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.
Adrija Mishra is a 2015 graduate of National Law University Odisha who recently completed an LL.M. from the National University of Singapore. In this FPA, Adrija shares some of the reasons for choosing NUS for the master’s, advice on the LL.M. application itself, and a whole lot more.
You worked for four years before enrolling for the LL.M. – did you ever consider enrolling right after your graduation?
I believe that studying law and practicing it are two very different experiences. During my undergraduate course, I was inclined towards Intellectual Property Rights, however, once I started practicing, I figured out that I was more passionate towards civil and commercial litigation and arbitrations.
So even though I had always planned to do a master’s course, I wanted to be really sure about the area on which I wanted to focus on during the course, which is a reason why I did not enrol right after my graduation.
I don’t think there is any hard and fast rule as to when one should pursue their master’s program. I had a lot of batch mates who did not have any experience and had just completed their undergraduation and were quite good. Enrolling for the LL.M. after gaining some experience was entirely a personal choice of mine and it did work out well for me, since I was able to benefit as much as I wanted from the course.
How did you go about selecting just where to apply? And why narrow down on NUS?
My first step was to decide what were the subjects that I wanted to study and based on that I had to shortlist the universities. Since I was interested in studying subjects related to dispute resolution and I wanted to return back to practicing in India, I basically focused on universities which were based within the common law jurisdictions.
I wanted to use this opportunity entirely as a learning experience. So, I did apply to universities in different countries, but my focus had always been on universities in U.K. and Singapore.
To be honest, I did take in a lot of factors before narrowing down on NUS. Firstly, NUS was ranked better than the other universities from which I had an offer.
Secondly, I did a bit of research with respect to the kind of exposure which I was getting. I wanted some sort of work-related exposure and the legal procedures in Singapore are somewhat similar to what we have in India, which was again a crucial factor.
Thirdly, I really liked the evaluation scheme and the course structure of NUS. In each semester, there was a pool of around 80 modules from which I was free to choose modules which I was interested in.
Fourthly, Singapore did appear as a financially viable option. Fifthly, in all honesty the geographical proximity was also a big factor which helped me decide on NUS.
What were some of the expectations you had from the LL.M. itself?
I had done quite a bit of research about NUS and had spoken to the alumni who had given me a pretty fair picture, because of which I was quite sure that I would have a good academic environment. The education which I had received prior to this course was more of a non-Socratic approach, where we are required to prepare projects, attend vivas, study and appear in exams.
For my LL.M., I wanted to have more of an experiential sort of learning, which is why I chose modules which would challenge my skills as a lawyer. I was more focused on the strengthening my core procedural skills. Quite fortunately, NUS has a lot of practicing lawyers and arbitrators who teach some of these courses.
Any advice on how to approach the personal statement requirement?
Once I had shortlisted the universities, my next set of research was entirely on how to draft the personal statement. Based on my experience, I can say that a personal statement is an applicant’s story which they tell to the world and nobody can tell it better than them.
Every person’s personal statement would be very different, so one can clearly read as many samples as they want, but at the end of the day only you know how to tell your story in the best way possible. Statements are very important especially for students applying for Master’s because a lot of these universities do not conduct interviews for these courses as they do for undergraduate courses, so it is the only way for them to know who you are and it is your only opportunity to make a lasting impression.
So, statements should be as honest and crisp as possible and should reflect your passion and interest in the course.
Also, one needs to first shortlist the universities, before they even start working on the statements. It is pretty evident that some universities call for a personal statement while some look for a statement of purpose. Every university clearly mentions what they are looking forward to read in a statement. So, it is very important that one does complete research about the university before preparing a statement. More importantly, one must prepare separate statements for different universities.
In the past couple of months, I have helped applicants with their statements, and I feel that a lot of times, applicants explain how the particular course would help them in their career but they do not focus on how they would be benefitting the university. It is a race with some extremely qualified applicants, so if one wishes to stand out then they should explain why they should be given preference and how they would be benefitting the university during their studies.
Also, what I have learnt is that we tend to decorate our statements with fancy quotes. It is not at all essential to decorate your statement, but if you still want to, then you must use quotes which compliment your statement.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
I did apply for financial aid but unfortunately, I did not receive one and I had to look out for other options for funding my studies. I think one major mistake that I did, which applicants must avoid, is that I focused all my energy on one particular scholarship and did not invest much on other options. There are a lot of scholarship opportunities available which one can explore before applying to these universities.
As an LL.M. candidate, how useful was your past work experience?
As I said earlier, having past work experience is not a strict requirement for LL.M., however, for me it did turn out to be quite helpful. It created a huge foundation on the basis of which I selected the modules. It helped me narrow down on what I was expecting from my LL.M and how to go about it.
Course wise, it did help a lot in understanding the concepts as I was able to relate it with the experiences which I had. Since my focus was entirely on the procedural aspects of law, my work experience helped me in understanding what I had been doing and how I could change it. This entire course was more of a journey of self-evaluation.
Looking back, were your expectations from the LL.M. met?
Yes, indeed. Though a major part of my second semester was affected because of the COVID-19 situation, irrespective of that I believe that my expectations were met to a great extent. I think I had quite a fruitful first semester to compensate for the same. I do regret not being able to benefit from certain modules, which I would have, had situation been little different.
Nevertheless, I did have a great learning experience. Besides the same, I also did get a great opportunity to network and meet with like-minded individuals who are doing great in their respective spheres. To be able to interact and learn from such renowned academicians and professionals was indeed a dream come true.
As I mentioned earlier, I was expecting to have more of an experiential learning from this course. I had the opportunity to learning basic procedures like recording of evidences, what kind of questions should be asked, how to present arguments and drafting legal documents.
We had to brainstorm through multiple hypothetical situations and were given individual feedback with respect to the documents drafted and the arguments that we presented. So indeed it was an enriching experience.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law grad who is considering a master’s abroad?
A master’s abroad is a huge investment, but at the same time it is a very good investment. So one should be very sure of what they are expecting from the program and then shortlist the universities accordingly.
My one advice to the law graduates who are considering a master’s abroad is that they should not restrict themselves to only few universities based on their self-evaluation. A lot of times, we have the tendency to not apply to leading universities, fearing that we might not get selected or that we are not qualified enough. You never know what aspect of your application might impress a university.
So, when applying for LL.M., I would suggest that applicants should be limitless and grab as many opportunities as are available.
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