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.
Gitanjali Kapur completed an LL.M. from the University of Cambridge in 2016. The Delhi University law graduate (LLB ’14) also holds a B. Com (Hons) from Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University. In this FPA, she talks about her reasons for applying for an LL.M, how the course has helped her build her professional practice, and a whole lot more.
Looking back, what were some of the advantages of the 3-year LLB course over the 5-year law course? Or, if comparisons are difficult, what were some of the more enjoyable aspects of the LLB at Delhi University?
A 3-year LLB course can be pursued only after one has done an under-graduate degree of 3 years. After completing under graduation in B. Com (Hons) from Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University I got placed at S&P Capital IQ (a subsidiary of Standard & Poor’s). I started my LLB post one year of work experience at S&P.
Though working in the finance sector has no direct nexus with law, that year taught me a lot about disciple, work ethics and problem-solving skills. Our education system does not always prepare us to think practically. However, working for a year opened my mind and helped me develop many soft skills that education institutions cannot provide. For me, the biggest advantage of doing a 3 +3 rather than a direct five-year law course has been my stint of working before I did law.
Also, a five-year course is great if one is sure about pursuing law. However, if one is uncertain then it is better to do an under-graduate course in another subject. I was initially inclined towards taking the route of finance and law was not on my radar. It is much later that I realized I wanted to study law. Hence, the 3 +3 worked perfectly for me.
Having knowledge in another field apart from law is a useful tool. I have always found my background in finance to be a useful tool in briefs of commercial nature. A wider knowledge base always gives you an edge in dealing with certain kind of matters.
Why an LLM? What were some of the expectations from the LLM?
I always aimed at getting a degree from a top educational institution. It was not something that I decided keeping in mind professional opportunities. There are certain goals you have for yourself and for me this was one of them. There are a lot of lawyers who do perfectly well without an LLM.
I did not go with the expectation that the degree will help me professionally. I went with the aim of personal growth and learning and hoped that the degree will also aid my professional goals. Another reason for choosing to go for an LLM was that I am a first-generation lawyer. I felt an LLM will add more credibility to my practice.
I went for an LLM while I was in my first-year practice as a litigation lawyer. Frankly, work did not leave much time to ponder over my expectations from an LLM. I was new to litigation and I was busy understanding the nuances of the profession. However, I did expect the experience to be more holistic than a mere academic one.
How did you go about selecting where to apply? And why narrow down on Cambridge?
I cannot deny that the name of the University and the prestige attached to it was a major factor to apply for an LLM at Cambridge. I had applied to Kings University, UCL etc. and secured admission there as well.
However, once I got through Cambridge it was an obvious choice.
All top Universities in U.K have some of the best faculty and therefore I will not say that the same was a reason to choose Cambridge. It was more to do with the idea of staying in a student town rather than in the middle of London. I did not want to limit my learning to a mere degree. I felt a student town will have a lot more experiences and avenues of diversified learning.
Any advice on how to go about the application process itself?
The first advise I would like to give to anyone applying abroad is regarding the scholarships. Many scholarship application submission deadlines are prior to the deadline for submitting the main application for the university. Therefore, it is advisable to start planning beforehand if one wants to apply for any scholarships to prevent missing deadlines regarding the same.
The process is relatively simple and well explained on University websites. However, it is important to have clarity regarding your purpose and reasons to choose a course and university. Though it is not always easy to have figured out one’s goal while applying for an LLM, it is imperative you have a rough idea of how you will use your LLM for your future goals. If you are completely aimless and confused it will reflect in your application.
A certain amount of introspection is essential before you start the application process. Each university has its own benefits and therefore you will have to tailor your SOPs for each university. One cannot apply a straitjacket formula for every application. Each university application will require work and effort. Cambridge did not have an SOP unlike other universities. The application process entailed a set of questions which was time consuming.
Take your time in understanding the differences in the experiences in each university and use that in your applications.
How was the LLM experience? What were some of the more challenging aspects of the course?
My time at Cambridge went by with the blink of an eye. The LLM is a 9-month course and therefore it is short and quick. One must grasp the maximum in the limited time one has. The University has a plethora of lectures on myriad topics every day. The experience of exposing myself to knowledge beyond my subjects has been of great value. I have never played sports and yet I took classes for squash when I was at Cambridge.
There are so many new experiences that one can benefit from apart from just legal knowledge. It instills a certain amount of faith in navigating through the unknown and challenging oneself beyond one’s comfort zone.
The LLM was challenging in terms of the vast amount of reading one must do. I had studied for six years in Delhi University (3 years B. Com (Hons) and 3 years LLB). The idea of reading material prior to a class was alien to me as Delhi University did not follow that concept of teaching. Social life at Cambridge was also always thriving and is a big part of the experience. One had to balance the same with preparing for the classes beforehand.
Another challenging aspect of the course can be the regular reference to the domestic laws in U.K and Europe in some subjects. It can take some time to understand the same. However, the faculty is extremely approachable and that makes it easier to navigate through the challenges.
As a litigation counsel, how has the LLM helped you in your professional growth? Would you say that an LLM is a useful tool to have for the litigation professional?
I think my stint abroad gave me certain confidence to take clients independently. Being a first-generation lawyer, I worried about client acquisition and was doubtful about continuing with litigation. The experience of an LLM instilled a new- found sense of self conviction. I have seen many lawyers do exceedingly well despite not having an LLM and therefore I would not say that the same is a guarantee of success. However, if one has the resources to go for an LLM then it is a long- term investment.
The knowledge I acquired during my year in Cambridge was used not just in litigation but also in my love to take up teaching along side litigation. Post my LLM, I have done some amount of teaching and the same would not have been possible if I had not gone for an LLM.
Litigation is a lot about networking, so it is difficult to attribute client acquisition to an LLM. But there is no doubt that the experience has enhanced my abilities as a lawyer. As a female and as a first-generation lawyer, an LLM from a University like Cambridge helps me get the attention of a client and differentiate myself from the many other lawyers.
Many times, while drafting I will pick on some aspects that I learnt during my time studying abroad. Though it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how an LLM has helped, in subtle ways one realizes the impact it has made on you as a professional.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
While the name of a University is important, I do believe if you want a specialized degree within law then choose a university which is known for that field. For e.g.: many universities are known for IP law specifically.
I also suggest certain amount of work experience before going abroad. I had been litigating before I went for an LLM. I was clear I wanted to come back to India and practice. If one goes without any experience it can be difficult to choose between coming back to India and taking on further opportunities abroad.
Universities are constantly having events for students who want to stay on. It is only worth investing time in the same when you have an intention not to return to India in the near future.
Work experience also prepares you for certain amount of pressure which at times law colleges cannot provide. For e.g.: Delhi University is more relaxed as compared to five-year law schools. Multi-tasking is the essence of your experience abroad. Working before going abroad helps develop these attributes that makes the experience more fruitful.
It is advisable to start planning more than a year in advance to get access to the best scholarships. It is also great to look at the subjects offered in each university to choose where to apply. A lot of people stress on having your SOP etc. read by many people. The same is useful to correct grammar and to get inputs on structuring your application answers.
However, clarity and diversity in your application is something no one can fix. The same has to come from you and it will need time. Therefore, it is not a good idea to apply last minute in a hurry. If time is less, it is better to apply the following year than do a half-hearted job with your applications.
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.