but a student’s insight is always the best as there are a lot of factors other than the subject of the LLM in itself that go in to making the decision. For example, questions specific to certain faculty, or living arrangements or other support.
Another strong recommendation for all those keen on applying for an LLM would certainly be while choosing your University do not look at the overall ranking of the University but look at how well the University is ranked for the subject you are looking at specialising in.
Any advice on how to go about the application process itself?
START EARLY! I cannot emphasize enough on this. Every University has its own unique requirements for submissions and when multiple deadlines are tormenting you together, it is very easy to make a mistake.
Most Universities require transcripts, apply for these from your respective law schools early on to avoid unnecessary delay. Certain Universities require details of your passport certain ones your birth certificate, then there may be requirements for official translations of certain documents and of course there are your extra credentials like internship certificates, diplomas etc.
It sounds like obvious stuff but when you put together all these documents which feels like your entire life’s accomplishments in short you will realise that certain documents must be of a particular size and resolution and in a particular sequence and this too differs from University to University. So, make sure you start getting everything together early. Personally, I started organising my documents a good six months prior to the application dates but despite that, I felt like I could have done with a little extra time.
“I started organising my documents a good six months prior to the application dates but despite that, I felt like I could have done with a little extra time.”
The Statement of Purpose and Letters of Recommendation are the common element for all applications. For the Statement of Purpose I personally redrafted mine 16 times and was still not a 100 percent convinced about it so do not panic if you feel you are not sure about yours as it is very much a part of the process but, ensure that you write it yourself, that it truly reflects your personality and genuine reasons for interest in the subject and last but not the least definitely have your friends or colleagues review the same.
Letters of Recommendation are very influential in making your case and I would sincerely recommend that for all those who can manage a recommendation from someone with industry experience relevant to the subject of your LLM try and seek these it makes a world of a difference.
A quick disclaimer for all those thinking of making their applications through various educational consultancy organisations, representatives of these entities can only guide you with the procedural aspects of the application and not very many of them are necessarily in a position to recommend the best schools for your selected subject so that homework must necessarily be done by you.
Having said that I went through two organisations to assist me understand the documentation and it was extremely beneficial especially for the visa formalities which are utterly confusing otherwise, so I would recommend availing services of these organisations even if it is only for the visa stage.
“For all those thinking of making their applications through various educational consultancy organisations, representatives of these entities can only guide you with the procedural aspects of the application and not very many of them are necessarily in a position to recommend the best schools for your selected subject so that homework must necessarily be done by you.”
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
Yes, I applied to various trusts/organisations in India and overseas and also for tuition waiver/scholarships to the Universities I applied to. To be precise I made 15 applications in total and if I may add the process was equally if not more challenging than the application process for the LLM itself.
To name a few of these were the JN Tata Endowment, the KC Mahindra Scholarship Funds, the RD Sethna Trust, the Lotus Trust etc. Many of these organisations I applied to offer gift scholarships and many of them offer scholarships in the form of an educational loan (some with interest and some interest free).
It is a cumbersome process with each organisation requiring a statement of purpose of its own, your educational certificates, letters of recommendations, proof of your personal or your parent’s financials etc.
Many of these organisations also require you to make submissions in person and also to go through interviews if you are shortlisted. The deadlines for these applications again vary from organisation to organisation and one should be watchful of these. In the end however, every cent counts as pursuing an LLM abroad is expensive right from the word go!
“In the end however, every cent counts as pursuing an LLM abroad is expensive right from the word go!”
I was personally fortunate to have received a combination of gift and loan scholarships that assisted me fund a major chunk of my tuition and living expenses.
How has the LLM experience been thus far? What have been some of the most rewarding elements of the course?
The faculty at QMUL for the disputes LLM is absolutely STELLAR and that has been the major takeaway for me. Also, being affiliated with School of International Arbitration and thus being part of an environment where constant efforts are made to continuously contribute to the world of International Arbitration has been very enriching.
Also, since I wanted a truly International exposure, I have been very lucky as in addition to the course being taught from an international comparative point of view our classes at any given point in time easily has students from a minimum of 10 jurisdictions if not more. You can always read about the litigation or arbitration processes of a country other than your own but when you indulge in dialogue with colleagues from diverse cultures you also understand the culture, politics, policy and economic influences behind the differences that exist worldwide and our classroom discussions have enabled me to appreciate the nuances not just of International Arbitration but also Litigation.
“You can always read about the litigation or arbitration processes of a country other than your own but when you indulge in dialogue with colleagues from diverse cultures you also understand the culture, politics, policy and economic influences behind the differences that exist worldwide.”
I would also like to talk about my position at qLegal a legal clinic run by QMUL that provides pro bono advice to various tech start-ups and entrepreneurs. My training and role as a legal designer with qLegal has particularly exposed me to the role of Innovation and Design in the practise of the law, an avenue that I was aware of but not quite well equipped with.
“My training and role as a legal designer with qLegal has particularly exposed me to the role of Innovation and Design in the practise of the law, an avenue that I was aware of but not quite well equipped with.”
In the age of propositions for Artificial Intelligence playing a substantial role in the practise of the law it is alarming that innovation and the use of design techniques has not entirely found its place quite as yet and I have thus been very fortunate to have worked with some exciting people and on some interesting projects in this regard. I sincerely hope that more law schools in India in the future too will impart this training as part of their curriculum. It really is the need of the hour!
You asked me initially of what I expected from the course, to be honest I do not think even if I had given it some serious thought I would have possibly imagined benefiting so immensely from the program and I would strongly recommend the university for anyone looking at an LLM in Dispute Resolution.
Not quite related to the LLM, but how did you go about finding accommodation in London city?
So, for accommodation the University provides residential services, they are not exactly hostels more like shared apartments of sorts. Again, I cannot emphasise enough on how important it is to make the application for the University residencies early. Even if you apply within the first one hour of the application window opening there is still no guarantee of seeking University accommodation as the number of students applying each year is tremendously high.
So, to all those making the application for University accommodation, do it literally the second the application window opens. Also, there is no fee charged to make the initial application so I would recommend that even if you have not heard from the University regarding your offer it is still alright to go ahead and make the application for residencies to be on the safe side.
I must however add that the University is particularly very helpful towards all those who do not manage to seek University accommodation and tries to connect the students with a host of other residences. One could always look for something privately as well there are a lot of websites here in the UK for student accommodation but I would recommend applying for the University accommodation. It is a great experience sharing an apartment with students from different countries and studying across various disciplines at the University and will be one of my most cherished takeaways from my time in London.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
It is strange to give LLM advice as when I sought advice from various seniors and colleagues over the past few years I have always got mixed responses and that has brought me to one conclusion: Different people pursue their LLMs for different reasons and the takeaway from the LLM can therefore never be the same for two people.
“Different people pursue their LLMs for different reasons and the takeaway from the LLM can therefore never be the same for two people.”
If I had to share my experience however, I would say that while the LLM has been intellectually brilliant for me so far, it is hard work. There is never a dull moment and you are perpetually on your feet. So, for all those looking at the LLM as a break from work life you might want to rethink this one!
On a lighter note it is cliché but true that if you haven’t had an international exposure to your area of interest in the law and if that is something you seek then an LLM is definitely the best way forward as it truly broadens your horizons.
Also, on a parting note an LLM though thoroughly academic is also highly practical in the sense that concepts are analysed and dealt with from a thorough practical or real-world workability point of view. In this scenario, having had some work experience before your LLM will definitely hold prospective students in much better stead and I would sincerely advise getting some work experience before diving into it.
You will certainly take back a lot more from the LLM if you do. I know I have!
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.