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.
Almitra Gupta is currently working as a Capital Markets Associate in Singapore. The GLC Mumbai graduate (BLS LL.B. ’13) has multiple graduate degrees under her belt. In 2018, she completed the Executive LL.M. offered by Kings College London, followed by an LL.M. at Penn Law a year later. In this FPA, she shares her reasons for applying, as well as the LL.M. experiences at both these institutions.
You took your time before enrolling for the LLM. In between, you took up the Sols exam, and also enrolled for an Executive LLM at Kings College London. When it came to the Executive LLM, what was the reasoning behind signing up, and how was the experience itself?
Yes. I always wanted to pursue a master’s degree because I was keen on gaining the exposure of meeting people from different parts of the world and gaining new perspectives.
The reason I signed up for the Executive LLM was because (i) the course was designed for people with minimum five years of work experience. This meant that I could learn a lot from them and also contribute my own learnings with them. Moreover, the course syllabus was more practical, than theoretical.
My concentration was Advanced Financial laws and I was intrigued to study evolving subjects such as FinTech and also had the opportunity to co-author a research paper on Smart Contracts and their application in the Global Supply Chain, (ii) the Executive LLM gave me the opportunity to pursue an education from an esteemed university in the U.K. while also continuing to work. This allowed me to apply my learnings from the program.
The experience was intellectually enriching. For the first time, I had the opportunity to meet with 25 people representing 20 different countries in the world who had a wealth of experience. We had a class on Negotiation led by Bruce Patton (Co-founder and Distinguished Fellow, Harvard Negotiation Project, Harvard Law School) which was my favourite.
Through the simulation exercises of this class, I gained a wealth of experience on collaborating, influencing people from different cultures, striking difficult conversations in hard settings. Beyond this, we also had a great class on Transnational Law by Professor Peer Zumbansen, who promoted discussion and dialogue on issues ranging from slavery in the global supply chain to the role of corporations in modern society!
All in all, my Executive LLM experience opened the doors of my mind to new perspectives and was very fulfilling.
What were some of the expectations from the LLM course, and do you think they were met?
Yes. I expected the LLM course to give me practical insights into global financial system. The Executive LLM provided me a sound understanding of the existing banking structure around the globe and also taught me the new developments in the FinTech space that is disrupting the way the financial sector operates.
How did you go about selecting just where to apply for the full time LLM? What were the factors that helped you narrow down on Penn Law?
I had exactly two things in mind when I narrowed down schools to apply to for my full time LLM in the U.S.A. First, I wanted to select a school that was reputed for its focus on corporate and securities law. Second, I wanted a school that gave me the opportunity to do some practical work outside of the classroom.
I made the decision to go to Penn primarily because it met both my criteria. Firstly, the legendary Professors Jill Fisch and David Skeel teach securities regulation and corporations, respectively. I was super excited to learn from them and had been following their research work much before I went to Penn. The additional cherry on top with Penn was that I could cross register for classes at the Wharton Business School.
Secondly, I was really intrigued by the work that students do through the Entrepreneurship Clinic at Penn (sneak peak: I had also mentioned this in my statement of purpose). Clinical experience is something that I was looking forward to since it gave me the platform to extrapolate and apply my learnings on to real life issues.
At Penn Law, you participated in the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic – what did this entail?
My experience with the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic (ELC) was game changing. I registered with the ELC during the Spring semester and was paired with a J.D. student. We were assigned two matters to deal with during our semester. The first was assisting a startup company called Kumba Africa, founded by Tapiwa, who was a Drexel graduate. His idea was to create an online platform to give travellers an authentic Africa experience.
So, we were responsible in drafting the terms and conditions that complies with international standards on data privacy. We also drafted up work place sexual harassment policies and training kits to ensure Kumba Africa complies with all employment rules and regulations.
Besides this, we worked with Gibson Music and Arts, a traditional company that imparts music lessons to children from low income communities across Philadelphia. We were responsible in guiding the company create a plan to become a non-profit that could provide greater access to funding and gain tax exemptions from the Internal Revenue Systems.
Through our work with the ELC, my J.D. partner Cynthia Tremonte and I also received the Florrick & Lockhart award for best team work. Working with the ELC under the guidance of Professors Praveen Kasuri and Michael Murphy shaped me in many ways to be a more conscious and responsible human being. I learnt a lot of soft skills that regular courses can never teach. I learnt to harmonise cultural differences while working with people from different backgrounds. I also learnt matter management skills and understood the nuances of dealing with completely different types of clients who may not be as sophisticated as the investment bankers I encounter in my practice now as a capital markets lawyer.
The Wharton certificate course is quite a persuasive factor – what were some of the bigger benefits of this course?
I would breakdown the benefits into the following three items: (i) First, it made me more commercially aware as a lawyer. This was key, since I wanted to pursue transactional law and so understanding the technical business jargon was super helpful, (ii) Second, it is a huge add on especially from a networking and recruitment standpoint. Having the Wharton tag does carry immense weight! (iii) Finally, at a very practical level, the course helped me understand how businesses think differently from lawyers. For example, I had an M&A class in the Wharton certificate course and I also had this in Penn as my law school course.
At Wharton, I learnt what are the factors that drive companies to do a merger or acquisition transaction and what it means to align synergies when companies look to go global. Whereas, in the law school, my M&A class was focused more on the regulations and the role of board of directors from a corporate governance standpoint.
All in all, today as a capital markets lawyer, the course has helped me when I am doing due diligence on a company. Being able to read financial statements and being savvy with numbers is a huge plus for deal lawyers. One thing I would recommend anyone intending to pursue this is to pick up a book on fundamentals of accounting. This is a very underrated skill that is incredibly valuable.
After the LLM, how did you end up at the Linklaters’ office in Singapore? Any suggestions for Indian law grads who would want to make a similar career move?
After the LLM, I focused on passing the New York Bar exam first. When you are dual qualified (either U.K./ U.S), it can open many doors of opportunities. After passing the NY Bar exam, I started networking rigorously. I tried to go step by step in my recruitment process. I created a list of law firms I really wanted to work with and checked their website to see the relevant partners leading those practices.
After doing this exercise, I reached out to the partners (sometimes by sending cold emails and other times being introduced through a known colleague). In my formal and informal coffee chats that I set up with people within law firms that I wanted to work with, I ensured that I focus on conversations beyond just getting a job. I had mentally prepared myself to build a stronger and larger network than just landing a job.
Suggestions that I would have for Indian law grads is: (i) Know your own value and worth. Nobody else will blow your trumpet. Create a list of things, activities that you have done in law school and outside of school (eg. Pro bono, Moots, Research papers writings etc) that have shaped you as a person. This will help you identify what you can bring to the table and sell yourself effectively; (ii) Network right from the start – maybe also much before you move continents to pursue your masters; (iii) Try to find a mentor – Someone who can guide you through the thick and thin. The mentor could help bring a lot of perspective; (iv) While in law school abroad, please focus on the education or rather the “Why” which brought you to do the LLM in the first place. Try to contribute and gain knowledge through classroom interactions and deeper dialogue with law professors. Professor recommendations can go a long way in recruitment; (v) Have a clear objective in mind. Being clear about what you really hope to gain from the LLM experience is crucial because it helps you stay on course and not give up under any circumstances.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
A master’s degree program abroad is eye opening and in simple words: “The world will be your oyster”! Make the most of your LLM experience by meeting and interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. Seek to create meaningful bonds with people without only focusing on what’s in it for me.
During the LLM, take up some research assistant position with a professor who’s work you truly admire. Establish a strong rapport with the Professor and be genuine about taking feedback. Meet people for formal and informal coffee chats. Travel extensively through global immersion programs and make use of opportunities to cross register with different schools within the University.
I took a class on Coding at the Penn Engineering School that helped me understand the basics of the FinTech world.
Lastly, read “Never eat alone”, by Keith Ferrazi. This is an amazing book with action items that is super helpful for a newbie trying to understand how to network. Remember: Networking is an art; not a science.
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.