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.

Tanya Kalyanvala is currently enrolled in the Comparative and International Dispute Resolution LL.M. at the Queen Mary University of London.
Tanya Kalyanvala

Tanya Kalyanvala is currently enrolled in the Comparative and International Dispute Resolution LL.M. at the Queen Mary University of London. A 2017 graduate of ILS Law College in Pune, Tanya worked in Pune for two years before embarking on the postgraduate degree. In this FPA, we get Tanya to share her thoughts on why one ought to do an LL.M., the pros and cons of a specialised LL.M., her own experiences at QMUL, and a whole lot more.

Let’s get the most fundamental one out of the way – why an LLM? 

This question takes me back to an interesting conversation I once had with a Partner at a law firm I interned with. While on the topic of the relevance of an LLM abroad to one’s legal career in India he said “If you really want to do it, just go for it! It’s alright if you don’t have a distinct reason and you are doing it merely because you want to!”

Turns out, in my case this was the reason!

Pursuing a masters abroad had always been on the cards because it was just something I always wanted to do! However, that said I was certain I wasn’t pursuing a master’s purely for academic reasons and thus my choice of specialism was one of the most crucial factors that I had to grapple with!

Not having a distinct passion for a particular area of the law right after graduating, I felt it best to spend some time working and as I had hoped it was really my professional experiences that steered me towards my interest in International Arbitration. Thus, once I found my calling the LLM in arbitration was the most obvious next step for me!

So, one of the questions we get asked a lot is general versus a specialised LLM – did you ever consider a general LLM? 

You can already guess the answer to this one based on my first response! But to be clear, the answer is NO! As I mentioned earlier, I was very assertive that an LLM for me would have to be in an area I see myself wanting to practice.

I always thought that the ones who pursue a General LLM are those who lack work experience and are not certain of what kind of law they want to practice. However, I was surprised to find that a lot of the students pursing the General LLM here are ones who have worked considerably and not necessarily clueless as to their interest in a particular avenue.

“I was surprised to find that a lot of the students pursing the General LLM here are ones who have worked considerably and not necessarily clueless as to their interest in a particular avenue.”

So, in respect of a Specialised LLM vs. General LLM, based only on my own experience I’ll say this – it again comes down to the reasons you are pursuing an LLM for. If you are pursuing an LLM purely for academic reasons, aren’t hung up on a particular avenue or have the mindset that studying a divergent set of modules/subjects will aid you in identifying an area of speciality for yourself – a General LLM should fit the bill.

But, if you are looking at an LLM from the perspective of steering your legal career in a particular direction or to enhance your understanding of a particular area – I would strongly advise taking some time off, researching, interning/working (cannot emphasize enough on the importance of this one), speaking to and connecting with people working in the field, identifying an area and only then pursuing an LLM!

One stands to gain much more from a Specialised LLM particularly when your heart is set in that field!

And when it comes to specialised LLMs such as the one you have enrolled in, what should prospective applicants keep in mind?

The most important thing I would say is to be mindful of your choice of specialism! An LLM is hard work, long hours, endless reading, constant academic discussions/dialogues, academic legal writing (the dissertation/thesis included) that not many of us are used to and all of this revolving around your chosen specialism!

A word of caution here, merely a vague idea or a floating interest in the subject won’t help you cut it! You are literally breathing and living the subject 24×7, so in order to accomplish all of this pleasantly and not begrudgingly you need to be sure of your inclination towards the subject!

If you are confused regarding whether or not you should opt for a particular specialism simply ask yourself this “Am I prepared for extensive research and writing about 15,000 words on this particular subject?” that could be a starting point!

“If you are confused regarding whether or not you should opt for a particular specialism simply ask yourself this ‘Am I prepared for extensive research and writing about 15,000 words on this particular subject?'”

Another thing to be mindful of while choosing a University for a particular specialism is definitely comparing the kind of modules/subjects taught by different universities offering the same LLMs. Of course, you will find plenty that overlap however, if you are keen on a particular subject in your chosen specialism it might be quite disappointing to find out later that the University doesn’t offer that subject.

To illustrate, as a part of the Arbitration (Comparative and International Dispute Resolution) LLM, QMUL offers modules in Energy Arbitration, Construction Arbitration, Investment Treaty Arbitration, etc. but does not have a module on Sports Arbitration and for someone who is keen on a particular speciality in an area of speciality – that might be a dealbreaker!

Also familiarize yourself with the course structure – some universities are wider in their intake of students and thus follow a lecture based system of taking classes. However, there are some universities accepting only a handful of students and the classes in those cases are designed to be a lot more intensive and interactive and ultimately you must be true to yourself and decide which course you are best suited for.

Lastly, probably an obvious one but I’m going to say it anyway – research the faculty for the particular courses. You might find that a particular author/academic/professional whose work you have been following or particularly appreciate maybe a faculty at one of the Universities you choose to apply to and in addition to that being a major highlight of your LLM experience, knowing the same helps in narrowing down the choice too!

Apart from the LLM course itself, how do you think candidates can make the most of their time? 

Well, participating in moots, writing research articles, extra-curricular activities and internships are a given! But other than that, look for opportunities that can help diversify your experiences and this doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the law! For example, I am a member of the ‘Design the Law’ group at ‘qLegal’ that is a legal clinic run in association with QMUL.

The clinic runs various programs such as Student Adviser, Street Lab, etc. of course you have to apply for the position you are interested in but not all of the work/ activities are typically lawyer/law student centric. Each position involves different activities such as working with tech start-ups for legal advisory work or teaching/coaching children in state-run schools or as in my case learning about innovation in the legal space and participating in hackathons!

As alluring as the legal advisory work and possibility to work with actual clients sounded, I chose ‘Design the Law’ because it presented the possibility of doing something I had never done and probably may never get a chance to do! My experience with the clinic enabled me to collaborate with some really interesting people, participate in projects that I had never even heard of before and introduced me to a whole new spectrum of legal design thinking and potential job avenues.

“My experience with the clinic enabled me to collaborate with some really interesting people, participate in projects that I had never even heard of before and introduced me to a whole new spectrum of legal design thinking and potential job avenues.”

Thus, I would firmly recommend including researching about such opportunities in your law school/LLM research!

Once you start working as a lawyer, you will have a lifetime of research and drafting and negotiations and real-world mooting – now (i.e. while pursuing the LLM) would really be the time to take up something different.

You will be surprised how some of these unconventional experiences can aid you both personally and professionally!

What have been some of the more challenging and rewarding aspects of the LLM experience that are not directly related to the classroom? 

I think ‘Effective Time Management’ is the greatest challenge for any LLM student. While I was working, I used to often joke that if there could ever be 48 hours a day it would definitely be at the behest of lawyers!

However, I will now broaden that spectrum to include LLM students as well! There are classes, submissions, readings, events/seminars, guest lectures and you want to make the most of everything and coupled with that of course is the bulk of domestic chores that you have no one to turn to for!

“Planning for an LLM feels like an eternity but the LLM itself goes by in the blink of an eyelid! “

And the sad part is by the time you get a hang of things and learn to better manage your time it’s all nearly over! Planning for an LLM feels like an eternity but the LLM itself goes by in the blink of an eyelid! So, accept that as much as you may desire to, there is absolutely no way you are going to be able to participate in everything! Having a list of priorities surely helps manage your time better!

As for the rewarding element, as much as I would like to talk about our phenomenal faculty at the School of Arbitration, since you emphasize on the ‘out of classroom’ perks I’d say the most rewarding element personally for me has been the ability to revisit and refine my views of the working of my own jurisdiction. Being exposed to the nuances of different legal systems first hand has been instrumental in helping me put certain elements in better perspective and develop a more just view I’d say of certain aspects, particularly in the field of arbitration in India. This change of mindset is not something I could have ever arrived at without having gained a truly holistic and international exposure.

“As most of our professors rightfully keep reiterating, we must look at each other not merely as classmates but also as future colleagues.”

From a professional perspective I’d say one of the major takeaways of being on an LLM program is like attending one of those networking events where at the end of the day you have made several meaningful connections! As most of our professors rightfully keep reiterating, we must look at each other not merely as classmates but also as future colleagues and for those who are particularly keen to work in the international sphere you will now, surely know of one lawyer at least across ten countries at the very minimum!

And, since I asked this of your sister as well, what advice would you have for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?

I would say timing is a very crucial element while planning an LLM. Definitely having gained some practical experience particularly in the area of your specialism helps you to connect better and surely enables you take back a lot more from the course, as is certainly true for me!

However, I am sure that those coming right after graduation would probably argue otherwise!

Thus, I’d say this living abroad stretches far beyond adjusting merely with the time difference, the weather, the food, the culture, the lifestyle, at times the loneliness and that coupled with the challenge of pursuing an education in a system you are totally unfamiliar with can really be overwhelming! Hence a certain level of mental preparedness on your own part is also something that needs to be factored in!

On a lighter note, I’d say that whenever I was generally asked for advice by juniors particularly whist working I used to always say that a career in law is like the ‘make your own meal’ kind of option you get at some buffet counters – there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’! What worked for someone else may not necessarily work for you; the same logic applies for an LLM as well!

Just because someone became a senior associate in an Indian firm after pursing an LLM abroad or got an international placement after pursuing an LLM does not guarantee the same results for you.

“Just because someone became a senior associate in an Indian firm after pursing an LLM abroad or got an international placement after pursuing an LLM does not guarantee the same results for you.”

Therefore, viewing an LLM purely as a means to an end and not as an end in itself is something I wouldn’t advise! You may have similar reasons for pursuing an LLM, but find your own reason no matter what it maybe and own it!

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