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.
Revanth Ashok is in the LL.M. Class of 2020 at PennState Law, and was awarded the SILF-MILAT Best Law Student of India (male) after participating in the NR Madhava Menon SAARC moot. This award comes with a fully-funded LL.M. at PennState Law, an offer this 2019 law graduate from SASTRA University decided to take up.
In this FPA, he discusses what goes into a good personal statement, the LL.M. experience at PennState Law, and when and why an international LL.M. makes for a good option for the Indian law graduate.
As an undergraduate student, when did you start thinking about a foreign LLM? When did you start the application process?
I got admitted into the LL.M. program in an unconventional way. In 2018, I participated in the N. R. Madhava Menon SAARC Mooting Competition. At the end of the competition, I was interviewed by panelists consisting of Senior Advocates of the Supreme Court of India who were part of Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) and a representative from the Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training (MILAT).
There were students from numerous law school participating in the competition and the interview. My CV and my personality were analyzed in the interview. The interview was for students who were in their final year of law school. After due deliberation, the panelists awarded me the SILF-MILAT Best Law Student of India (male) – 2019.
As a result of this award, I was offered an LL.M. at Penn State law in Pennsylvania, USA. I was not required to formally apply. Initially, I did not intend to do an LL.M. but I was unable to resist this wonderful opportunity. I would highly recommend participating in this moot court competition as it gives an exciting opportunity for the final year law students to get themselves into a prestigious foreign law school.
How did you go about shortlisting just where to apply? What were some of the other schools you applied to?
I did not consider other law schools once I received my admission into Penn State Law.
When it comes to the application itself, any advice on how to go about the personal statement?
During my final year in law school, me and a couple of my friends were drafting personal statements for foreign LL.M.s (we all eventually got admitted in various LL.M. programs). A personal statement, as opposed to a statement of purpose, is a document which narrates your academic, professional and non-academic experiences.
At the outset, please remember that everyone has a unique set of accomplishments but what makes a personal statement stand out is the way in which one narrates their accomplishments.
When it comes to any writing, brevity is the soul of wit. So, keep your personal statement clear and concise. Avoid jargon and colloquialisms. We might have numerous accomplishments which we would want to incorporate but it is unwise to do that, especially when we might exceed word limits.
Take the best parts of your CV and incorporate them into your personal statement. While writing your personal statement ask yourself – does this document present a holistic view of who I am and what I have accomplished? If the answer is yes, then you are in the right path.
“While writing your personal statement ask yourself – does this document present a holistic view of who I am and what I have accomplished? If the answer is yes, then you are in the right path.”
When it comes to the drafting itself, I personally use a method called CODER, short for Collect, Organize, Draft, Edit and Redraft. Once you make a first draft, review it for grammar, punctuation and language errors. While you edit the personal statement, seek the help of your professors or colleagues who you think have better experiences with language and proof reading.
Have a uniform style throughout the document. Style here means the cogency, use of impactful adjectives, and the use of appropriate language while describing your experiences. Do not be superfluous.
Once you correct the errors and apply your own style to the document, have people proof read it again. Redraft the whole document.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
I was given a full tuition fee waiver part of my award. Penn State Law also offers financial aid to LL.M. students who deserve it. A few of my friends and peers at who are in the LL.M. program at Penn State Law have received substantial financial aid.
How has the LLM experience been thus far? What have been some of the most valuable learnings made?
My LL.M. experience has been fantastic. For me, the most valuable learnings could be broadly divided into two parts. One, education within the law school. Two, education beyond law school.
My classroom educational experiences were edifying. I was given the option of tailoring my course to my interest and needs. I specialized in corporate laws. The Deans and the administrative staff were absolutely fantastic in helping with the process. Almost everyone, including the faculties, students were amicable and approachable.
My in-class learning experience was exceptional. The faculties made the best use of technologies (such as audio-visual aids) to assist them in delivering lectures. We had guest speakers in certain courses to talk about the real-world happenings in a particular legal domain. In addition, various expert speakers lectured at the law school almost every day on contemporary politico-legal issues.
In my second semester, I had the opportunity to pick certain subjects which were taught by attorneys who are currently practicing law. They gave me real world legal insights. I was also part of the Penn State University’s Intellectual Property Clinic, where I had the opportunity to deal with clients directly and assist them with their legal needs. The Clinic also helped me get hands-on experience with drafting and filing legal documents with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
The professors here play the dual role of being the teacher and the mentor. This was life changing for me as I was yearning for mentor from whom I can look up to, learn from, and emulate certain traits.
“The professors here play the dual role of being the teacher and the mentor. This was life changing for me as I was yearning for mentor from whom I can look up to, learn from, and emulate certain traits.”
My experiences outside law school were equally exhilarating. Penn State is very inclusive and embraces diversity. The LL.M. class was diverse. My peers hailed from several different nationalities with varied experiences in the legal field. Getting acquainted with such a diverse group gave me a “global exposure”.
I regularly attended speaker series which pertained not to law but business. I had the opportunity to visit different schools and listen to lectures that had no relation to law. It really expanded my perspective and knowledge and complimented my legal education quite well.
In sum, my LL.M experience helped me develop a deeper interest in law and expanded my perspectives in ways that I never imagined was possible.
Any predictions on how US law schools will adapt to the COVID pandemic in the years to come?
US law schools have adapted to the COVID situation in at a lightning pace. Their pedagogy has evolved. The faculty amended our syllabus swiftly considering the plight of the students. As the technological infrastructure was very strong pre-COVID, the shift from in-class lectures to virtual lectures was almost seamless. The structure of the final exams was modified. Student support from faculty and various Deans was incredible as inputs from students were continuously being taken.
We had frequent meetings with the Deans to speak about our concerns, and the responses from the Deans and administrative staff was prompt and sensible. Consequently, the grading scheme was eased.
The IT support in my law school was exceptional and they were working round the clock to help the students in the transition to virtual classes. Students’ mental health was given a priority and students who required support had the opportunity to virtually talk to counsellors. Various e-events for students were held to lighten our moods and keep us motivated.
“Students’ mental health was given a priority and students who required support had the opportunity to virtually talk to counsellors. Various e-events for students were held to lighten our moods and keep us motivated.”
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
First and foremost, the laws you will be studying will be the laws of the country where the law school is located and some international law. If you want to specialize in Indian laws, then you should not be considering a foreign LL.M.
Second, estimate your financial burden. Foreign LL.M.s are burdensome without financial aid as the cost of tuition and the cost of living is very high in countries like the UK and the US.
Provided you have the necessary financial backing, consider this: A foreign LL.M:
· Will increase the breadth of your knowledge by exposing you to a completely different legal and judicial system;
· Helps you to adapt to new and challenging circumstances as you will be competing with students from various parts of the world;
· Helps you create valuable and meaningful connections and relationships; and
· Gives you exposure to a new societal, political and cultural setup of a country which widens your perspectives, which is necessary for one to become a good lawyer.
If the above mentioned things interest you, then you must consider a foreign LL.M. Good luck!