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.

Aarthi Sivarajan on the LL.M. at Georgetown University Law Centre, and the JD at Singapore Management University
Aarthi Sivarajan (LLM’20, GULC and JD’23 SMU)

How early on did you know that you wanted to take up an LL.M.? And when did you begin the application process?

I was inclined to take up the LL.M. Program sometime during my third year of law school. At the end of that year in 2017, I had pursued a Summer Abroad Program at the American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) in Washington D.C.

This Program enabled me to explore the depths of International Law and I was particularly intrigued by the teaching methods that made my experience all the more enriching. Following this, I took an interest in Arbitration / Dispute Resolution and considered specializing in this field of law.

In 2018, I received the opportunity to attend a Semester Abroad Program (SAP) at the National University of Singapore (NUS). In this Program, I elected International Dispute Settlement as one of the courses, which reaffirmed my decision to do my Master’s in the field of International Arbitration.

I started the application process when I was doing my SAP at NUS, which was around August-September 2018. I was in the final year of my undergraduate law degree then. Since I was extremely keen on Arbitration as my major, I narrowed down Universities well known and recognized for their LL.M. Programs in International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution.

I created a table with the list of Universities I had in mind, along with the respective information such as the course name, admission requirements, documents to be submitted, program commencement date and the deadline for submitting the application. It took a lot of time and research to gather the information since each University has its own requirements.

I would personally suggest students to start thinking about the LL.M. as early as possible, since it requires a level of commitment and effort to get into the University you desire. I would also recommend starting ahead of time to arrange your application materials/documents instead of pushing it towards the deadline, as it can be extremely tedious to submit your application/s in a rush.

What were some of the schools that you shortlisted while applying? Why narrow down on GULC? 

As previously mentioned, I was keen on specializing in Arbitration. Hence, I chose Universities that stood out for their Dispute Resolution Programs. Some Universities that I had in mind were National University of Singapore (NUS), MIDS (Geneva), Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), New York University (NYU) and King’s College London (KCL).

That being said, I was also interested in Universities that provided a holistic approach to their LL.M. Programs by issuing Certificates of Specialization in different practices of law, including Arbitration. One such University was Georgetown University Law Center (GULC).

While I received a couple of offers, I chose GULC’s International Legal Studies LL.M. Program for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the LL.M. programs at GULC allow the students to sit for the New York Bar Exam upon completion of the program. This was an added advantage that I didn’t have in most of my other choices of Universities.

Secondly, the faculty members who taught Arbitration at GULC caught my eye and I was extremely interested in being tutored by the best minds in this field. Thirdly, GULC allows LL.M. students to pursue an externship program in the Spring Semester, which I felt would increase my practical exposure in the United States in addition to theoretical knowledge.

Lastly, having previously been to Washington D.C. for the Summer Abroad Program, I believed I would be able to cope with the curriculum as well as the place. D.C. is simply amazing to visit!

When it came to the personal statement, what were some of the aspects of your own journey as a law grad that you chose to highlight? 

The Statement of Purpose (SOP), as I am sure it would be for many, is something that requires great attention, detail and care. It is practically a 1-2 page document that speaks to your eligibility as a prospective candidate to join a particular University.

As such, the pressure to make it appealing and interesting to the Board of Admissions is immense. I started off my personal statement with this mindset.

However, as I was trying to make it sound appealing for the person who would be reading my SOP, I realized I was putting too much of an effort to create an impression rather than speaking to my abilities and stating the reasons as to why I would make an eligible candidate.

I restarted my personal statement with a mind to highlight why I wanted to do the LL.M. and what I have achieved to support my application, instead of worrying over how it would be perceived by someone else. I began by explaining my interest in law and my gradual inclination towards International Law and Arbitration. I substantiated my interest by highlighting my experiences during my study abroad programs at AUWCL and NUS.

Further, I supported my academic credentials and professional experience by touching upon my achievements during my undergraduate program as well as the various internships I had pursued.

At this point, it is essential to mention that the SOP shouldn’t really be a replica of your resume/CV. The Board of Admissions receives plenty of applications with various outstanding credentials. Therefore, while highlighting your grades, achievements and other details in the resume might serve testament to your intellect and abilities, they might not do justice to the personal reasons you may have for doing the LL.M.

I would suggest spending more time on listing the reasons for wanting to do an LL.M. in the first place and how you believe it would support your career or other future plans. Each candidate has a unique story to narrate and the best way forward is to put yourself out there honestly. I believe that makes you a more credible candidate instead of putting together something that you think the Admissions Committee wants to hear. This is based on my own personal experience.

Did you apply for/receive financial aid? 

I applied for financial aid in most of the Universities I had applied for, and received aid from one of them (not GULC). However, since I was set on GULC, I decided to turn it down.

I did not receive any financial aid from GULC as the deadline for applying was over by the time I received the offer. However, I would strongly recommend students to apply for financial aid nevertheless, by making a compelling and convincing case.

Receiving financial aid and scholarships makes you a promising candidate and is advantageous, without a doubt.

How was the LL.M. experience at Georgetown? What were some of the highlights along the way? 

To say that the LL.M. experience at Georgetown was amazing would be an understatement. It is a mark of how much I have learned and grown in the 8 months that I was at GULC. The LL.M. program commences only in August, but they offer a Summer Experience program that starts a month earlier in July. I chose to attend the program, despite the little time I had post completion of my undergraduate law degree, and it turned out to be the best decision I had made.

I was able to meet so many students from diverse backgrounds and that one month passed by faster than I thought it would. Once all the students had arrived in August for the LL.M. and JD Programs, the atmosphere became more vibrant with plenty of activities and entertainments.

I was selected as a Board Member of the Georgetown International Arbitration Society (GIAS), which paved the way for me to meet many distinguished professionals in this field. We organized plenty of events and seminars on different topics in International Arbitration.

It was a great pleasure serving as an Event Co-Organizer in GIAS throughout the academic year. There was so much to learn and it was engaging to listen to various perspectives on a subject that I was studying in parallel.

With regard to academics, I was extremely happy and satisfied with my choice of courses and the respective faculty. One of the subjects I had to take in the Fall Semester was U.S. Legal Research, Analysis and Writing, which is a prerequisite for taking the New York Bar Exam. The style of writing and drafting a memorandum in the US was completely different from what I had learnt back in India, and it took me plenty of time to get accustomed to the Bluebook citation and formatting methods.

But I had the best Professors who guided me along the way and eventually I was able to earn the Honors grade for that subject. I also received good grades for the other subjects I took, and graduated with Distinction (Honors) as well as a Certificate in International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution.

In the Spring Semester, I received the opportunity to pursue an externship at Xtrategy LLP. I worked for the Founding Partner of the firm, who was also my Professor for one of the subjects I took that semester – Investment Treaty Arbitration, Public International Law and Landmark Judgments of the ICJ. I believe the externship complemented my course perfectly as a lot of the work I did was based on what I had learnt in class.

I had the pleasure of interacting with professionals from other firms as well as drafting plenty of memorandums and non-disclosure agreements. I had a great mentor who explained the nature of the work patiently to me, guided me academically and professionally, and helped whenever I had difficulties comprehending certain aspects of the subject.

One unfortunate incident that occurred, which everyone in the world faced, was the impact of Covid-19. All my classes were shifted online, including my externship program. Ultimately, I had to return back home towards the end of March, thereby ending my time in D.C. in an abrupt and unexpected manner.

However, Georgetown did everything to ensure that we had minimum disruptions to our academia, in light of the pandemic. Apart from the online Zoom classes, prompt communication and replies to any queries students might have, Georgetown also adopted the policy of an Optional Pass/Fail for the Spring Semester.

This means that students had the discretion to convert any letter grades into a Pass (Pass grades do not affect the overall GPA), if they feel they could have done better in any subject without the Covid-19 difficulties. I feel that Georgetown has been very effective in attending to students’ needs and providing help every step of the way.

Looking back, what were your expectations from the LL.M., and were they met? 

The main reasons I chose to apply for my LL.M. abroad were twofold: One, I wanted to learn more about Arbitration from the best minds and at a University that provided an effective curriculum.

Two, I was seeking a global exposure in terms of academia and professional experience. I strongly believe these goals of mine were satisfied.

I elected a variety of Arbitration courses such as International Commercial Arbitration, Investment Treaty Arbitration, International Negotiations and International Commercial Arbitration with a Foreign Sovereign. The Professors who taught me these courses had so many different perspectives to the subject and sometimes their ideologies complemented each other perfectly well. On that front, I am confident that my knowledge in this field of law has significantly broadened.

My externship program, as aforementioned, has been particularly insightful as I was able to comprehend how law firms in the United States function and what to expect while pursuing a career abroad. I also picked on the minds of the various faculty members (not just those who taught me) by meeting them individually in a professional capacity.

I was surprised at how easy it was to communicate with them without any reservations, given their extensive experience and impressive backgrounds. Further, I also had the pleasure of meeting so many students who had significant work experience and academic records from different countries.

Having pursued my LL.M. immediately after completing my Bachelor’s, I found it immensely beneficial to learn about others’ personal and professional background. It was, all in all, a fulfilling learning experience. In this regard, I believe I received the global exposure I was looking for.

Overall, I feel my time at Georgetown was very enriching and rewarding, in the sense that I have so much more to take back with me than when I first landed in D.C. I am positive that this program has equipped me with the tools and resources to pursue my professional goals.

You are currently enrolled as a JD student at SMU – am curious to know the reasons behind this move. 

Although I pursued my undergraduate law degree in India, I was brought up entirely in Singapore. I have always been very keen to work in the country that I consider home. In Singapore, it is possible to write the Bar Exam only if you have completed your Bachelor’s in Law or Juris Doctor (JD) in Approved Universities such as NUS, SMU (Singapore Management University) and SUSS (Singapore University of Social Sciences).

Singapore legislation also recognizes certain applicable law degrees from countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Since my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Law degrees do not satisfy these requirements, the most I could do was to apply as a Foreign Lawyer in Singapore.

In a way, I believe the Covid-19 pandemic was a blessing in disguise for me to pursue the J.D. Program at SMU, as it was something I decided on after returning back to Singapore in the middle of my LL.M. Program. Had I been in the United States, I don’t think the idea would have crossed my mind and I would have missed this valuable opportunity.

I was exploring various ways to work in Singapore, but there were two main shortcomings. One, firms mostly prefer candidates who are Singapore Qualified Lawyers. Two, the pandemic made employment opportunities all the more scarce. At this point, I came across the J.D. Program at SMU and was particularly interested in the curriculum.

It is a three year program, during which time students have to complete a 6 week internship and 20 hours of pro bono service in order to graduate. Since the J.D. intake each year was rather small in number, I decided I would at least try applying for it and didn’t really have too much of hopes, much unlike the time I had applied for my LL.M. Program.

After submitting the application, there was a mandatory written test. If candidates passed the written test, there would be a final interview. I was truly surprised that I had cleared both the written test and interview when I received the offer.

Following this was an arduous week of making a decision – to accept the offer or not? I guess I knew on some level that I would accept the offer. But I wanted to be sure of the reasons before doing so. For some, it may seem like a repetition of what one may have learnt in their Bachelor’s law program. But I have always been keen to learn the law from the Singaporean standpoint. I would also be able to pursue Arbitration as part of the curriculum. The internships at Singaporean law firms would prove extremely beneficial, as I have previously interned in such firms.

The most important reason for ultimately accepting the offer was knowing that I would be eligible to sit for the Singapore Bar Exam. It was a tough decision to make, given the three year time commitment and investment to be made, but ultimately the pros outweighed the cons. I believe the J.D. Program would enable me to pursue a fruitful career in Singapore, which is my primary goal.

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law grad who is contemplating a master’s abroad? 

I would suggest pursuing a Master’s only if you’re absolutely sure about it. While I was positive about doing the Master’s program, I had my own reservations about pursuing this degree immediately after my undergraduate degree, since most people I know have at least a couple years of experience before doing their Master’s.

However, I felt it was appropriate to complete studying before stepping foot into a job. As it turns out, I feel that my J.D. admission might not have been possible if not for my LL.M. experience.

Additionally, doing a Master’s abroad involves studying foreign law and getting accustomed to how that particular country functions. Do ensure that you’re genuinely interested in learning about different laws and that you would be comfortable in such a place.

Reach out to your friends and family to get an idea before setting your mind on one University in particular. In case of any questions or clarifications, please feel free to reach out to me as well.

Furthermore, do consider the amount of time, energy, investment and efforts you have to put during this rigorous 1-year program. You wouldn’t want to feel like you could have spent this time doing something else if you aren’t entirely prepared for everything that the Master’s program entails.

Ask yourself if a Master’s would help you achieve the personal and professional goals that you have. If yes, start well in advance to gear up for your Master’s and make the best out of it! I surely did during mine.

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.