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.
Shachi Jain is an LL.M. candidate at the National University of Singapore, where she is specialising in Corporate and Financial Services Law. A graduate of Government Law College in Mumbai (Class of ’17), Shachi opted to work as an in-house counsel for two years before embarking on the LL.M.
Two years in as a lawyer, you decided to opt for an LLM – what were some of the expectations you had from the LLM experience?
I was certain on doing an LL.M. since undergraduate days, though I wanted to gain some work experience before pursuing it. I believe some work experience not only changes one’s outlook to academic studies, but also gives more clarity on one’s areas of interest within law (other than letting you save some extra bucks for a foreign degree). Two years into working, I became more certain of my intrigue towards banking and financial laws, and decided to pursue a master’s degree in the same.
“I believe some work experience not only changes one’s outlook to academic studies, but also gives more clarity on one’s areas of interest within law “
Since an LL.M. was more of an academic endeavor to me, I was looking forward to delving deeper into subjects that excited me the most and hoped to understand them from a comparative perspective. I was also looking forward to being exposed to a different pattern of learning (which I had only read in interviews until then) and was eager on exploring the same. Equally, I wanted a platform to interact with like-minded students from different countries and experience a culturally mixed classroom.
And I know the course is yet to be completed, but have these expectations been met?
Indeed, the expectations have fairly been met. Barring the interruption of the unexpected Covid-19, I had the opportunity to select courses from a wide array of modules, take classes in a diverse set-up and learn from an equally diverse set of highly-qualified professors in their respective fields. For a sense of the diversity I am referring to, I can state that I undertook 10 modules over the year, and have had no two professors, permanent or visiting, hailing from the same country. This is important (and I realize it now) because every professor gets with him/her a unique style and technique of teaching, and to learn from them has been very enriching.
“I undertook 10 modules over the year, and have had no two professors, permanent or visiting, hailing from the same country. “
The one thing that was common among them was the Socratic approach that focused on conceptually reasoning and critically analyzing laws and regulations.
At the verge of completing the course, I have come to realize the importance of exposure to different viewpoints in different markets across continents. For instance, where differences between common law and civil law countries were the starting point in many discussions, the complexity and sophistication level of financial markets and its participants decided the level of soft or hard regulations that may be required for their smooth functioning. Contextually understanding the different approaches taken by regulators and courts then, helped broaden our outlook over the subjects.
Socially, I also got a chance to meet many professionally-driven students from different specializations and countries, and am glad to have spent some quality time with them.
How did you go about selecting which schools to apply for? And what got you to narrow down on NUS?
Quite frankly, I was preparing my application for academic year 2020-21, however, landed up giving a shot with NUS to see where my application stood. Since NUS Law was one of my top choices, I decided to join in 2019-20 upon being admitted.
Nonetheless, since it was a substantial investment to make, my initial approach to narrow down to a college was to look for an established specialization course in my area of interest.
Post shortlisting a handful of universities, a cost-benefit analysis of the required investment and NUS’s APAC and world ranking and reputation played a key role in my decision to join NUS Law.
At NUS, you have opted for a specialised LLM – what are some of the advantages of taking this route as opposed to a general LLM?
To me, a master’s degree is all about pursuing the field of law that interests you the most and focusing on building up on the same. My personal view is that a specialization displays a sense of inclination and direction in one’s career which may help professionally in future as well.
Opting for a specialization also gives a procedural advantage in selecting modules in the bidding process prevalent in some universities. A student specializing in a stream of law gets preference in the elective subjects under that specialization over the general LL.M. students.
“In opting for a specialization, not only does one get priority in a broad range of modules to select from, but is also always free to select cross-specialization courses.”
In opting for a specialization, not only does one get priority in a broad range of modules to select from, but is also always free to select cross-specialization courses or inter-disciplinary courses to blend with the specialization and keep one’s profile wide and vivid.
Any advice on the application process itself, for instance the SoP or sourcing recommendations?
The application processes are mostly clearly stated on the respective institution’s website. With respect to the SOP, I am sure this has been said before but can never be overemphasized that the SOP should be a genuine write-up of one’s thoughts and motivations. One may refer to some sample SOPs online for understanding the structure, but will need to draft their own SOP from scratch.
Also, it’s important to understand that an SOP is not a reiteration of your CV but is written to supplement the CV by describing the motivations behind your achievements and the inspiration to pursue an LL.M. Of course, the admissions’ committee is too experienced to grasp the genuineness or otherwise of your SOP. Feel free to briefly highlight any social skills beyond your academic achievements to reflect a wholesome personality.
“It is important to understand that an SOP is not a reiteration of your CV but is written to supplement the CV by describing the motivations behind your achievements and the inspiration to pursue an LL.M. “
With respect to sourcing recommendations, you may want to consider sourcing one of the recommendations from a professor within the specialization you are opting for. Further, though not a necessity, feel free to make an extra effort in adding an additional recommendation from an area outside of academics, say from any voluntary work you may have done, or any project you assisted in, even if outside of law curriculum, to boost your application.
How has the LLM experience been thus far? NUS is known to be fairly rigorous when it comes to academics – any advice for prospective applicants on how best to allocate their time?
It has been an enhancing experience so far, though is indeed rigorous and keeps you on your toes the entire semester. With respect to time allocation, I don’t think there are any golden rules – everyone figures out their individual style of working during the process and learns to manage multiple commitments in the given time.
Masters’ students can take this year as the time to self-experiment on what works best for them. This is unarguably a sought-after skill in any career you pursue after the degree. It is true that this has been one of the major learnings from the course that would be useful in workspace as well.
Since modes of assessment and dates of assessment of each subject are released before module selection, one can plan their modules to space-out their assessments, though frankly I selected mine as per the subjects I wanted to read and it worked out fine.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
I did not apply for external scholarships in 2019-20 and there is a tough competition in obtaining an internal NUS scholarship. Scholarships in Singapore are not as frequent as in the universities in the U.S. and U.K.
Though I was fortunate to have saved some amount during work and did not have scholarship as a selection criterion to proceed with the course.
How has NUS dealt with the coronavirus? How has this affected your LLM experience?
Singapore was one of the few countries which initiated preventive measures in a timely manner and we have been lucky to be in a safe place in such times of distress.
The NUS administration and staff has been very vigilant of the situation and strictly enforced a number of safety measures within campus, inter alia, declaration of temperatures twice a day by staff and students, implementing social distancing measures in seating arrangements around campus, keeping record of seating arrangement during class for contact tracing purposes, etc.
We had a smooth transition to e-learning mode with efficient electronic infrastructure in place to conduct online classes, share reading materials, hold chat room sessions, online quizzes, presentations, etc. All assessments were also adjusted accordingly. The professors have been very understanding and cooperative all throughout the process.
Though, the Covid-19 outbreak did affect the LL.M. experience as summer internships became minimal since offices are operating remotely and several job applications were put on hold. Time is of essence here since work visa has to be applied for (after confirmation of a job) before student visas expire. Further, physical interaction with professors and social interaction amongst batch-mates have been negligible since circuit-breaker rules are in place.
Certainly, one year is too short a time within which one expects to make the most of the international exposure obtained in pursuing a foreign LL.M. We did miss out on bidding good-byes to friends, or a formal farewell ceremony, and are hoping to not miss on the graduation ceremony, but more importantly, hoping that the world recovers soon
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
Well, if you are considering one, I can assure you that it is worth the effort. Since the course is highly demanding, clarity of thought on the purpose of doing the course will make it easier for you to sail through it. A Masters in law is seen as only for students who want to pursue research or academia. However, in my opinion, investing one year in a masters’ course is worth the experience and learning that you can apply to for decades of your career ahead.
“In my opinion, investing one year in a masters’ course is worth the experience and learning that you can apply to four decades of your career ahead.”
Finally, do not hesitate in approaching the alumni of the university you wish to join.
Most of us have had the same curiosities before joining the course and will be happy to take your questions. Please feel free to connect to them on Linkedin (including me) and clear all your doubts before committing to the course; and once you do, make the most of it.
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.