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.
Shashwat Bajpai completed an undergraduate law degree from Amity Law School, New Delhi in 2011. That very year, he enrolled for the BCL at the University of Oxford. Two years later, he enrolled for a PhD at the National Law University of Delhi, and completed the doctoral degree in 2017.
In this FPA, he shares some advice on applying for the BCL, the reasons behind opting for a doctoral degree, the best practices that Indian law schools ought to replicate, and a whole lot more.
The BCL is an interesting choice to make right after your undergrad – what attracted you to the course? And what were some of the other schools that you applied to?
UK is where most of our laws were born, and to study those laws in the 12th century Oxford building can attract anyone having the slightest love for the law !
I had always aspired to pursue Masters and was one of my primary objectives from the end of 1st year of undergrad itself. In fact, it is this early determination that assisted me towards a clearer understanding and making me realize the tedious spread out application procedure.
Interestingly, for a novice, it is essential to understand that the application process itself commences a year prior to the actual homecoming and application deadlines hover around the end of 9th semester (before end of the final year itself), assuming one wishes to attend right after undergrad.
Additionally, I applied to NYU & Harvard, but I was always driven towards Oxford, like a moth to a flame.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
NO, I am of personal opinion (no offence meant) that all scholarships should be need-based. The meritorious students who are able to pay should pave the way for those with similar merit but in need of the financial aid.
Looking back, what do you think makes the BCL such a unique course?
That’s an easy one. Tutorials. In addition to the richness and grandeur of the course itself, Tutorials are the heart and soul of BCL. These are one-to-one sessions with the teaching faculty, which are apart from the usual lecture/seminar structure, but are instead positioned towards engaging sessions having a maximum of only 2-3 students per faculty per Tutorial.
“In addition to the richness and grandeur of the course itself, Tutorials are the heart and soul of BCL.”
The mind is like a parachute, it only works when its opened, and I would be failing in my duty if I don’t mention that the course reading lists are expansive and extensive and mould your thinking to how you want to appreciate and tackle the issues.
The faculty is undoubtedly one of the best and your Oxford peers coming from all across the globe, bring along with them a vast array of knowledge, experience and culture to the table, unmatched in comparison to any other institution in the world.
And sticking with the BCL, any advice for prospective applicants on how to go about the application process? More specifically, the written requirements and the recommendation letters?
The process is, as I said, a tedious one requiring painstaking efforts spread over a few months. Contrary to the common misconception, marks alone do not get you to Oxford. Yes, the transcripts are an excellent start and you are required to be in the top 2-5% of your class, but that does not guarantee selection, not sans a meticulously drafted SOP and an equally stellar set of recommendation letters. Monitoring your word limit is imperative while drafting these. Your moots, publications, extra-curricular all come into play in this exercise.
“Yes, the transcripts are an excellent start and you are required to be in the top 2-5% of your class, but that does not guarantee selection, not sans a meticulously drafted SOP and an equally stellar set of recommendation letters.”
A word of advice to all aspirants qua the SOP – do not be flowery with your vocabulary, instead paint the simplest of pictures through words which express your undergrad journey and how you intend to proceed further, given your selection to the prestigious course.
Additionally, one has to ensure getting the right set of LORs from your faculty.
Two years after the BCL, you enrolled for a PhD at NLU Delhi – what got you to consider a PhD? And what were some of the more challenging aspects of the doctoral program?
This I will respectfully dedicate to Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi Sir, who has been the source of my inspiration. Emulating one’s idol’s goals is a dream come true. His knowledge of law and eloquent equanimity of speech is unparalleled, and which propelled me towards the daunting task of acquiring the Doctorate qualification.
The most challenging aspect during the program was time-management. Simultaneously coping up with classes, thesis writing and law work as well, was gruelling to say the least. I must respectfully give due credit to my guide, Professor Anil Rai who helped me cope with the same.
As a practicing lawyer, how do you think your BCL and PhD have helped in your professional growth?
Nothing compares or substitutes to having good theoretical knowledge so as to apply it practically in Court. Furthermore, better credentials do indeed positively affect client relationships too.
I must say that there is no better institution in the world than Oxford (Yes ‘Harvard’, I said it !) and I say this especially for the BCL course in particular, since the course is moulded in ways to challenge your thought process every second which in turn broadens your horizon beyond the bookish theoretical knowledge.
Also, curious to know what you think about legal education and the litigating lawyer – any suggestions on how Indian law schools can improve the legal education experience?
The standard of the Indian Law Universities is without a shred of doubt, brilliant, in terms of both their studious ethos as well as their dogged determination and yearning to reach the top, and have thus been on upward graph since their set up having reached amazing new pinnacles.
That having been said, the concept of ensuring the same zeal reaching everyone in the class, is still a non-starter.
If we can somehow emulate, let’s say the ‘Tutorial’ concept from the BCL course into the Indian legal education system (it’s a long shout, I know!), then we can truly have the National Law Universities/Law Schools amongst the most prestigious in the world.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
Start early and focus, that is the key to cracking Oxford. In fact, the same applies to any other Ivy League Colleges and Oxbridge.
Needless to add, don’t weigh down under your own aspirations by over-working and stressing; Work smart and effectively and nothing can stop you from achieving your goal.
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.