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.
Aakanksha Mishra is a 2017 LL.M. graduate of the Georgetown University Law Centre, where she enrolled right after completing her law degree from GNLU, Gandhinagar. In this FPA, she shares some insights into her LL.M. applications, the LL.M. experience itself, and a whole lot more.
At what stage of your undergraduate studies did you start planning for an LLM? And when did you start the application process itself?
I began contemplating a master’s degree while I was in my fourth year of undergraduate studies. However, since the LLM degree was contingent on other factors such as scholarship, admission offer from a law school of my choice, etc, I spent my fourth year in trying to secure a job offer and having a solid back-up option in place.
It was only in my final year that I started taking active steps towards my LLM application. I began the application process in September, 2015 for a summer 2016 start.
How did you go about selecting where to apply? What were some of the aspects about Georgetown that made you narrow down on this school?
I based my choice of law schools on three factors – (a) subject matter and faculty expertise, (b) availability of financial aid/scholarship, and (c) location.
Based on interactions with alumni and other Indian students who were pursuing higher studies outside of India, I had narrowed down on USA as my destination of choice for an LLM. I was also clear that I wanted to study international trade law. Further, I had written to professors from different law schools, shared my academic interests and future aspirations with them, and sought their guidance.
In the end, I applied to five law schools in USA and received offers from three.
I finalized on Georgetown because of the following reasons – (a) they offered a specialized certification course for WTO studies and had a dedicated center for international economic law which perfectly aligned with my academic interests, (b) their faculty pool comprised of trade law experts who were not only career academicians but hailed from diverse backgrounds such as international organizations, think tanks, government service and law firms, and (c) being located in Washington DC, the policy hotbed of the world, Georgetown provided unparalleled access to the policy research, experts, conversations, and opportunities.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
I applied for financial aid from private trusts/organizations in India. I was fortunate to be awarded the JN Tata Endowment for Higher Education of Indians. I also received a merit scholarship from Georgetown University Law Center.
How was the LLM experience itself? What were some of the more valuable learnings made along the way?
The year-long LLM programme was a unique experience. The course structure at Georgetown affords a lot of flexibility and allows students to dovetail the coursework to meet their needs and likeness. This allowed me to not only pursue a specialization in trade law but also learn core US law subjects that enabled me to take and qualify the New York Bar Exam.
One of the best experiences while at Georgetown was participating in the International Economic Law Practicum. I worked on a pro-bono project for the trade ministry of an African country on the legal and economic impact of Brexit on it.
Along with my colleague from Georgetown, I had to coordinate with students and officials based out of Uganda and Tanzania to successfully complete this assignment. The practicum course allowed me to deep dive into a particular topic, cultivate a range of legal and soft skills – managing client expectations, research and drafting, team work and time management. It infused me with confidence and allowed me to begin developing a professional identity, while still being a student.
Finally, the year-long LLM provided immense networking opportunities – with faculty members, with practitioners, and with fellow classmates from diverse legal backgrounds from all over the globe.
At GULC, you also worked as a TA – could you share how one goes about applying? And what are some of the roles and responsibilities that come with this post?
After graduation, my student visa permitted for a one year practical training period in the United States. I was looking for internship/other practice opportunities and had sought help from some of my professors. Professor Joost Pauwelyn, who had supervised my project in the International Economic Law Practicum during my LLM, wanted a teaching assistant for his course on WTO Law for the upcoming academic session. I reached out to him immediately. Since he was already aware of my work, he was happy to offer the TA position to me.
As a TA, I had to assist Professor Pauwelyn in developing lesson plans and learning goals for the course. I was responsible for ensuring smooth organization of classroom lectures, guest lectures, and examinations. I also had to conduct practice sessions for students, prepare quizzes and presentations to facilitate their learning. I had to regularly communicate with the faculty member, administrative staff and the students in order to meet the individual needs of each student.
Looking back, how do you think the LLM has helped you in your professional career after returning to India?
The professional network that I built during my LLM has given me a point of contact in all major jurisdictions across the world, as I start building a professional career in India. The strong research and analytical skills that I gained while pursuing my LLM coursework have enabled me to quickly grasp and respond to new legal developments.
Further, the soft skills that I picked up during the practicum course have helped me in navigating the law firm environment.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law grad who is considering a master’s abroad?
My first and foremost advice would be on selection of law school – don’t go by rankings, choose a law school based on subject area and faculty expertise. Also, as applications can be expensive, instead of indiscriminately applying to a large number of colleges, research and select around 4-5 colleges that truly offer what you’re seeking for yourself.
Secondly, reach out to seniors, alumni, professors, professionals and every single person who can share their experience and guide you – know as much as you can about the course, the place and the opportunities, beforehand.
And lastly, start the application process with ample time in hand. Spend considerable time in writing your statement of purpose/personal statements (tweak it for each college you are applying to, highlight specifics about the college which are aligned with your interests).
For letter of recommendations, please inform your references well in advance and keep following up. Start looking for scholarships/financial aid at least a year in advance.
Scholarships are very competitive and oftentimes applications for scholarship close before LLM application deadlines.
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.