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.
Shanu Jain is a 2016 graduate of Symbiosis Law School, Pune who enrolled for the Geneva LL.M. in International Dispute Settlement (MIDS) course (Class of ’20). In this FPA, Shanu shares a few thoughts on the importance of work experience, the MIDS application process itself, and a whole lot more.
Were you contemplating an LL.M. right after your undergrad? Or was the plan to gain some work experience first and then apply?
I was very clear about the fact that the practical exposure in the field is a sine qua non before deciding upon pursuing an LLM, especially from abroad. It is true, and I have seen examples in the profession, where people were excited to practice in a specific branch of law during the undergraduate years.
However, they did not enjoy it when they started practising and eventually moved to different departments.
I was always clear-headed about the fact that an LLM degree, although it is an asset, is a liability too. It is a considerable investment not only in terms of money and time but also an opportunity cost, and the experience that one could have gained had they not taken a break from their professional life to pursue an LLM.
Apart from the MIDS course, what were the other programmes/schools that you applied to?
I did not apply to any other courses. MIDS was my only choice. I found MIDS to be the only course which could cater to the academic and professional goals that I sought to achieve by pursuing an LLM. It also fit well into my budget.
Any advice on how to go about the application process?
It is necessary to start with the process at least five months in advance. When it comes to the application process, there are several considerations one should keep in mind. These five months should not include the time you need to decide the program and be dedicated solely to the application process. I have elaborated on some requirements which could be helpful:
- Statement of Purpose/ Motivation Letter (SOP): Think about basics. Convince yourself about: (1) Why do you wish to pursue a course? (2) What value would it add to your persona? (3) Which program caters the best to your requirements (either professional or academic)? (4) Have you been exposed enough to a particular subject that you wish to pursue an LLM course in that field?
I firmly believe, if one can convince oneself on these four basic questions, they would already have enough material to write an effective SOP. It is imperative to have your SOP reviewed multiple times. You can share it with your friends, professors and employers and seek their opinions and modify the SOP accordingly. It is also a Ninja Technique, to not seek advice from too many people on your SOP, as too many cooks spoil the broth. The approach I followed was, I prepared the first draft by answering the four questions I listed above. I substantiated my answers with as much evidence as possible. I shared my draft only with two of my friends and modified the draft as per their suggestions.
I believe that there are three golden rules for drafting the best SOPs: (1) be honest to yourself; (2) provide as much evidence as possible to what you claim; and (3) use persuasive and straightforward language.
- Program Application/Specific Requirements: Almost every program has specific requirements. It is essential to know such conditions in the very beginning of the application process to avoid last-minute hassles. For example, MIDS till 2018-2019 required students seeking MIDS managed scholarships to provide a letter of motivation written in French. It would be complicated to comply if you get to know about such a requirement on the last day of application.Carefully read the information manual, application forms and other guidelines. Prepare your documents and timelines accordingly.
Some programs have a specific requirement for providing test scores of English eligibility tests such as TOEFL. It is essential to know about such requirements as soon as possible.
- Recommendation Letters (LOR): Majority of the programs allow submission of up to three LORs of specific word limit. Hence, it is crucial to speak to the people in advance who could write LORs for you. LORs should display your recommender’s assessment of your performance when you were associated with them. It is also important to seek recommendations only from the people who have relevant experience in the courses you would like to pursue during your LLM. Such people could come from diverse backgrounds, including practice, judiciary or academia.
As a MIDS candidate, what have been some of the most challenging aspects of the course?
The most challenging aspect being a MIDS student, which most of my colleagues would testify to, is to cope with the vast course work requirement in a year worth of time.
MIDS is divided into three streams of courses. These are (1) General Course; (2) Optional Courses; and (3) Intensive Courses. For completing the LLM, one needs to pass two mandatory general courses, two optional courses and at least eight out of fifteen intensive courses.
MIDS invites world-renowned practitioners and academicians who teach intensive courses. Hence, very few people restrict themselves to eight courses, and the majority of the students attend all the intensive courses. Similar is the case with optional courses. Although the requirement is to complete only two optional courses, the majority of the student complete at least four, again because of the stellar faculties who teach these courses.
Other than passing these minimum number of courses, one also needs to produce and present at least two research papers during the year and write an LLM thesis.
Further, each student needs to mandatorily attend: (1) MIDS workshops (which are another lucrative aspect of the program); (2) a Swiss domestic arbitration conference; and (3) an international arbitration conference.
All these activities, in combination, make the program very hectic and hence allocating equal time to learn and enjoy these activities is the most challenging aspect of MIDS.
Looking back, how useful was it to have gained some work experience before enrolling for the course? Would you suggest prospective applicants to also have some PQE before applying?
Having prior work experience has its advantages and disadvantages.
The advantage is, after working in the field, you would be able to focus on the subjects during the course, which would help you in your practice when you would again enter the profession.
The disadvantage is that, after practising, one becomes very selective about what he/she wants to gain from the course and reluctant towards the theoretical and purely academic (if the goal is not to become an academician) subjects, which may have an impact on overall grades.
Another point to consider is the size of investment one makes into an LLM course. Hence, pursuing an LLM from a trial and error perspective without having practised is not wise.
I would strongly recommend prospective applicants who wish to pursue LLM in the courses relating to dispute resolution/settlement to at least gain two years of experience, which must include some exposure to the trial-court advocacy.
How did you go about applying for internships whilst a MIDS candidate?
The mantra I ended up following was, “Apply at as many places as possible”, as my goal was to have some international exposure where I could implement what I learned at the MIDS under the guidance of international attorneys.
Hence, I sent applications across several jurisdictions, which included Europe, Asia (Hong and Singapore) and the Middle East (UAE and Bahrain). I was inclined to seek opportunities with law firms, but I applied to arbitration institutions and UN organisations as well.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
Think wisely and be honest to yourself. One should not pursue an LLM from the perspective of exploring a new field but to master in a stream. It is still not a massive investment in terms of money but a year or two counts. Considering in advance a more extended education plan (such as PhD) is viable in case someone is interested in academics.