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.
Harleen Sethi is an LL.M. ’20 graduate from the National University of Singapore, where she specialised in Intellectual Property & Technology Law. A 2016 graduate of Symbiosis Law School in Pune, Harleen spent three years working as a counsel before opting for the specialised LL.M. In this FPA, she discusses the LL.M. experience at NUS, what are the things to keep in mind while applying, and a whole lot more.
Were you considering an LL.M. as an undergraduate student? Or was this something you decided to take up only after working for a while?
Pursuing an LL.M. was always at the back of my mind. However, it was dependant on various factors. It was a major decision which involved being off work life for a year, incurring heavy expenses, deciding the nature of LL.M. and ensuring a return on the investment. I wanted to make sure that my decision was made at the right time with the correct information.
I was fortunate enough to work with Info Edge (India) Limited at the initial stages of my career, where I was exposed to different e-commerce business verticals and how IP and technology laws play a pivotal role in product development. I had three years of work experience before I decided to pursue my masters and specialize in the field of IP and Technology Laws.
The reason for choosing this specialization and NUS is two-fold. Firstly. I had been exposed to a variety of IP, technology and privacy law issues at work which paved a way for me to explore my interests in the field of law. It is only because of my work experience that I could be certain as to what kind of an LL.M I wanted to pursue and the scope for the same in the current market scenario.
Secondly, Singapore is considered to be the hub of technology and IP law issues with it’s fast growing development in the field of AI and the likes of it, which is why NUS was my top priority. My boss at the time gave me the correct opportunities to pursue my interest and pushed me towards honing my skill set. This is how my interest in IP, Technology and Privacy laws was validated and I decided to pursue a specialised LL.M. in IP and Tech laws.
For the readers, I would suggest pave your own path and make a decision based on your interests and circumstances. I needed more time to make my decision and be sure of the fact as to whether an LL.M. was a value addition or not. For the same, I needed to gain work experience and that is exactly what I did.
What were some of your expectations from the LL.M.?
I can safely say that my expectations were divided into two parts. Firstly, from NUS in terms of its faculty and academic standards. Secondly, from my life in Singapore as a student.
The LL.M. at NUS is an extremely compact and intensive program with a high number of credits to be fulfilled in a short span of 10 months. I knew for a fact that the course will be taxing as well as academically fulfilling. I was hoping for the LL.M. to strengthen my foundation in my chosen set of modules and at the same time introduce me to novel concepts.
I was also looking forward to further building up my soft skills in terms of legal writing and formulating research-result oriented arguments. NUS far exceeded my expectations as the modules I had chosen had brilliant professors who not only reiterated the fundamentals of IP, tech, privacy and media laws but also put me in a space which forced out of the box thinking and practical application of theoretical concepts. I personally think that one of the highlights of the program was that we had an opportunity to discover legal concepts across different jurisdictions including US, Australia, EU and Singapore.
This approach not only gives an insight into the law-making process of various jurisdictions, but facilitates a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter and the areas of improvisation for further application of such laws in countries which maybe lacking in a particular domain (an apt example of this would be understanding the pillars of data privacy legislations in countries like Australia and Singapore so as to be able to apply and analyse those concepts to the upcoming data privacy legislation in the Indian context).
From a non-academic front, it was an absolute delight to live in Singapore for a year.
This LL.M. introduced me to such talented minds and personalities from not only different parts of the world but also from India who I would not have had the chance to interact with otherwise, and I now proudly refer to as friends.
The student community living aspect of doing house chores and preparing meals together is not just an essential part of living outside as a student, but more importantly it is critical for personal growth and development. Your personality, both professional and personal is an accumulation of experiences and interactions with a diverse set of people.
Singapore presented me with a whole lot of opportunities and challenges to further discover and corroborate my academic expertise as well as aid the process of personal development.
How did you go about selecting just where to apply? Given the specialised nature of your LL.M., what were some of the other schools you shortlisted?
I would highlight two main factors in deciding which Universities you should apply to. The first is the academic curriculum of the course and the Universities which offer modules pertaining to your specialisation and secondly, the cost of living and other expenses involved in the country you are applying to.
Furthermore, depending on the nature of whether your objective of pursuing an LL.M. is to find a job in that country, you need to look at the employment pass/work visa rules and regulations of that country post the completion of your course. That wasn’t an extremely important criterion for me personally, since I was more inclined towards the quality of the course and curriculum.
I had shortlisted about five-six universities which offer my area of specialisation across UK, Ireland, Germany and Singapore. I was not extremely keen on applying to a plethora of universities as I wanted to pursue an LL.M. only if I made it to my top choices.
It is important to first shortlist the Universities you are interested in and then individually research on their application procedures and guidelines.
The Universities I had shortlisted basis my preference and subject of specialisation were: Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition (MIPLC-Munich Intellectual Property Law Center program on “Intellectual Property and Competition Law”)-Germany, Nottingham Trent University, Trinity College-Dublin, University of Leeds, King’s College-London and National University of Singapore (NUS).
Amongst these, my topmost preferences were Trinity College, NUS and MIPLC. I was fortunate enough to get through all the above-mentioned universities.
The next criterion for me to further shortlist the Universities was basis the specific modules offered under my specialisation, the reputation attached to the university and the cost feasibility of the country. Singapore, being closer to home and a major hub of IP and tech in Asia ticked all my boxes.
Any advice on the application itself? More specifically, on the personal statement?
The most critical part of preparing the applications is to start early and ensure that you have all the required documents before you start the application procedure. There are certain standard documents which are a part of all application procedures, irrespective of the university you are applying to for e.g. an academic/ professional LOR, transcripts, degree certificates.
Most undergrad colleges have a procedure to follow in order to apply for such documents. Apart from the standard documentation, some Universities have additional requirements for e.g. NUS required a physical sealed and certified copy of transcripts to be sent to the university directly from my undergrad college.
It is essential to research in detail about the application process of each university if you are applying to more than one and adhere with the timelines and deadlines of the application process. Starting out early in order to get your documents in order gives you a much-needed head start to overcome any glitches/delays in sending out your application.
It is also advisable to go through the English language compliance standards of the countries you are applying to e.g. if you are applying to UK, an IELTS minimum score might be a pre requisite to applying to a university. For Singapore, IELTS is not compulsory however I would suggest it is always helpful to increase your overall application weightage.
As for the personal statement, this is one document that needs your undivided attention and constant work. It took me at least 5-6 sittings to finalise a statement of purpose which I was happy with. The main objective of the personal statement is to facilitate the deciding committee in understanding your personal and academic background, your current status and your future goals with respect to the importance of the LL.M. course that you have chosen to pursue.
They want an outline as to how and why you are a good fit for this program, the reasons behind your decision to study with the specific university and how this LL.M. is a good fit for your current and future professional intentions. I would strongly recommend to first formulate a structure for your personal statement, then move towards penning down your thoughts and finally arrange the statement in a manner which is easy to follow and comprehensive at the same time.
A good personal statement should indicate your past academic and professional position, where you stand currently, your experiences, circumstances and reasons behind choosing a specific course from a particular university and finally, where you are headed keeping in mind your chosen area of specialisation. It is advisable to glance through a few personal statements to form a structure and flow of thoughts for your personal statement, however I would advise you to build up your statement from scratch and pen down your individual thoughts in order to make it distinctive and crisp.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
I only applied for financial aid at NUS. However, for NUS, the procedure is to opt in for financial aid during the regular application process. The details of the same will be available on the website.
NUS follows an extremely strict criterion for determining financial aid and it depends on an extensive amount of factors e.g. your nationality, background; inter alia. There aren’t as many scholarships for Indian students in the LL.M. program, however there are more options for financial aid for Indian students under the Public Policy program.
I would encourage those who are seeking financial aid to do a thorough research of the determining criterion and apply for the same. I would also suggest aspirants to have a back-up option either through personal finances or secure a loan for the course. The education loan process is extremely detailed and time consuming.
For those who are interested in taking a loan, they key is to start early and make a comparison as to the moratorium periods, education loan schemes and rate of interests offered by various banks.
Was it difficult to make the shift from working life to that of a student?
I was extremely excited to lead a student life post working for three years. Although there is a vast difference between student life during under graduation and being a post-grad student. There is definitely more pressure during the latter.
Nevertheless, I knew this was probably going to be my last chance to lead a full-fledged student life at a university so I decided to make the most of it, both academically as well as personally.
My major concern was making sure I don’t put my family under a heavy financial burden. I was fortunate enough to have a strong back-up and not feel the absence of an incoming fixed salary amount.
I would encourage applicants, specifically those who decide to pursue their masters post work experience, to set aside a small amount of savings to give in to over the top indulgences and travel itineraries.
I decided to stay back in Singapore during the winter break and explore the country. I did set aside savings for the same and that definitely helped me sail through.
Academically, I don’t think it was as difficult for me to make the shift. The circumstances are so intense that there is no time to think about making the shift or figuring out how to write research papers again. From the get go, you are pushed to do your readings, apply theoretical concepts, conduct extensive research, study case laws and engage in legal writing.
For me, diving back into academics just became a habit and I decided to take it in my stride and have fun with it.
What were some of the highlights of the LL.M. experience?
The entire experience was barely a year and I have to say the entire year was packed with all kinds of emotions. The latter part of our LL.M. was ofcourse clouded by Covid-19, however that was an experience in itself too.
Luckily, we were able to attend all physical classes except for the last two weeks of the second semester.
If I had to pick some of the highlights, one of them would be acquiring a part- time job opportunity at a firm in Singapore. I had secured an internship with a firm in Singapore, which later was converted into a part time opportunity. It was surreal for me to be able to undergo that experience and work on different trademark portfolios in Singapore so as to apply the newly gained theoretical knowledge into practical application.
Moreover, the expertise, skills and know how I was able to develop during this period will certainly assist me in my long-term career goals. NUS has an excellent board of faculty members and the professors give high weightage to class discussions as a major component for assessments. It was a delight to be involved in intellectually stimulating group discussions, student interactions and presentations.
On the non-academic front, one of the major highlights of the program was to be able to introduce our foreign counterparts to Diwali, Bollywood dance and music as well as lots of Indian food. We would have house parties celebrating Diwali and Christmas which was such a wonderful way to integrate cultures and come together as the LL.M. batch of 2020.
Singapore also has my heart when it comes to sunsets and I have to give it to Botanic Gardens and College Green (my place of residence) for giving me the most beautiful sky hues.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
My number one advice to any LL.M. applicant would be to be a 100% sure as to why you want to pursue your masters.
An LL.M. is not a way out to delay or take a break from work life. It is definitely not as simple as it seems to be, especially for applicants with work experience. It is important to fathom the value addition of the program in terms of the return on investment but more importantly, the academic value addition it will bring to the table.
As for me, I think it was an extremely good decision to go with NUS and specialise in IP and Technology Laws. The course and the modules that I have had the opportunity to explore here have made my brain juices flow and how!
I think especially for Indian students, the course offers a range of subjects and the kind of assessment criterion that we are usually not exposed to and even though that is way outside our comfort zone, it is so important to cope with the same and experience a different system of education altogether. It not only enhances your academic and professional growth, but also serves as a booster for your personality.
While you are grinding to score well in your academics, do not forget to explore the country, interact with people and gorge on local delicacies. Take part in academic and non-academic experiences. You will be given tons of opportunities to do that, just be sure to keep your eyes open, be active and grab them.
Most importantly have fun, form connections for a life time and keep in touch with them!
Interesting read on your application and decision-making process for the graduate law programme.