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.
In 2017, Garima Prakash completed the University of Barcelona’s Master of Laws in International Economic Law and Policy (IELPO LL.M.) The RMLNLU ’16 graduate then went on to spend the better part of the year working at the World Trade Organisation before returning to India. Garima is currently a consultant for the Trade Policy team at EY India.
(Do note that although the course was subsequently discontinued, it has seen a revival of sorts, now being offered in Athens.)
The IELPO LL.M. is a very, very interesting choice – how did you come across this program? What were some of the factors of the course that appealed to you?
I got introduced to this LLM programme when the IELPO team had presented in one of the ceremonies of the 12th ELSA Moot Court Competition on WTO Law, 2013-14, in Geneva. Although, at that point in time, I was not sure that I will pursue an LL.M. at all, nonetheless, I remember taking note of this programme then.
A year later when I had started considering pursuing an LL.M. in the field of WTO law seriously, and started exploring my options, looking at different universities, I re-visited this programme. I got in touch with the admissions team and found out exactly what the course is about. I was very happy with the way they explained the structure and objective of the course and decided that I will apply.
What I liked best about this course:
- That the courses are fast-paced, and it made me used to being on my toes throughout the year, which is what is needed in this fast-paced highly competitive world. We used to have an intense week of classes followed by quizzes and assignments on the weekend. And this was pretty much the routine for the entire year.
- That it covered almost 30-35 short courses, bifurcated in an intelligent manner, rather than the traditional 6+6 long courses spread over two semesters.
- That the professors teaching each course were the best of the best in their field; because the courses were short (1 to 2 weeks), the professors did not necessarily have to be based in Barcelona. They would be based in Geneva or the UK or anywhere in the world, and would fly-in, teach the course, take a quiz, evaluate our assignment and fly back. The constraint of accumulating all professors in one university was not there, which basically, enabled us to learn from the best of the best.
- That it was based on Barcelona, which meant significantly less cost of living, as compared to the programmes that were based in other cities, for example, London and Berne.
Now, the administrative ownership of the IELPO LL.M has changed a bit. It is now hosted by the Academy of International Economic Law and Policy, European Public Law Organization, based in Athens, Greece. All information about the programme can be found here.
Any other schools that you applied to?
My main plan was to focus on WTO laws, so obviously, I had applied to IELPO and the MILE program (at University of Berne). I had also applied to Queen Mary School of Law, University of London; and Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London.
I had gotten acceptance letters for all the programmes that I applied to. My plan was to focus specifically on all aspects of WTO Law with a flavour of economic law.
So, after carefully considering what each of the universities offered in terms of courses, faculty, scholarship, career-counselling etc., I picked IELPO.
Any advice on how to go about the application process itself? How much time should one ideally devote to this process?
The essay and recommendation letter are the two most important aspects of the application process. The rest of the information that one has to submit is pretty standard and does not need any application of mind, for example, academic transcripts, details of work experience etc.
I always tell everyone who asks me about the importance of the essay/application letter for LLM, to think about it in a way that two pages of your essay/letter will determine whether you will be one of the 30 students who get selected, out of tens of thousands who apply. So surely, it’s not just two pages, it holds a lot of weight. It has to showcase why you stand-out, it has to bring out your personality, and who you really are. In order for that to happen, one has to spend considerable amount of time on it.
I remember the first essay that I wrote, took me 4-5 revisions, spread over an entire week, until I was satisfied with the final version. There is no ‘ideal’ amount of time that needs to be spent, it may be different for everyone. It just has to come out in a way that the applicant has well thought of each and every word and sentence that has gone in the essay/letter, that the word-limit has been put to good use.
I would say, it requires a lot of thinking about who you are and who you want to become, and how the university will help you achieve that.
One tip for future applicants is to try to get to know the faculty/professors of the university you are applying to. It will give an insight about who you are going to be taught by, what they have to offer, what are their areas of expertise etc., and more generally what the university values.
There’s a good chance one of those faculty members will be evaluating your application essay, and everyone likes to read about things that interest them. I would spend at least 2-3 days in going through each and every piece of information given on the website of the university in general and about the programme in particular.
It helped me to understand what impresses me about the university and how I can contribute to them.
The second aspect is the recommendation letters – since I had no work-experience at the time of my applications, mostly I was supposed to submit to academic recommendations.
What worked in my favour was that I picked those professors who I had a close connection with, in the sense that they had seen my work enough and closely to be able to write one page about me. I chose one professor who I had a strong academic association with (for example, who had taught me for at least 2-3 semesters, or I had done a specific project with them) and one that I had interacted with in a more extra-curricular set-up.This came fairly easy to me as I was very active with all extra and co-curricular activities during law school.
One has to carefully pick professors for a recommendation. Sometimes, it makes more sense to ask the Head of Department or Vice Chancellor of the University for the recommendation letter. It all depends on which aspect one wants to highlight through the recommendation letter.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
Yes, I received the ELSA Scholarship which granted me a 75% tuition fee waiver.
How was the LL.M. experience? What were some of the highlights along the way?
My LL.M. experience was all that I had hoped for and more. It was one of the most significant experiences in defining who I am today and what I am doing. It shaped me in a way that I was much better equipped to pursue a career in international trade law and policy.
Particularly, I would highlight:
- Meeting and interacting with the genius professors, including Peter Van Den Bossche, Arthur Appleton, Pierre Sauve, James Flett and many more. It’s an endless list. Each one of them made us think hard and in ways that we had not before. One culture that IELPO followed was that we would take the professors out for lunch on the last day of their class, as a gesture of thanks and to interact with them outside of a classroom environment;
- The classmates – interacting with people from all over the globe, being competitive (some of us were really competitive!), trying to bring out the best in each other when working in group projects. I learnt some really interesting perceptions about India and of course learnt about life and ways in other countries. It is a part of a lobal exposure and its wonderful. It makes us wise us in ways that we cannot learn in textbooks. And I made some really good friends along the way;
- The regular career orientation sessions with the academic board – they would guide and show us direction towards the options we can explore;
And of course, the beautiful, lively and distinct city that Barcelona is. It was especially satisfying to sneak out time for some city fun with the intense course structure that we followed.
After the LL.M. you spent the better part of a year at the WTO – how was this experience, and was it facilitated by the IELPO?
Being associated with the WTO had been my dream since a long time, and this LL.M. was one step towards that. My internship application had gone through the IELPO academic board and I got a call for an interview form the WTO.
Some of our professors were working at the WTO, so they already knew me. In all, my association with IELPO helped me get that first connect that is needed to get into any organization. The reputation that IELPO had at the WTO along with my merit, got me into the WTO.
I was working with the SPS team at the Agriculture and Commodities Division. I was also assisting the panel in one of the SPS-related disputes at the time. I started as an intern, and later on a short-term work contract.
In fact, I was the first person in my entire IELPO class to have gotten a work contract at the WTO. For someone like me who is deeply into international trade law and all aspects of the WTO, it was a fulfilling experience.
How do you find the LL.M. helping you in your current role?
For me, professional work and growth is like building a chain – linking current skills and developing new ones. What I am doing currently is linked to what I have done in the past, and that includes the IELPO.
My current role as a consultant for the Trade Policy team at EY India, requires me to understand the interaction between WTO law and national policies, and the impact on businesses.
For this, the absolute first requirement is to be well verse with WTO obligations and to be able to analyse a policy from a WTO-compatibility perspective. IELPO, of course, has formed the basis of my understanding and knowledge about all things WTO. IELPO has also exposed me to experts in this field and institutions.
In my job, being on top of current developments and discussions really makes a difference, and I am able to do that better by following through with the IELPO network.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law grad who is considering a master’s abroad?
In my opinion, to fully take advantage of an LL.M. from abroad, one should already have a fair idea about their end goal. LL.M. should be taken as a mean to achieve that end goal.
A one-year programme is short, and one has to adapt fairly quickly. It is helpful if one has done their research on the opportunities that can be explored or the people that need to be reached out to in order to build upon the career that one wants to pursue.
Having an action plan ready right from the beginning gives a head-start which can help in utilising the time there in a more productive way. For example, one can research and explore the job opportunities they might be interested in, the institutions they would want to be associated with, the law-firms or lawyers of their area of interest that they would like to build contact with etc.
Of course, along the way, the basic action plan can be enhanced and adjusted as one moves forward. The underlying idea is to engage in some kind of future planning and goal orientation before starting the course, and then take full advantage of the platform that the LL.M. programme offers to achieve the set goal.
The other important aspect, in my opinion, is building a network. The most valuable thing that an LL.M. offers is the network that it gives access to, in terms of faculty, alumni, associate programmes, student clubs and other activities. Expose yourself to as many opportunities as you can, don’t hesitate in reaching out to people, asking them about how they got where they are, build a connect/relationship with them etc.
It is also important to experience new things as much as possible, be it course-related or even otherwise, like cultural clubs, language-lessons etc.
For example, to me, it made a big difference that I could already understand and speak Spanish at an elementary level before moving to Barcelona. It helped me to do things in the city in general that other students could not because of the language barrier.
The underlying idea is to make the most of your time by doing the things that you like to do and grow as a person as well as a professional.