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.
Atharva Sontakke is a 2017 graduate of GNLU, as well as an LL.M. graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science (’18) where he studied law and philosophy. He is currently an assistant lecturer at the Jindal Global Law School.
In this FPA, he discusses the LL.M. experience at LSE, how Indian law schools can adopt global best practices, and the future of legal education in the post-Covid world.
When did you develop an interest in academia? And was this the objective behind enrolling for an LLM?
It was perhaps in the fourth year of law school that I started considering academia as a career option. Having done the usual string of internships in courts, law firms and corporate houses I immediately realized that those jobs did not appeal to me.
On the other hand, throughout law school I had always enjoyed reading and writing about law and related subjects. I was always more comfortable living in the world of ideas and abstractions than dealing with day-to-day legal practice, a lot of which tends to be managerial in nature.
“Throughout law school I had always enjoyed reading and writing about law and related subjects. “
That is when I realized that temperamentally I was better suited for academia/research rather than the practice of law.
Once I had decided to take the path of academia/research a master’s degree was an inevitable choice. Although the formal requirement of a master’s degree was indeed a motivating factor for the LLM, I was always keen on studying abroad because the sheer variety and interdisciplinarity of courses abroad is rarely found in India.
When it came to the master’s course, how did you go about selecting just where to apply? What were the kind of courses that you were looking for?
Selecting where to apply can be the most daunting part of the entire application process. There is no straitjacket formula and the decision is usually a combination of multiple considerations including finances, available courses/specializations, reputation of the university, future job prospects. Right from the beginning I was realistic about finances.
I decided not to apply to the US as it is extremely expensive compared to UK and Europe. I eventually applied only to UK universities primarily because of the reputation of those universities. I was always keen on LSE because of the wide variety of available courses and a strong emphasis on the interdisciplinary nature of law.
“Because LSE is primarily a social sciences based institution, there is a great emphasis on studying law not in isolation but as it interacts with other subjects like politics, sociology, philosophy etc.”
Because LSE is primarily a social sciences based institution, there is a great emphasis on studying law not in isolation but as it interacts with other subjects like politics, sociology, philosophy etc. Also, I was not keen on specialization and wanted to study diverse and often unrelated subjects.
For example, I took courses as diverse as cyberlaw on the one hand and legal and constitutional theory on the other hand, and wrote a dissertation in bioethics. LSE also allows students to take courses from other departments and I ended up doing a course from the Philosophy department as well.
This kind of flexibility was a key factor for me.
Any advice on the application process itself? Anything that a lot of applicants should take into consideration while developing their applications?
Unlike law schools in the US, UK universities primarily look for academic performance in an application over other factors like work experience, statement of purpose etc. So it is most important to have good grades.
Apart from that the standard rules of thumb always apply; for example, personalized recommendation letters, statement of purpose tailored to that particular university etc.
Did you apply for/receive any financial aid at LSE?
I had applied for scholarships offered by LSE. However, my applications were unsuccessful and consequently my LLM was self-financed.
How was the LLM experience at LSE? What were some of the most valuable experiences along the way?
It was a fantastic experience! It was undoubtedly the most challenging and rigorous year of my academic life. Academically, the most valuable experience for me was a massive improvement in the most basic skills that any lawyer must possess, that is, critical thinking, analytical thinking, and writing skills.
These skills are often very underrated in Indian law schools where the focus is almost exclusively on imparting knowledge rather than development of skills. Whereas, the experience at LSE was exactly the opposite.
“Their pedagogy is based on the belief that it is often more important to be able to ask the right questions than knowing all the right answers.”
Their pedagogy is based on the belief that it is often more important to be able to ask the right questions than knowing all the right answers. So the emphasis is more on how to engage with different texts and how to ask the right questions, which I believe develops the ability to think analytically and critically.
Curious to know what you think of the Covid pandemic in terms of changes in teaching – what do you think are some of the bigger challenges that Indian law schools will face in the immediate future?
The biggest short-term challenge for most law schools is to scale up their technical infrastructure to make sure that online classes can be conducted smoothly and for the faculty and students to adjust to this transition to virtual classrooms. But I think every crisis presents us with an opportunity and it is often in times of crises that massive behavioural changes occur in societies.
“In a world of e-books, audio books, and podcasts, academic institutions must find ways to integrate technological tools into their teaching methodologies. “
The Covid pandemic will certainly have important long-term consequences for all institutions. One positive change that may occur in the long-term is increased openness towards adoption of technology in teaching. In a world of e-books, audio books, and podcasts, academic institutions must find ways to integrate technological tools into their teaching methodologies.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
This may sound cliched, but I think it is extremely important to have clarity about why you want to do an LLM.
One must remember that an LLM is not necessarily a sure-shot pathway either for a job abroad or to enhance your market value back in India as far as law firms or litigation based careers are concerned.
Having said that, the LLM experience certainly opens up new perspectives for all those who are intellectually curious toward law and it’s varied facets.
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.