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.
Pooja Damodaran is a 2019 graduate of the School of Excellence in Chennai. Last year, she enrolled for the International Commercial Arbitration Law LLM programme offered by Stockholm University. It was the only programme that she applied for. In this FPA, Pooja talks about the ICAL experience, living in Stockholm, and how one ought to go about the application process.
At what point of time as an undergraduate student did you decide on an LLM? And when did you start the application process?
I graduated with B.com, B.L (Hons) from Dr. Tamil Nadu Ambedkar Law University, School of Excellence in Law, Chennai in 2019. I started working on my LLM application process from December 2018. I had a basic checklist and deadlines.
Did you ever consider gaining some work experience before applying?
To answer the question, no. I believe gaining work experience is not mandatory for an LLM. However, there are a few ways to look at gaining an LLM. It could be purely for academic purpose or job prospective or to develop research abilities.
Mine was quite straightforward, having extensively participated in moot court competitions (14 National Moot Court and 1 International Moot Court competition) and interning for about 5 years in various disciplines of law. I wanted to learn more before I stepped into litigation practice.
Given the specialised nature of the LLM, what were some of the other schools that you shortlisted?
I decided to a specialised masters because of my strong interest in dispute resolution and arbitration. I want to establish an exclusive career for myself in arbitration. When I realised an LLM would be my first step towards this goal, I checked for Global Arbitration Review (GAR) LLM ranking and the International Commercial Arbitration Law programme founded by Patricia Shaughnessy was ranked No. 2 globally for arbitration courses.
I applied only for Stockholm University, as it was my desired school for Arbitration. I believe applying to various schools is a good approach to short-list. But, my strategy was to apply to my #1 priority and if I don’t make it, I will apply for others schools as per GAR ranking in the following years (after gaining work experience). I am thankful, I did not have to. First time was my charm.
Any advice on how to go about the application process itself?
The absolute essentials irrespective of where you apply for LLM are:
- English Requirements- (IELTS, TOFEL, PTE) which ever test is required by your university. Pro tip: Do as many practice tests as you can before the exam!
- Statement of Purpose- Pro tip: the best paper is always rewritten. Do not expect your first draft to be the one to get you into a dream university. Keep your writing short and really focus on the purpose. Why you feel this course will benefit you? Why should you be the selected candidate over others? What do you intend to do after this course? Also, highly recommend to get someone to proof read your documents. Trial and error is a method which works like magic.
- Letter of recommendation- Pro tip: Real content is always better than superficial letters. Ask for recommendation letters from teaching staff/colleague/seniors who know you very well. The secret of a good recommendation letter is how well the mentor knows you and your abilities. Remember the admission committee would have seen many standard templates. So, in order for you to stand out, make sure your referee adds your skill sets, your abilities and what drove your interest to the program you are applying for.
- Time management- Pro tip: apply for universities before well before the deadlines. The later you submit, the lesser chance your application stands. Collect necessary documents – marksheets, provisional certificates, passport scans, other credentials a week before you apply.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
No, I did not. One of the special features of the ICAL program and studying in Sweden is, studying with merit. The program fee is least 3/4th times lesser than any LLM aboard. You can find out more information on scholarships for ICAL here.
How was the ICAL experience? What were some of the most valuable aspects of the course?
One of my favourite quotes from T.D. Jakes quite aptly describes my LLM experience, “It doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where you finish.”
The ICAL experience was absolutely terrific. I would recommend anyone who is aspiring to gain international commercial arbitration knowledge in depth to purse the ICAL program. Some of the highlights for me was, the program structure, we have intense academic requirements. The number academic of assignments, multiple choice questions and final exam ensures you understand the international commercial arbitration law.
However, the mock trial week with leading law firms in Sweden (Vinge, Mannheimer Swartling, Baker Mckenzie and Roschier) was the cherry on the cake. It was a great way to sharpen our practical skills.
The second semester was all about advance international commercial arbitration law with exposure to various lectures, Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and a final thesis. I am currently writing my thesis under my supervisor, Dr. Crina Baltag.
I must mention, Stockholm is a city built on water and a wonderful destination in the world. It is a Scandinavian city and sees sub-zero temperatures even in summer. So, while your stay here, you have a lot to explore. Also, the friends you make in the program are your real assets. It is a class of top 25 smart minds globally, and I can assure you, they will be a treasure for life-time.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
The dilemma: I believe an LLM or any education aboard would expose you to various perspectives. The biggest hurdle for me was to switch from a common law to civil law background. It is important to debate your investment and prepare yourself for what’s to come. I chose Stockholm and Sweden (SCC) because it is a popular seat for arbitration cases. Also, the ICAL program is world renowned and would be a perfect fit to kick-start my arbitration career.
When you choose education aboard, be mindful that you always have several hurdles to face, could be visa issues, native languages, academic differences, cultural barriers and even also sudden unprecedented pandemics (like COVID 19). It is important to realise irrespective of your challenges, you will benefit from your experience. To think back, T.D Jake’s quote now makes all the sense.
Current update: Despite Covid-19, I am currently applying for internships with International Chamber of Commerce, (ICC) Asian International Arbitration Centre (AIAC), London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) and other renowned arbitration institutions. Also, publishing papers, a recent paper of mine published on the renowned Very Yong Arbitration Blog.
Final words: Pursue an LLM considering the above-mentioned circumstances, there’s absolutely nothing to lose, but only to again. Wishing everyone with their applications in this tough time, best of luck!
In case of any queries/advise, you can always reach me via LinkedIn.
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.