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.
Monika Bashyam completed an LL.M. in Admiralty from Tulane University in 2019, three years after her law degree from Saveetha School of Law. In this interview, she talks about choosing such a niche area of law, the LL.M. experience itself, and advice for other Indian law graduates who may be interested in maritime law.
Maritime law is a fairly niche practice area – what got you interested in this branch of law? And when did you decide to enroll in an LL.M.?
I was in the 3rd year of my B.A., B.L., (Hons) program when I started to figure out my interests. My peers were into Taxation law, Business law and IPR, whereas I was sure about not pursuing fields that everyone was getting in line for. I wanted to navigate a less beaten down path. An opportunity to participate in an International Criminal Law moot helped me realize my intense fascination for International law.
Cognizant of my interests, one of my professors nudged me towards Maritime Law. Although I was not very keen on International Commercial Law, diving deep into the International Maritime Organization’s website threw light on other streams within Maritime Law. I loved the fact that it offered a wide range of practice areas, like – Vessel Documentation and Financing, Insurance and Re-insurance, Marine pollution, which could be of interest for attorneys interested both in Commercial law and Environmental law.
Such a wide array of practice areas piqued my interest.
After my graduation in 2016, I held back from immediately pursuing a master’s degree as it was a huge commitment given that I would have to move to a different country. Also, some of the maritime experts I had consulted said that getting a foot in the door of maritime law firms in Mumbai required a family background or prior experience in the shipping industry, of which I lacked both.
And to be honest, I also wanted to kick-start my maritime practice in countries, like the UK and the USA, whose courts have been pivotal in shaping the Admiralty common law.
What were some of the other schools that you applied to?
I looked into the International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI) in Malta, Swansea University in the UK, University of Southampton in the UK, National University of Singapore (NUS) in Singapore and Tulane University.
I was very particular about the faculties and every module they had to offer, as I had to brace myself for competition from other graduates who had maritime law subjects and specializations in their under graduation in law. That left me with Tulane University, that offers one of the most highly renowned Admiralty courses offered in the US and internationally.
Hence, it was the one and only school I applied to.
Any advice on how to go about the application process itself? How much time do you think one should devote to the application?
I consider myself a late comer to the admissions party. It was March by the time I initiated the process, but Tulane’s admissions department was very accommodating to international applicants. I would suggest the applicants look at the timelines of other organizations that they may have to go through before submitting their application to their list of universities.
For instance, I had to submit all the documents necessary for admission to LSAC (Law School Admission Council), which included my transcripts, graduation certificates, SoP and reference letters. LSAC would then submit the application on my behalf to all the universities I choose to apply.
This was news to me as my friends (most of whom attended universities in UK and Europe) submitted their applications directly to the concerned university.
I have also observed that some universities, especially the ones in the US warrant international students to complete an introductory course on the laws of their country. Such introductory programs start earlier than the regular LLM start dates.
Sometimes the applicants may need to plan their application process to accommodate the working timelines of different consulates. Some consulates might be over-burdened with a lot of applications, while some just have a longer processing time. This is crucial so that the applicant has enough time to obtain their visa, look for accommodation close to campus and settle in time for the course start.
Why narrow down on Tulane?
Like I had already mentioned, the major factors were the faculty, the modules offered and the fact that it suited my interests and fulfilled my expectations from an LLM course.
I was also excited to experience the culture of New Orleans, which is special and will forever remain an unforgettable experience filled with beautiful memories.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
I did not apply for it, or at least Tulane did not have a process through which I could apply. I am told Tulane automatically considers all their international applicants for scholarship and assesses the financial aid to be granted based on their prior academic performance, strength of their resume, SoP and the reference letters submitted. I did receive financial aid through the Harry F. Stiles scholarship which sponsored 60% of my tuition fee.
How was the LL.M. experience at Tulane? What were some of the most rewarding moments of the LL.M. experience?
It is one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. The way law schools function and operate in the US blew my mind, especially their Socratic method of lectures. It kept me on my toes to be fully prepared for all my classes, do my own research, and analyze cases by myself before the classes.
The first time I did my reading assignments, I thought to myself that there would be very less left for the professor to share on the topic, but I was taken aback by the wealth of information that was still left to be offered. I thoroughly enjoyed my time learning both in the classes and at the library (Fun fact: Tulane has the most collection of Maritime & Admiralty books in the US.)
Tulane offers a few courses as a part of their LLM, which prepares international students to draft and present cases in the Courts of the Unites States. The course required us to submit briefs and present mock oral arguments, which helped me understand the nuances of persuading a judge in the US legal system.
Tulane professors also arranged for lectures and mock negotiations with real-time practitioners and lawyers. It was a great way to build my professional network and it in fact helped me in setting-up countless meetings, three interviews at various maritime law firms including the one that got me a job last year.
What is your reading of the employment opportunities in the field of maritime law for an internationally trained lawyer in the US?
I initially had my doubts that US students might have an advantage over an international graduate, but the international nature of maritime and admiralty laws made me realize that it is to my advantage that I can now be a part of two countries’ admiralty cases, transactions and issues.
The firm with which I am working at, expressed their interest in expanding their office locations to India when they hired me. Being licensed in more than one jurisdiction has its own perks and always pays off.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
Every applicant’s dream or goal of pursuing an LLM is unique. Some do it to move their practice to that jurisdiction, some to expand their practice areas and specialties, some pursue an LLM in a foreign jurisdiction and come back to India to practice the skills and experience they acquired during the process.
So, I would suggest that they also explore their post-LLM options and make an informed decision.