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.
Vidhi Shah is a 2014 law graduate of the Government Law College Mumbai (BLS LLB) who enrolled for the 2-year accelerated JD at Rutgers Law School in 2015. In this email interview, Vidhi shares her reasons for opting for the JD as opposed to the more popular LL.M., why she chose to study at Rutgers Law School, the JD experience itself, and a whole lot more.
What got you looking at the Accelerated JD program? Were you also considering an LLM at that point of time, or only the JD?
It was always my plan to go for an LL.M after my studies at Government Law College (“GLC”). I wasn’t looking into the JD program because it is very expensive and would have taken me 3 years to complete it. I was ready to start my career after 5 years of law school in India. In fact, out of the 10 odd schools I applied to, Rutgers was the only one which was for the JD program.
When I began my research on the schools I wanted to apply to, I came across the 2-year JD program at Rutgers. I was apprehensive at first because I was ready to go charging through the finish line of sending applications during my final year at GLC and this program would require sitting for the LSAT, which is administered only 3-4 times a year.
This was going to change a lot of my planned timelines.
But my family, in India and the US convinced me to hold off for a year and take the LSAT and apply to all my schools post my graduation from GLC, with some work experience, as they knew that I wanted to pursue my legal career in the US as a long term goal. I acted on their advice as I wanted to be dual-country lawyer in the true sense and a JD (as opposed to specialized LL.M) would give me a more in-depth knowledge of the law of the land.
“I acted on their advice as I wanted to be dual-country lawyer in the true sense and a JD (as opposed to specialized LL.M) would give me a more in-depth knowledge of the law of the land.”
Once you had decided that it was going to be the JD, how did you go about shortlisting schools? How did you narrow down on Rutgers?
I had not decided that it was going to be a JD for sure until much later. I knew I wanted to keep all my options open. Apart from the uncertainty of the admission process, the financial burden was one important factor. Coupled with the fact that it would take an additional year was something that needed to be mulled over.
There were only a handful of schools in the US that offered the opportunity to complete the JD in 2 years while I was applying to schools in the US. Rutgers is one of the best law schools out there. I have family members who have studied at Rutgers and they spoke very highly of their experience at the school.
“Rutgers was perfect with what it’s location, the professors, the curriculum, the illustrious alumni and the reputation.”
Further, for the kind of law I wanted to practice, Rutgers was perfect with what it’s location, the professors, the curriculum, the illustrious alumni and the reputation. I was sure that I wanted to practice corporate law with a focus on securities law and what better than a school providing me an opportunity of a 2 year JD program, right across the river from the NYSE and the NASDAQ.
Could you share a bit about the application process itself? Presuming that there is no LSAT/GRE requirement, what are the things that a prospective applicant ought to keep in mind?
There is an LSAT requirement for the JD Program and your application needs to reflect that you have completed the requisite coursework and showing some work experience in the field helps to make the application even stronger. If they are going to give you credits for a year, they want to be sure that you show a strong grasp of the law.
Your grades, the LSAT score, you extra-curriculars, internships and work experience, all are taken into consideration. The application process is similar as for the LL.M but you are required to take the extra step to speak to the Admissions Dean once you have received the acceptance letter to provide them with the information on your prior legal education and experience for them to be able to evaluate your eligibility for the 2-year program.
“For any student wanting to apply, not just for the JD program but also for the LL.M, it is key to have a strong resume. Grades are not the only thing matter. Schools are looking for a complete package.”
For any student wanting to apply, not just for the JD program but also for the LL.M, it is key to have a strong resume. Grades are not the only thing matter. Schools are looking for a complete package. There are a limited number of seats and a lot of people applying to these schools. You have to keep in mind that you are competing with people all around the world.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
No, I was not eligible for the financial aid that the school provided as I was an international student.
How was the AJD experience? When it came to internships/RA ships were you at a disadvantage as compared to those enrolled in the 3-year JD program?
Picking the JD program at Rutgers has been the best decision of my life. The education, the exposure and the entire experience was amazing. I am a much better lawyer today because of the opportunities Rutgers offered me. The practical experience coupled with a very different classroom set up, gave me in-depth knowledge and wholistic view of the law in the US.
I was never at a disadvantage as compared to other students in the JD program and was at par with them at all times. I had a great summer internship at Wyndham Worldwide after my first year, worked at a non-profit organization in my 3rd semester and was part of a clinic in my 4th semester.
Rutgers has one of the finest Field Placements and Legal Clinics programs in the country. Further, big law firms visit Rutgers regularly to recruit students for either internships or full-time positions. The Career Development team at Rutgers is hands-on and they take personal interest in helping students succeed in their careers.
What were the kind of employment opportunities available to you once you completed the program? What is your reading of the US recruitment market for international lawyers in the current scenario?
It was difficult to find employment in the US even after completing the JD because most of the law firms/companies are not comfortable applying for an H1 visa. More so now, than before. But I kept applying and giving interviews and finally was able to get a great job with a tech company in their in-house legal department.
The US recruitment market for international lawyers may be in a more precarious position than even during my time because of the Covid-19 outbreak and President Trump taking a hard stance on immigration during these times.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s degree (JD or LLM) abroad?
I would tell all graduates considering a master’s degree abroad that they should go for it. The kind of experience they will get, not just in terms education but in a more wholistic sense. It will be one of the most enriching experiences of their life where they will get a chance to be immersed in a completely different environment.
But, as stated before, they should make themselves a complete package. Law Schools are not only looking at grades. They want to know how you behave and react in real life scenarios.
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