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.
Anjali Chawla is a 2017 graduate of Jindal Global Law School (B.A. LL.B.) who enrolled for the Master of Law in International Commercial Arbitration (ICAL) programme at Stockholm University. In this FPA, she talks about her interest in commercial arbitration, applying for the ICAL, the ICAL experience itself, and a whole lot more.
You undertook a number of short-term courses outside India during your undergraduate years. Did you ever contemplate an LL.M. right after you completed the law degree? Or was the plan to always work a while?
Yes, during my third year I went to do a Scholarship Exchange Programme in European Business Laws at EBS University, Germany. In fifth year, I undertook courses on professional ethics, advocacy, and legal integrity at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I also did a week-long specialized negotiation workshop jointly offered by Herbert Smith Freehills-Oxford University.
Additionally, I was fortunate to get the opportunity of an externship with the Chief Justice of the US State Supreme Court, Hawaii. Moreover, the undergraduate experience at Jindal Global Law School (JGLS) was no less than studying abroad. World-class faculty, globalized education, international collaboration, good infrastructure, and now a top ranking in the country, it has it all. Since childhood, I was always told by my parents that education is the biggest and the most profitable investment. So, a master’s degree was always on cards.
Having said that, I had a clarity to have an international degree but when? was the issue to deal. Luckily with the guidance from the professors, seniors and some experience abroad helped me to make an informed choice. The plan was at least to work for a year, however, I almost worked for 2.5 years before going for the masters.
Honestly, I am thankful that I listened to the advice. Working in the professional sphere prepared me for the challenges, it provided me with the maturity to efficiently use my theoretical knowledge, It taught me to comprehend the situation fruitfully. Working as a lawyer is far beyond the black letters, it enables you to understand the psychology of the people, read situations better, activate your survival instincts. It makes you much more informed about politics, society, and most importantly about your personality.
Pursuing a master’s requires a lot of willpower and comprehending abilities. Especially, a specialization, it can cost you sleepless nights, volumes of readings, and hours of deliberation. Having a prior work experience certainly eases the process, especially when you have a specialized program within a limited time sphere.
What prompted the interest in international commercial arbitration? And when did this culminate in the desire to pursue an LL.M.?
It seems amusing to me and my friends because I always wanted to do a specialization in Taxation. It was my dream to pursue international taxation at New York University. I liked the arbitration law as a part of my undergraduate curriculum and that’s about it. Until I joined the chamber of Hon’ble Mr. Justice G.S. Sistani (Retd.) as a law researcher at Delhi High Court.
His support and encouragement made me passionate about this field of law. I grew my interest in researching, reading, and writing about commercial arbitration. Since commercial arbitration is a very dynamic field of law and has rapidly evolved in India, particularly over the last decade, it was rather obvious to read about the international perspective. Whenever I would read a new case in the courtroom, I would always find it fascinating to read about the reaction of other jurisdictions over similar issues.
Owing to the common law background, I read and drew reference from the English arbitration cases. Additionally, Singapore, Switzerland, France, and the US were few other jurisdictions that I used as my references to have a better understanding of the commercial arbitration.
My job provided me with the luxury to gain an in-depth understanding of the field of commercial arbitration and I thoroughly enjoyed it. International commercial arbitration was then almost a natural and obvious choice for me. I was so delighted to learn that Stockholm University is offering a super specialization, which only focuses on the commercial aspect of the arbitration.
Given the specialised nature of the field, what were some of the other schools that you applied to?
I applied to New York University, National University of Singapore, University of Southern California, Pepperdine, Queen Mary University of London, Leiden, Kings College of London, University College of London, Humboldt, MIDS Geneva and Stockholm University.
I shortlisted these universities based on the faculty, course structure, alumni network, reputation, the scope of arbitration in that particular jurisdiction, and availability of future opportunities. I made these choices, partially because I imagined myself going in each one of them and also because I wanted to have few options while taking my final call.
Apart from the informed inclination, I applied to all these schools because ideally, one should plan for the masters a year in advance. Additionally, a student should at least utilize 3-4 months for college applications. Frankly, I initiated my applications ridiculously late, probably a few weeks right before the deadline. Living independently and working full-time, I hardly had time to breathe. I remember working for two weeks on just a couple of hours’ sleep. With so much time crunch, It seemed impossible to even get through a single law school. One of my professors also told me to drop the idea and try next year. However, I was fortunate to have a few generous friends, who agreed to review my application last minute. The administrative staff and professors from JGLS were very supportive, they provided me with all the relevant documents and recommendations on such short notice.
The process of application is very interesting and humbling. I remember penning my college essays popularly called a statement of purpose. Writing about your journey from where you begin and where you want to be? It makes you realize how much more you have done and how less you have appreciated yourself. It all together feels very empowering and boost your self-confidence.
Though after a roller coaster ride and despite the sorry situation, I was fortunate to crack all of them. The part to pick an optimum law school was even the bigger challenge. However, I was relieved after accepting my offer letter from Stockholm University.
The first and foremost reason behind choosing Stockholm was its rich arbitration history during World War and East-West trade disputes settlement. Secondly, the ICAL programme is ranked 2 internationally (LLM Guide, GAR, QS). Thirdly, it is prestigious and economical choice. Fourthly, the impressive ICAL alumni network. The founder of the ICAL programme, Patricia Shaughnessy has given many prevalent faces to the international arbitration community.
Lastly and most importantly, its class strength, unlike other universities, Stockholm only shortlist very small and limited number of students, it is probably the smallest. We are the group of only 25 students, which implies that everyone here is purely on merits and probably the best in their sphere.
I am glad to make that choice because having a small group not only made our classes more intimate but also very engaging, where everyone could actually engage with each other.
Any advice on how to go about the ICAL application process itself?
One thing I learned after becoming part of the Swedish education system is that they love systematic and structural work. As such there is nothing different that you have to do but keep it real, simple, and crisp.
By simple I do not mean the general and obvious information, tell them something about yourself, which cannot be traced in your resume. Talk about yourself, the statement of purpose is a slightly formal variant of a letter to a penfriend. It should speak volumes without being lengthy. It is basically your chance to make the admission committee perceive you more as a real person then just a resume.
For a decent statement of purpose, divide it into sub-sections. Start by describing yourself in few lines, tell them what motivates you, why you want to do an LL.M., why are you picking their university, what new you can bring to the table, and give them reasons to shortlist you.
The university website laid out the requirements, so give it a thorough read and swear by it. Swedish system plays by the book and there is not much scope of interpretation. The application system is fairly simple, despite that, if you still face any problem, get in touch with the admission office or search for an alumni network. Approach people, revise your application, ask for a review by your peers or family, and hope for the best.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
As I mentioned earlier, I was fairly late to apply for independent scholarships but I applied for Chevening. Unfortunately, I could not make it to the interview round. However, I did apply for university scholarships. Mostly, It is a separate application that you apply alongside the admission forms. Some universities de facto consider you for scholarships based on your application.
I did receive the Dean’s Academic Excellence Award and a Housing Stipend at USC. Additionally, I got financial aid from QMUL, NUS, Kings, UCL, Glasgow, and Pepperdine.
Unfortunately, Stockholm University has only one non- European scholarship applicable to Indian students. However, it did not pinch much because despite being so popular and prestigious, it is affordable and very economical.
How has the ICAL experience been? What have been some of the most challenging aspects of the course?
The ICAL has been a very humbling experience. I think the best part for me was the ICALians. Everyone pursue a masters’ to advance their education, extend their knowledge and learning. The integral part of my learning did not come from the University but from my classmates. Calling them classmates feels like a disgrace, we all are one big family.
I am truly blessed to find a home overseas, each one of them is mutually exclusive in terms of skills and knowledge, yet exhaustive in terms of empathy and benevolence. I have learned so much from each one of them. Everyone was there for each other when required. We have shared laughter, insecurities, failures, and success. They have given me a new perspective in my life.
At our University, we do not have lectures, we rather have a seminar and everyone had a unique take on the law. We always looked forward to the seminars, classroom discussions, little banter, and good professors, it kept us all going. We had professors like Ms. Daria Kozlowska, who provided us with the opportunity to argue mock arbitration in the leading law firms like Vinge, Roschier, Mannheimer Swartling, Bakers & McKenzie. We got the opportunity to have negotiation trials with the students from Columbia Law School. Additionally, we were enabled to be lectured by institutes like Stockholm Chambers of Commerce, leading arbitrators, partners from leading firms.
Professor Christina Ramberg designed a game to make us understand the technicalities of commercial transactions. I never thought a normal convention can be fun to read until I attended Professor Andreas Von Goldbeck’s classes, he bought new operas and historical theories to explain the nuances of the law. Professor Patricia Shaughnessy always guided us with her wisdom, shared stories, taught us to handle the legal glove and how to have fun with the law. I was lucky to get the opportunity to do my master thesis under her expert guidance.
Professor Crina Baltag always ignited a new thought through her assignments, shared real-life examples and made us realize the importance of having each other (classmates) in our life.
More than a professional, I have grown as a person in the past year. Overall, ICAL was a perfect blend of theoretical understanding and practical application.
I think the main challenge for me was the language. Coming from a common law background and being a former law researcher, I had a habit of writing lengthy text. Citing case precedents, analysing the court’s opinion, fancy jargons, discussing parliamentary debates are common practices in India. However, making a switch to a civil law background and explaining the text in short words was a hard task for me. I did struggle with the word limit, but with time I was able to manage it.
What is your reading of the employment opportunities available to ICAL graduates?
ICAL does not have an active placement division or guarantees an employment opportunity per say. However, as mentioned above, we do get the opportunities to meet with eminent lawyers and a sneak in the industry operations. Honestly, luck is also a big factor alongwith the brand.
Having said that finding a job in a European market with a special language requirement is difficult. It takes patience and persistence to find a decent job. Especially with Covid’s situation, chances to find a job becomes slim but keeping a positive outlook is very important. ICAL as a brand aids you to find a job anywhere in the world.
There are many roads to curating a professional journey post ICAL. One can undertake a researcher job, pursue a Ph.D./ LLD/ Legal practice course, or undertake a translation exam, which opens the door for institutes like ICJ, PCA, UN, etc. Additionally, one can also apply to the arbitral institutes. Students can also apply to the international law firms, which offers zero-day and graduate vacation scheme to students.
It all depends on your requirements and criteria, with proper execution, correct strategy and the masters in law brand from ICAL will make you reach the goal.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
Never stop believing. The application procedure becomes exhausting but think about the good times ahead, tell yourself it will pay off.
Regarding the master’s abroad, understand it is an investment. Make a roadmap for yourself, do complete research, and plan.
- Basics: First and foremost you should ask yourself, Why do you want to do an LL.M.? Whether you genuinely want it or it is just the idea that fascinates you. Secondly, consider your interest, see whether you would like to go for a specialization or a general master. Weigh both pros and cons. Thirdly, decide when you would like to go for your master’s degree? Do you want to conclude your education in continuity or whether you would like to work for some time and then go for it. Fourthly, where do you want to do it from? Whether you want to make a switch from common law to civil law and know about the possible challenge that you might face. Also consider the course, how it has been designed instead of just looking at the ranking. Fifthly, reach out to the admission office, alumni network, and social media handles (Facebook, Instagram, twitter) of these universities. Do as much thorough research as you can. Sixthly, do not get so overwhelmed, and consider whether finances is going to be an issue, if yes, then make the decision accordingly.
- Everything counts: Keep reminding yourself, nothing goes waste. Keep a check on your CGPA throughout your undergraduate, universities always look at the transcript. Although it is an important criterion but not the only one. So even if you do not have desired CGPA, extra-curricular activities, publications, research assistantship, teaching assistantship, mooting, internships, everything counts during the shortlisting process.
- SOP/Motivation: A Statement should be personalized and honest, therefore write it yourself. Keep it short, simple, and crisp. Make it readable, have time to make edits, make sure you do not have grammatical errors, and stick to the word limit. Re-read it, if in doubt make a third-person read it for you. Sometimes the university also mentions the guideline for the personal statement. Make sure you read it and delivers what they have asked. Try and answer what motivates you, why this university, and why you.
- Recommendation Letters: Always believes in quality over quantity. Ask for a personalized recommendation from the people, who know you the best. It is good if your recommendation can complement your personal statement, it makes you a promising candidate.
- Scholarships: Scholarship deadlines are pretty short and mostly early than your regular application process. There are different scholarships, few funded by the government like Fulbright, Chevening, Commonwealth. Then we have Scholarships funded by the trust under CSR like Tata endowment, Mahindra, etc. Then comes the university-funded scholarship, read the website properly, the application for these scholarships can be either separated or included. Ask your employer (current or future), sometimes they agree to fund the education to make you as a future asset for themselves.
- Waivers: There are two types of waivers that I am referring to under this section. First, the application fee waiver, since we know that the application process itself is very expensive. On average, a student shell 100 $ (approx.) per application. One can write to admission cell and ask for a waiver, at times universities do grant them.Second waiver is for language proficiencies. All the universities require for either TOFEL or IELTS. These exams require money and time, but in actual, this can be skipped. Ask the university, where you are applying for the TOFEL/IELTS waiver. Mostly all the university will allow since the schools/ university in India teach their kids in English. You can take an undertaking from your previous institute as proof that you are well versed with the language.
Be humble and have courage. Also, do not forget to have fun and enjoy yourself. Make memories, it is just not an additional degree, it is going to be the best memories for you. I wish you all, the best times ahead.
If you need more details, contact me on LinkedIn.