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.
Vineet Hegde is a graduate of Christ University’s School of Law (’16), who enrolled for an LL.M. at the Georgetown University Law Centre immediately after his law degree. After working for a year in the Commerce Wing of the Indian Embassy in the US, Vineet is now a doctoral researcher at the KU Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies.
In this FPA, Vineet shares some of his experiences as an LL.M. candidate at GULC, how one ought to go about LL.M. applications, applying for a doctorate degree, and a whole lot more.
Given your undergrad experience as a student editor, was an LLM always on the cards as soon as you graduated? Did you ever consider working for a bit before enrolling for a master’s degree?
Funnily, there was no natural transition from my student editor post to an LLM consideration. I hail from a small town* with minimal/no daily interactions in English, as compared to some of my law schoolmates might have had during their high school.
My motive behind applying for a law review position was simple – to learn to structure my thoughts in English, be able to draft well, and interact in a coherent manner. This, I thought, would help me in a rigorous learning process.
“My motive behind applying for a law review position was simple – to learn to structure my thoughts in English, be able to draft well, and interact in a coherent manner. This, I thought, would help me in a rigorous learning process.”
I was involved in the law review since my second year. My considerations to pursue an LLM became concrete only in my final year. I was assigned to assist the faculty in teaching the first year class. It was rewarding – being able to contribute in igniting a love for the law to a bunch of enthusiastic and bright newcomers. This, took a 180 from my initial career plans – corporate law.
While for four years I had not considered an LLM as an immediate next step, the teaching experience put me on a definitive path to Masters’. Of course, the law review position reinforced this decision.
Just sticking with the LLM for a bit, how did you go about selecting just where to apply? Given the specialized nature of your LLM, what were some of the other schools that you considered?
In choosing a prospective alma mater, it is extremely important to be honest with what you really want from an LLM. Are you planning to transition from working in an Indian law firm to a foreign one through the LLM? (using it as a means to an end); or do you intend to specialize in a subject that you are interested in or try new areas?; or do you want to experience a learning environment outside India? (using it as an end in itself). It all depends on what you want, which, in turn, determines the selection process.
For me, I was fascinated by both corporate law and international law simultaneously. I mixed these two subject areas and tried my hand at international economic law. It worked well, I participated in a moot, and wrote my bachelor thesis on international investment law.
I intended to further specialize in international economic law, and took a leap of faith. That’s how I chose my LLM program. My applications were based on the courses the law schools offered. I applied to Georgetown, Columbia and NYU because of international economic law specialization; and Harvard and Yale for international law, and perhaps for the glory.
A word of unsolicited advice, as I get some such queries about pursuing an LLM: if you feel that you are in a rut / are exhausted with your current job, and think that LLM is the next career option, please give that decision a detailed thought. It’s a problem-solution mismatch. In my personal opinion, they are not the reasons to pursue an LLM.
While “#traveldiaries” and social events on Instagram feeds of your peers who are pursuing an LLM may sound enticing, the amount of library hours that is also put, does not feature there. If you are indeed fed up, please take a break. Take a trip to a place you have always wanted to go. It would save you an enormous amount of resources.
“If you are indeed fed up, please take a break. Take a trip to a place you have always wanted to go. It would save you an enormous amount of resources.”
What were the attributes of Georgetown that got you to finalise on GULC?
I narrowed my choice to Georgetown because I felt that to experience trade law and policy, it is important to be where the action is – Washington, DC. Considering trade law and policy is closely intertwined with government actions, there was no better place to be. DC, coupled with Georgetown, offered a wide range of opportunities. The law school is in close proximity to prominent offices – the House and the Senate, the Supreme Court, government offices, international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF, etc.
Practitioners, policy makers, judges, you name it, they were there. Some also shared personal accounts of their experiences in those offices. Moreover, the level of specialization in courses that were offered, was meticulously crafted to encourage comprehensive learning. Looking back now, it seems like a one-stop shop for all the areas I was interested in.
Even while applying, were you clear that you wanted to pursue a doctorate degree? Or did you come to this realization only during the LLM course?
Considering I had not worked after law school in India, I had the excitement of channeling my academic learning into practice. Soon after the LLM, I started work with a highly competent team at the Commerce Wing in the Embassy of India in DC. I assisted the Government of India on trade law and policy. It was an interesting and a privileged job, and I had a lot of fun working on government matters.
But, I also wanted to keep my academic side active. I got involved with the Journal of International Economic Law published by Oxford University Press – another privileged experience to have had. The journal’s editorial board consists of highly accomplished scholars and distinguished authors in the field.
So, analyzing submissions, reading editors’ comments, etc. immensely broadened my knowledge. It was a fantastic learning experience. That is when I rediscovered my love for academia. This naturally put me on a path to a PhD.
And once you decided that you wanted to pursue a PhD, how did you go about choosing thesis guides, figuring out where to apply etc?
My research interests revolve around international economic law. So, studying at Georgetown Law and working with the journal editorial team, I was more or less clear about the niche sub-specialized areas of the authors in the field.
I was looking for PhD opportunities and had a list of thesis guides for the topics I wanted to work on. I also wanted to start working on my research immediately, while taking some classes on methodology, and being involved with other tasks like teaching assistance and moot court coaching.
“I also wanted to start working on my research immediately, while taking some classes on methodology, and being involved with other tasks like teaching assistance and moot court coaching.”
Many European schools offer this opportunity, without having to spend much of your time in classroom programs. So, there I was, looking into European schools with a strong background in WTO law.
What got you to KU Leuven, and how has the experience been thus far?
My mentors suggested schools like Leuven, Leiden, European University Institute, etc. that offered a rich research experience. So, there I was – googling “PhD”, “international trade”, “Europe”. The first link was that of KU Leuven’s! They were looking for a candidate with a background in international trade law and sustainable development, specifically to research on Indian approaches to these subject areas.
After some consultations, and thorough research, Leuven was my natural choice. I was lucky enough not to have gone through a tedious selection process.
So far, the experience has been truly enriching. I work at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies which hosts numerous researchers from different backgrounds (and not just international law), including, political/social sciences, economics, area studies etc.
The learning from my peers here has been humbling, and has broadened my vision. You also get the privilege of discussing ideas outside of your comfort zone. My lens of looking at an issue may be completely distinct from than that of my co-workers’. So, it is a highly stimulating environment for research and the exchange of ideas.
“My lens of looking at an issue may be completely distinct from than that of my co-workers’. So, it is a highly stimulating environment for research and the exchange of ideas.”
Plus, Brussels is next-door, and Geneva is not too far either (these places matter, especially for trade law). The Centre is vastly international, with researchers from different countries and continents. So, the lunch table conversations are always fun.
Also, a PhD is a self-development process. It can be extremely challenging in the beginning to self-discipline your work, routine, and lifestyle, if you are used to an office-clock disciplining you. But, it can be an enjoyable experience. You get to (and you need to as well, to keep your sanity intact) expand your hobbies, interests, and meet interesting people.
I know I have also made some friends for life. I have taken up learning a new language, trying my hand at a musical instrument, abstract painting, reading books in my mother tongue etc. Bottomline: zero regrets.
How do you think Indian law schools can encourage academic research? Any practices that you think Indian law schools can implement to encourage academia?
The main quality for academic research is being curious, and develop the ability to ask questions. In my experience, mere prescription of a book for a particular subject does not help in imparting knowledge. There is also no need to repeat what is already written in the textbooks in class. Most students can read the textbook and comprehend the subject on their own.
A Socratic method of discussion is needed. Those discussions, with a wide range of reading materials, will inspire students to ask the right questions. Once students have some ideas (even if vague) and questions in mind, it is only a matter of time for the magic to happen.
Not only should the students be encouraged to research, I also believe that professors should be give more time and opportunity to read, write, and think. The more scholarship faculty members produce, the higher is the quality of discussions in classrooms and on corridors.
“Not only should the students be encouraged to research, I also believe that professors should be give more time and opportunity to read, write, and think.”
This way, professors also get time to find high-quality materials, evaluate them, and see what shapes the bright minds in a correct direction. This process is cyclic, and improves the quality of the academic research.
Lastly, any advice for those Indian law graduates considering a career in the academy?
A cliché method (that works): Read. Organize your thoughts. Write. Repeat. Introspect whether you love doing that. Voilà! You have your answer.
Academia can be exciting and challenging at the same time. You may start your day with a brilliant idea for research, only to realize at the end of the day it already exists in the exact form. The whole day might seem like a waste. It might be challenging to make the students understand the simplified version of a complex idea. A whole afternoon may be spent in just thinking about what you might want to research on.
“You may start your day with a brilliant idea for research, only to realize at the end of the day it already exists in the exact form.”
On the other hand, you might receive multiple publication offers in a single week, boosting your confidence to the moon and back. Then there will times of self-doubt (whether what you are researching on will yield any positive results; or whether your research will make any difference).
So, it is extremely important to be tenacious, courageous, and make sure you are constantly aware of your wellbeing. Enjoy the experience not just professionally, but also personally. Godspeed.
* Sirsi, Karnataka. It is on the Western Ghats belt. Quite picturesque, and untamed. Also, it would not be fun for an academic to write something without at least one footnote.