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.
Roshni Mandal completed an LL.M. from the Singapore Management University this year, with a focus on Cross-Border Business and Finance Law in Asia. In this FPA, the Christ University law graduate shares her reasons for choosing this particular course, the experience of studying in Singapore, and a whole lot more.
SMU is quite an interesting choice – what were some of the factors you considered while selecting where to apply? How did SMU meet your requirements?
I never topped my classes during law school, I wasn’t close to the top either. I was always an average student, but that didn’t dissuade me from dreaming big. If you can dream it, you can definitely do it. It was always at the back of my mind to follow the field of business and finance and as a graduate, I felt that a masters was my next stop. I went on to pursue my masters degree fortunately at my choice of university and subject.
To put it in simple words, I was a law graduate with a dream but still as confused as a woman trying to choose a lipstick shade. Initially, the conundrum was that I couldn’t find a course that fits my expectation, to focus on cross-border transactions and all the legal complications that come with it. My interest was to explore the novels of business, strengthen my academic and legal knowledge in order to understand business practices better and for this the course on Cross-Border Business and Finance Law was an apt choice for my LL.M. degree, which was available at Singapore Management University (SMU).
Apart from the state-of-the-art city campus, another factor that appealed to me was the well-loved Kwa Geok Choo Law Library. It is a symbol of inspirational learning in a green setting that sat smack dab in the middle of my favourite – Fort Canning Park. SMU is a relatively young university and the prospects of research and community engagement are highly notable.
During my weeks of research on the University, I became more familiar with it. I realized that this rather young University with a new mindset towards legal business studies, gelled well with my thinking and ambitions.
Intellectual Property Law, Mergers & Acquisition, International Mediation, and Chinese Contract and Business Law were some of the core subjects that I focused on. Since this LL.M. was of an academic endeavour to me, I promised myself to make the most of the next 12 months in Singapore so I started applying to law firms as a legal intern, prior to the commencement of the course.
Interning during my course and on the holidays was an opportunistic choice that I strategically opted to do. The training, teachings, pleadings, tonnes of Kopi, court proceedings, preparation proofreading and analyzing awards wouldn’t have been gained if it wasn’t for these internships that I am so grateful for.
Apart from the academic opportunities, I was eager to attend literally every event arranged by SMU, to sign up for as many conferences and additional lectures that were offered in order to step out of the tiny comfortable box that I clenched onto till the day I graduated from law school. I always knew at the back of my mind, in order to be successful in life, you have to be able to relate to people from all walks of life.
Were there any other schools that you applied to?
There were only two law schools that were on my list, where I wished to pursue my masters degree – National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU).
NUS being a well-known University with its roots stretching back to 1957 had over seven specialized courses for the LL.M. course. Whereas, I was more keen on pursuing a business oriented course which was available at SMU. Always knew that I would pursue this field of law and always knew that my determination and trust in myself would come to my aid.
How early did you begin the application process itself? Any suggestions on how to go about writing the SoP and sourcing the recommendation letters?
The application deadline for SMU was at the end of February – early March of 2019, if I remember correctly. It is a huge advantage if you start months in advance as it gives you more time to revise before submitting the applications.
I started gathering all my documents and transcripts on December 2018, requested my professors for the Letter of Recommendation (LOR) prior to the December vacation and started on my Statement of Purpose (SoP) at the same time. Another requirement is to submit your TOEFL IBT or IELTS score. The specifications on the same will be mentioned in details in the University brochure.
My advice would be to first answer whether you want an LL.M. which is course-centric or university-centric then prepare a tentative short list of the universities and gather the necessary documents. So research is extremely important. This will make it easier for you to sit back and write your Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement for the admission process.
After this stage, every small or big detail that comes to your mind and is remotely connected to the masters program should be put down on paper. Brainstorm and jot down everything you think is relevant, irrespective of the word limit at this point.
For the SoP, I realized that it’s all about story telling as its more of an art, than a science. Tell them YOUR story! Invest time in your SoP and try to tailor it around you. Make at least six drafts, proof read it and get second opinions from your parents, teachers or seniors. Don’t stress on your academic scores and achievements alone. Introspect and talk about what really interests you in the what are your motivations, your ultimate dream and what is your personality built around. After which, write about the University in which you are applying to and why you want to pursue this course. Dedicate days of delving into information on the university, the subjects, read reviews and watch interviews of the students/professors. Answer the following in one sentence or two (for better understanding), before you begin to draft it:
- What motivates you to apply for the LL.M. programme at the University and the location?
- Why have you chosen this course which specializes in the particular subject?
- Why do you stand out at this University, from the rest of the applicants?
- How will this University help you achieve your future career goal/s?
- What will be your next step after the LL.M. course?
Do remember that a SoP is a specific piece of writing. Do not mention the generalized importance of law and do not take anything from the internet in order to make your SoP more interesting. It has to be your story, based on your life. Before you sit down to write it, read the specified instructions on the SoP of that University as it varies. During the admission season, there are numerous SoPs read for months on end. In order to catch the eye instantly, start with an interesting introduction. Don’t hold the best for the last. One way is to start off with a quote that you believe and ensure that whatever you state in your SoP has good backing.
With respect to sourcing LORs, you may approach the professors with the specific specialization that you are opting for. Sometimes Universities provide different guidelines for the LORs so do follow them. If not, then two academic and one professional should be fine. It absolutely does not matter who you are requesting the LORs from, as long as it is someone who has seen your work/performance academically or professionally and can provide an insight of your overall abilities as well as defeats. SMU accepted the LORs directly from the professors where they will have to upload it directly on to the link sent to them. It is your duty to inform them on the same.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
Singapore is known for removing any economic hurdles faced by international applicants in order to pursue higher education. There are over five different scholarships provided for postgraduate students administered by SMU.
However I did not apply for any of the scholarships, but if there are interested applicants, they will find details of the same on the University brochure and website. It’s always good to grab the opportunity due to its availability. The tenure and benefits for the scholarship awards are excellent.
How was the LL.M. experience itself? You specifically mentioned that the Professional Development workshops were quite helpful – could you tell us a bit more?
I knew it would be a distinctive and fruitful experience but truly, it was just unexplainable! I am more confident than I used to be. Apart from academics, I have developed my management skills, strengthened my critical thinking and autonomous intellect.
The Professional Development Series (PDS) workshops enabled us to meet with the other masters students from the other six departments at SMU. Every masters student is to attend a minimum of three workshops during their candidature. It started off with my complaints due to the early timings of some but ultimately I was thankful for attending them. SMU ensured that none of them was specifically academically related. The options varied from Business Etiquette to AI-related ones.
The Postgraduate Professional Programmes organized what is known as the PG Weeks every year. Sports activities are organized, volunteering opportunities and various other activities to get in touch with some of our hobbies like photography, design and so on. Tours were organized to visit Gardens by the Bay, Maxwell Chambers (an integrated ADR complex), the Parliament of Singapore and everyone’s favourite place – Sentosa! I ensured to take roughly eleven workshops (apart from the PDS workshops) during the time of my course and you must take it from me, they were simply marvellous, especially the Wine Appreciation session which left me a bit tipsy!
How did SMU react to the Covid pandemic? What have been some of the more challenging aspects of moving online?
Luckily I had to attend only one class via online platforms which also happened to be my last class for the elective subject, Compliance and Risk Management for lawyers. It was truly an overwhelming experience and slightly different to accept that this was the last time I’d attend a class at SMU, from home. SMU provided us with several WebEx sessions, virtual conferences, and webinars on legal and non-legal issues during the phase of the normal redefined.
SMU has however been very effected with the preventive measures in a safe and timely manner. There were strict rules enforced, declaration of temperature taking, social distancing measures, seating arrangement, and the like. There was an SMU Financial Assistance Scheme (SMUFAS) arranged alternatives for students to minimize disruptions to their academic progression, to help defray the financial costs incurred and cover valid and irrecoverable expenses caused due to the pandemic.
As we all struggled to get accustomed to the new normal, it was ensured that the students must take advantage of this period and make the most of it. When the going gets tough, we must however keep going!
An important task during the Circuit Breaker, as termed in Singapore, is Personal Branding of the law student, law graduate or lawyer during this time. The internet as we all know can make a huge difference to your career in the long run. This generation can make use of it as a personal brand is a promise. One needs to find a way to distinguish from every other attorney.
Build your personal legal branding. Sign up for online courses. Volunteer. Control your future. It will not only ensure respect and recognition, but it will also build trust, which is an important aspect for a lawyer.
The pandemic has left some of us anxious about our future but it shouldn’t have the power to affect our mindset and attitude. There were a few aspects that I wished never happened during my course here, such as, trips to the library during the last month, interacting with our professors, bidding goodbye to our friends, and most disappointedly our graduation ceremony! Though SMU has assured us that an additional physical ceremony will take place in 2021.
What are the kind of employment opportunities that you are looking for post the LL.M.?
An LL.M. degree comes with a great opportunity to build a network of fellow lawyers as well as other professionals. I cannot emphasize enough to Network, Network, and Network! I would highly advise every prospective candidate to make use of the opportunities to network with anyone they come across, in the legal field, business and banking practitioners as well.
I have decided to use my time post-graduation to search for more internship opportunities, to apply for relevant legal training or work as a legal assistant. As this course has broadened my horizon and therefore I am willing to gain any type of knowledge, be it law-related or otherwise. Attending career law fairs arranged by the Postgraduate Career Services at SMU has helped. I am eager to take any many opportunities as I can and that would be my advice as well. There’s always something to learn from everyone you interact with.
During these trying times, it becomes difficult to meet with people at events and conferences but I did not let it sidetrack my focus. Thereby, I’ve made a list of law firms whose work genuinely interested me and started connecting with the partners on LinkedIn or E-mail. It is important not to interact with various professionals with the sole motive to land a job. I can say that this way I’ve had engaging conversations with a few and gained valuable advice at the same time. Don’t ignore the magical power of asking for help. Though the job prospects for a foreign lawyer in Singapore can be difficult, it isn’t impossible.
Pro bono and volunteering work have been a priority for me and so I have signed up for such related positions. It is important to see how lucky we are with the education that we’ve undertaken. I believe that I still have a lot to learn before I can provide my assistance and I am eager for the next challenge. To work, fail, learn, and strive are my goals for the next few years until I am confident to step into the legal and business world where my service will be valuable and worthwhile. I am definitely not ready to rest.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
One needs to be certain before applying for an LL.M. Consider if you want to specialize further in a particular area of law, if interested to dwell into academia and after the LL.M. degree to be able to gain a license to practice in an additional jurisdiction apart from India. This is another step closer to internationalizing your law career.
I can assure you that, if nothing else, a masters degree will be a mountainous conquest in your life. It can be a great experience, if you make it one and the only way to do that is to be confident, take the step and just send out your applications. Put your whole trust in your struggle, have faith that it will all end up being for the greater good as I’ve mentioned earlier, be not ready to rest. Do not compete for what you really want, rather create it.
In today’s competitive market, specialization, and dept of the subject is critical. But, in case after all the research and reading, you are still unsure about the course or the university or any other reason, don’t step back from asking for advice. People do not realize that they have the power of asking for advice from their parents, mentors, professors, or alumni. You can reach out to anyone who has already done what you aspire to do and ask them to offer advice. So do not stop to aim as high as possible.
If you would like Amicus Partners to provide some personalised advice on your LL.M. applications, please fill in this form and we shall get back to you as soon as possible.