Sanchita Ain is an Advocate On Record in the Supreme Court of India and has completed a B.A.LL.B from Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University and an LL.M from the University of Essex in International Human Rights.
She is currently working in the Chambers of Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid.
In this FPA conducted by Prakhar Rathi, Sanchita discusses her LL.M. experience at the University of Essex, the things to keep in mind while applying, and a whole lot more.
How did you develop an interest in law?
I was in 10+2, where I was also studying political science as a subject. We had Indian polity where we were studying about the Constitution of India. This was when I realized that I was not just good at it, but I also wanted to know more, and so I found it interesting.
So, when [Aligarh Muslim University professor] Rehmatullah Sir asked us why we all came to study law, my answer to him was that I had an interest in studying it. While many responded with the answer that they wanted to join the judiciary, or become a litigator, my answer to him was that I don’t know what I will do after studying law and that it’s just because of an interest in law that I have come to study law.
Were you considering your LL.M as an undergraduate student, or was it something that you planned after you had done the five-year course?
It was in the fourth year when I had developed an interest in academics, and I wanted to teach as well as research. That is when I thought of doing an LL.M.
I also looked at the curriculum of the National Law Universities, and that is when I realized that I would prefer to go abroad because there will be more to learn there. So, it was just out of my yearning to learn that I thought of applying abroad.
I did also give the CLAT PG, and with a rank of 44, I would have gotten into NALSAR.
I wrote the CLAT PG because I wanted to make a choice only after I had multiple options. So even though I knew I am going abroad, that didn’t stop me from applying in India as well.
In fact, I got into the LL.M PhD programme that was started by Prof. Faizan Mustafa at NLU Orissa. When I got there, there were only five seats and only two people could make it. The course was designed by professor N. R. Madhava Menon, and included stipends,.
It was a very attractive proposition because we were being trained to become professors.
So I started doing that, and after a year, unfortunately, the course was scrapped.
At the same time, I had also received an unconditional offer even before I had given my 9th semester Examinations, which generally does not happen. Usually, you receive a conditional offer and only when you send your final transcripts do they confirm your place.
I called Prof. Faizan and told him about this unconditional offer, and he congratulated me. I asked him whether I should accept it, and he told me that I should as it is the best for International Human Rights Law.
Thankfully my senior, Siddharth Puller, advised me to defer the offer and go a year later. Which is what I ended up doing.
Given your focus on Human Rights, how did you go about selecting where to apply for your LL.M, and how did you narrow it down to University to Essex?
The moment I had the idea of studying International Human Rights Law, I approached Prof. Faizan who advised that I should apply to Essex and Nottingham.
I realized that Essex was the better one, and so I only applied to Essex at that time. Since I received an unconditional offer within the first two weeks itself, I did not really shortlist any other universities, or apply anywhere else.
What advice would you like to give for the application itself?
A lot of research needs to be done for your motivation letter. You cannot just sit and think, you need to read through different kind of samples available online, and the requirements of each university.
There are several universities that provide guideline on how to write the letter of motivation, or what all components should be included.
So, I was looking at those as well, and I was reading a lot of sample personal statements online. I did a lot of research to that extent, but when I started writing it, I made sure that it was very personal, and authentic.
It was something that came from my own life.
Did you apply or did you receive any financial aid?
I did have a scholarship when I had applied, but since I deferred it, unfortunately the scholarship was not deferred. My suggestion is to apply initially for all the scholarships. There might be tough competition for the scholarships as the scholarship committee gives a lot of significance and weightage to experienced candidates.
Maybe you should work for two years and then apply as you will have a better understanding.
What were some of the highlights of your LL.M experience?
I would read all night about Essex, the place, the culture, about everything! I would plan everything while sitting in my room in India. When I finally landed there, it didn’t even take me one moment to adjust or adapt to the place because it was very adaptable for the students due to the diversity.
There is a system in place to take care of every little issue that you may have. Even before you have those issues, they ensure that during orientation they have told you about everything you may face in future.
So you don’t need time to adapt, but the thing is, you only have one year and it is a very intensive course. Especially with my course, everyone was so focused that we were famous in the whole campus as the people who remain very stressed about their course!
In a sense, I think we didn’t enjoy the campus life to a large extent, but it was part of our learning experience.
The best part was that since we had 70+ students from all over the world who had been selected from the best, they had told us on day one itself that we have the ability to become future leaders.
A lot of candidates had a lot of experience. During classes while discussing cases we would often hear people say that they had worked on that case, or they had appeared in that case, and we got a first-hand account from them on what happened behind the scenes, making it a lively discussion.
We also had seminar courses which consisted of smaller group of students in a round table discussing the topics. We were given reference materials which we would read and then give each of our opinions.
This helped me grow personally, something that nobody can take away from me. You may know, learn stuff even by staying in India but the kind of personal growth that I had every day, every moment, was something that will forever stay with me and I would say that it is worth it.
Lastly, do you have any advice for an Indian graduate who wants to pursue his/her Master’s degree, especially in the area of Human Rights?
My advice would be that if you are going for Human Rights then, of course, there is no better place than Essex. There are also some countries where the government offers special scholarships only if you are going to Essex. In India, unfortunately, there is not that much awareness.
Malcolm Shaw was the first director of the Human Rights Centre which is the oldest human right centre, and I managed to meet him because [the Centre] was celebrating 30 years that year.
So Malcolm Shaw himself had come!.
You need to be confident about expressing your opinion. You need to start networking from the beginning, and remain open to opportunities. You can always professors after looking at their profiles, and telling them about your career-related interests or problems.
There is no need to be shy as they are very responsive and will guide you.
You should be open to learning from the very beginning otherwise you don’t even know how one year passes. Do not only focus on academics but also look for opportunities.
Also, you can ask your classmates what they have been doing and if they can help you in any manner.
All of this really does help.
(Prakhar Rathi is a law student Aligarh Muslim University, and a mentee at the UPeksha Mentorship Programme)