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.
Malavika Parthasarathy is an incoming LL.M. candidate at the University of Chicago Law School and a ’18 graduate of NLU Delhi. In this FPA, she talks about her journey in legal research, her reasons for choosing UChicago, and whole lot more.
UChicago is quite an interesting choice – what made you look at this law school in particular? Was it your time at the CLPG? Any other schools that you applied to?
A few years ago, I read a brilliant book called Freakonomics, co-authored by an American economist who teaches at UChicago. The book explained how economics drives almost all phenomena in this world.
I loved how engagingly it was written, as well as the dash of humour that made it immensely readable and accessible. This was the first time I heard about the University of Chicago and began to entertain the possibility of studying there.
While at law school, during my internships, as well as at CLPG, I engaged in empirical legal research in the area of criminal law, judicial reforms, and gender justice. I enjoyed exploring the intersection between law and other disciplines such as politics, sociology, philosophy and economics. UChicago seemed like the perfect place for me because it encouraged an interdisciplinary perspective, and promoted innovation in both research and pedagogy. I was also excited about learning from scholars such as Martha Nussbaum and William Hubbard.
I did apply to other law schools and was accepted to 5-6 of them. I ultimately narrowed down my choices to UChicago Law School and University of Michigan Law School. After speaking to alumni of these schools, and making several pros and cons lists, I decided on UChicago.
Was an LL.M. always on the cards as an undergrad? Or was this something you got interested in after working for a bit?
In the first two years of law school, I had developed a mild interest in the law, but not to the extent that I wanted to pursue an advanced degree in it. Reading academic scholarship was something I grappled with. However, in my third year of law school, I was taught constitutional law and jurisprudence by professors who radically transformed the way I viewed the law. My approach to academic scholarship also changed. I began to understand that academic writing could be both impassioned and nuanced, and started to enjoy it. I then decided to pursue an advanced degree in law. I wanted exposure to a different pedagogical system, as well as to learn in an environment that fostered an interdisciplinary study of the law.
I am grateful to have found a few mentors among the faculty at NLUD who patiently answered all my questions about pursuing an LL.M, and who provided guidance along every step of my personal and professional journey. Working at CLPG cemented my desire to pursue an LL.M.
It was a period of immense growth, and I began to get a better idea of what I was interested in.
What are some of your expectations from the LL.M. itself?
I want to pursue a general LL.M. I’m interested in a wide, and slightly disparate range of subjects such as constitutional law, jurisprudence, legal anthropology, disability rights, animal rights and health law. Many people decide to pursue their LL.M. in a specific specialization, but I am keen on doing a variety of law courses and taking courses in other departments of the University as well.
My parents are entrepreneurs, and after living with them for the past year and being inspired by the work they do, I have decided to take a few courses in the Booth School of Business as well.
I am thrilled about getting to meet people from different parts of the world, and learning from some of the best minds in academia. I am also excited about living in a vibrant city like Chicago.
Almost every person I have met who has pursued an LL.M. has told me that it is a transformative experience. I look forward to making the most of this experience both academically as well as personally!
Any advice on how to go about the application process itself? How did you go about identifying referees, preparing personal statements?
My referees were faculty members from NLUD and another university who I had worked extensively with. Many universities require at least one academic reference. I would advise students to get a reference from a faculty member at law school who knows their work well and can comment on their journey.
Do refrain from writing a reference for yourself on behalf of your referee.
I started preparing a personal statement a few months in advance of the application deadline. I was pretty happy with my first draft, but after honest feedback from several people, rewrote it. I don’t know what drew the admissions committee to my personal statement specifically, but can list out a few things I think may have made a difference.
- I was a stickler for grammar, and went through all my application materials with a fine-toothed comb. I normally have a tendency to use long sentences and ‘big’ words, but after feedback from a mentor, shortened my sentences and used vocabulary that was appropriate for the context.
- I wrote about what made me different, and about the formative experiences that motivated me to apply for an advanced degree in law.
- I tailored my personal statement to each school, mentioning not just the faculty members I was interested in learning from, but what drew me to that school and how I could contribute to it.
If you are applying to US universities, I would advise you to visit the LSAC (Law School Admission Council) website as soon as possible, and to familiarize yourself with the process. It is a time-consuming and lengthy process. Do get your university to send the transcript and degree as early as possible to LSAC, at least 4-5 months in advance of the earliest application deadline. In case you need to write the TOEFL, write it early, and ensure that the report reaches LSAC well in advance of the deadline.
Apart from providing LSAC with your CV, SOP and references, you will need to fill in a detailed application form for each law school you are applying to. You may also have to provide a financial statement, so it helps to keep the relevant documents ready.
If you are someone with a tendency to mix up deadlines (like me!), make an Excel document with relevant deadlines. I had a few close calls, but everything ultimately went off smoothly. I also think that if you’re anxious about the process generally, it helps to have a friend/mentor/family member keep track of the deadlines with you.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
I did apply for financial aid, and received a scholarship from Cornell Law School. However, I did not receive aid from UChicago, and also did not apply for any external scholarships.
As someone who has worked in the field of legal research, do you see more law grads pursuing similar pathways? How can law schools encourage this?
I do feel like law students, lawyers and universities are placing more emphasis on research these days. However, research is not seen as being as ‘glamourous’ as mooting or ADR. While these activities are no doubt valuable, research can also be an incredible, intellectually stimulating experience. It can be a lot of fun, especially if it involves travel and fieldwork!
For me, research has also fostered empathy and compassion for the marginalized, and the ability to connect with diverse audiences through my interactions and writing. Formatting and presentation are underrated but important aspects of research. Research has taught me to structure my thoughts cogently, and to write in a lucid manner.
Law schools can direct more funding towards research, encouraging both faculty and students to explore pressing issues and to work towards policy reform. I think that paying student research assistants and teaching assistants is a good idea. They often put immense effort into bringing projects to fruition. Universities can promote a culture where first and second year students are encouraged to publish with older students, and older students are encouraged to publish with faculty members.
Universities employing research associates must also pay them well.
Many people are discouraged from pursing research, particularly in public law subjects, because it is not lucrative. One way of encouraging professionals to pursue research is by ensuring that they are paid well and are given job-security and employment benefits, including mental health coverage.
Lastly, any advice for Indian law grads who are considering a master’s abroad?
I would advise law students who are considering an LL.M. to maintain good grades, and to cultivate mentors among faculty and alumni. For both graduates and students, I think it is crucial to understand the kind of financial commitment that an LL.M. would require.
Having an idea of the career trajectory one wants to pursue after the LL.M is also helpful. One can also consider universities apart from those located in the US and the UK while narrowing down on an LL.M. programme. They often require less of a financial commitment, and depending on what one wants to do later on, might be more suitable.