Wajahat Jilani is currently pursuing an LL.M. with a focus on Competition Law at King’s College London. He enrolled for the master’s course just after finishing his B.A.LL.B course from the Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University.
In this interview conducted by Shifa Qureshi, Wajahat Jilani discusses his reasons for opting for Kings College London, the LL.M. application process itself, and a whole lot more.
At what stage of your career did you decide to do LL.M.? Was it always the plan since you were an Undergrad student in AMU, or was it something else?
It was always part of the plan. Since the first year when I started my BALLB in India, I planned to pursue the LLM from abroad.
Given the specialized nature of LLM, i.e. Competition Law, what were there some of the schools you shortlisted?
I developed my interest in competition law as a matter of coincidence in the fourth year of my bachelor’s degree. I was asked to participate in a moot court competition based on competition law. As we didn’t have much support from the university, my teammates and I had to learn everything from scratch.
At the end of the process, I knew I wanted to study this further. That’s where King’s College London (KCL) comes in.
KCL has a sterling reputation in the legal field. However, it has a particularly well-regarded competition law course and well-renowned faculty. The opportunity of being taught by Professors David Bailey, Alison Jones, William Kovacic, Renato Nazzini etc. whose books are used worldwide, was especially attractive. I was not disappointed.
I also applied to LSE, Oxford University, Cambridge University and Queen Mary University of London.
I didn’t apply to any American universities.
How has the LL.M. experience been thus far? What were some of the more challenging and rewarding aspects of the LL.M.?
The LL.M. experience is great!
It’s been a different level of academic rigour. The amount of hard work you need to put in is challenging, but this is what I was looking for when I applied for the masters. I wanted a more rigorous and more specialized sort of academic experience. And that’s being fulfilled.
Additionally, having the opportunity to participate in all lectures given by the previously mentioned professors was an enlightening experience. We even got the opportunity to visit the European Commission in Brussels, for a week, where we had a series of 5-day special lectures from the European Commission officials and leading European lawyers. It is a unique opportunity only available to King’s competition law LLM students.
The sheer diversity of our cohort – as with most LLMs – combined with the academic and practical experience of different jurisdictions was just as influential. Therefore, I not only learnt from the formal lectures but also from my interactions with my much-experienced colleagues.
There are cultural differences, of course. However, that is not a hindrance. The atmosphere is extremely conducive for furthering one’s goals. The university and other students are all very welcoming.
Any advice on the application process itself?
The resources and recommendations of the application are already provided in detail on many online platforms.
First, it is important to research the courses, faculty, specializations, and scholarships offered. Most of these details are easily available on university websites. That is the starting position. No advice can replace some research done by the prospective student.
Secondly, be aware of the entire application cycle. The schedule is slightly different from that in India, so you need to apply one year before. For example, if you want to apply for September 2021, you need to start applying now (applications usually open in September and close around January for the top-ranked universities).
So, aspirants must start as early as possible to understand the complexity of the application process. Be early and pay attention to your choices.
Also, remember that most applications ask you to write a statement of purpose and provide references. My personal experience was that these things need time. I cannot stress enough on the importance of writing well and avoiding grammatical errors. They really do matter!
You have had the experience of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Was this difficult to manage? Additionally, can you share with us all the opportunities offered by KCL to its students?
London is very expensive, but you can take this as an opportunity rather than being burdened by it. The experience was amazing and fun. There are various ways in which you can manage the cost issue. For instance, I stayed in an accommodation nearer to the university (i.e. at walking distance), which saved my transportation costs. You just need to make smart decisions.
I did a part-time job which aided my finances. It doesn’t cover all your expenses but can help your finances.
There are lots of opportunities to learn, as there are many societies in KCL which you can join, like Debating Society, Law Society, General Law Society, Postgraduate Law Society, etc. These societies organize various events. There is even an ‘India society’ which routinely organizes vibrant events.
There are societies for various aptitudes by nationality, by objectives, etc.
Due to the limited time during the LLM, I only took part in a few activities and chose to focus on my studies largely. There are classes, assignments, projects, reading, etc., so the schedule is jam-packed. Quite often, you need to read 100-150 pages for one lecture. Similarly, you have 3-4 subjects per week.
Having said that, there is always something happening, and opportunities exist. Unsurprisingly though, there is high competition. One of the opportunities I got was to represent King’s in the Herbert Smith Freehills Competition Law Moot 2020.
At AMU, unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to participate in international moots. Therefore, being selected in itself was a piece of positive news. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and eventually, we secured the 7th position worldwide.
Unfortunately, the part I look forward to the most in a moot court – oral pleadings – is not something we were able to do due to the oral stage being curtailed from top 12 to top 4 teams. Nevertheless, I learned a lot during the moot and am thankful for the opportunity.
I also reached the semi-final of an intra-university debate competition. While doing UG, I participated in many competitions, so I deliberately decided not to take part in too many competitions.
Moreover, it was quite nice to compete as a newcomer for a change!
One of the more common questions we all have, is when a good time to apply for a master’s – any thoughts?
It depends; this is a very subjective concern. I too struggled with this question, but one advice I would give is that each person must assess their own circumstances and goals when deciding when to pursue an LLM. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this.
In making my decision, I realized that once I got into a full-time job, I would be completely dedicated to my work. So much so that with time my career priorities may have changed. I was in a fortunate situation where I had the opportunity of doing the LLM immediately and looking back. I am happy with my decision.
What is your reading of the employment opportunities in the field of Competition Law? More specifically, from the point of an Indian trained lawyer?
Competition law is a very niche area.
Therefore, not every law firm has a Competition practice but will most likely have corporate or litigation work. Tier-1 firms definitely have excellent competition teams.
As the competition law is still evolving, more and more opportunities are coming up. There are a number of boutique law firms engaged in competition law practice. The Competition Commission of India is another option.
It is a very interesting area of law and requires good one to grasp basic commercial know-how and economic principles.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduates who are contemplating Masters abroad?
It is not difficult as long as you plan ahead, research, and remain organized. This will be particularly useful in deciding your specialization if you wish to have any. Sometimes universities have specific entry requirements which you need to work towards well in advance.
Assess all the factors. While the reputation of the university is important, particularly from the employability perspective, there are other equally important factors. These days some of the best LLMs are offered by universities may not necessarily be a household name in India but are leading centres for those fields.
Universities will almost always require good undergraduate marks. So work hard to achieve the results. As mentioned earlier, if you have already shortlisted some courses, knowing the marks required will help you plan accordingly. You can also demonstrate your interest in your chosen course/specialization through relevant internships, moot courts, good quality publications etc.
(Shifa Qureshi is a law student at the Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University and a mentee at the Upeksha Education’s Mentorship Programme)