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.
Arpit Mallick recently completed the International Dispute Resolution LL.M. at the Humboldt University of Berlin. A graduate of Campus Law Centre at Delhi University, Arpit worked for a few years before enrolling for the master’s course. In this FPA, Arpit shares his reasons for choosing this particular LL.M., the IDR LL.M. experience itself, and a whole lot more.
At what stage did you decide to pursue an LL.M.? And were you always planning to pursue an LL.M. specialising in IDR?
I developed an interest in international dispute resolution (IDR) while pursuing my LL.B. Degree at Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi, but it was during my internship at Delhi International Arbitration Centre (DIAC) that I decided to pursue an LL.M. specialising in IDR.
Moreover, international dispute resolution and more specifically international arbitration is not part of the standard law school curriculum. However, it is a broad and thriving international legal market and a specialised LL.M. program conveys the theory and teaches the skills necessary to excel in that market.
Being a member of various young international arbitration communities such as Young ICCA, YIAG and Young MCIA enabled me to network with leading international arbitration practitioners whose valuable insights provided me with much needed clarity on how to embark on a career in international dispute resolution.
My further professional experiences with arbitration and dispute resolution only strengthened my resolve to explore the field of IDR and gain an international perspective.
How did you go about selecting just where to apply? What were some of the schools that you shortlisted?
Firstly, I researched on the best LL.M. Programs specialising in IDR and shortlisted the Universities. I went through the Global Arbitration Review (GAR) Ranking and got in touch with the alumni for their honest reviews and feedback about the programs.
Secondly, I applied to MIDS Geneva, Queen Mary University of London and Humboldt University of Berlin. Besides, I had also shortlisted Stockholm University, University of Hong Kong and Tsinghua University Beijing each offering top-rated specialised LL.M. programs in IDR across the globe.
However, I did not apply to any of these since I had already received admission offers from Queen Mary University of London and Humboldt University of Berlin by then.
There were many decisive factors that influenced my decision to join the IDR LL.M. program at Humboldt University of Berlin: the well-structured curriculum of the program taught by a mix of law professors and leading practitioners, the learning and networking opportunities, guest seminars and workshops by international professionals, the unquestionable reputation of the University, the high quality of teaching, the exclusivity of a small class size, the various internship opportunities that the program offers and the financial considerations.
What were some of the expectations you had from the LL.M. experience?
I expected an academically challenging and exciting year pursuing the IDR LL.M. in the beautiful city of Berlin, which turned out much more than I had imagined. Besides, I expected that being exposed to different system of legal education would bring its own set of challenges, which soon manifested into a multicultural outlook of both common law and civil law jurisdiction which is so critical in the realm of international arbitration.
I expected the curriculum to be demanding and rigorous.
Instead, the curriculum was well structured and the lectures were evenly spread across the week. In hindsight, I believe this allowed me to learn and grow, and gain and contribute to the views and insights of my colleagues and friends. The sheer international diversity of the LL.M. class offered enormous networking and socialising opportunities throughout the year. Each day of the LL.M. brought new episodes and perspectives and the pandemic only brought us more stronger and closer together.
Lastly, I expected to expand my network of friends. I not only accomplished this, but made fantastic friends for life. This is important in the life of an international lawyer for you never know when you might need any professional help in another jurisdiction in the future.
I started the LL.M. expecting a great academic experience, and now I find myself part of the IDR LLM family!
Any advice on how to go about the application process itself? More specifically, on sourcing recommendation letters from faculty?
It is important to initiate the whole process of shortlisting and applying to the LL.M. programs at least six months in advance. This avoids last minute stress of arranging for academic transcripts, review of the Letter of Motivation/Statement of Purpose, seeking letters of recommendation or more crucially, missing the scholarship deadlines.
In addition, different law schools might have slightly different documentary requirements so starting early accounts for some buffer time and provides a head start.
There were two letters of recommendation required for the IDR LL.M. which I believe is more or less the practice across other LL.M. programs as well. Ideally, one letter should be from an academic referee while the other should be from a professional practitioner whom you have worked with. But in case of a fresh undergraduate, both the letters of recommendation can be from academic referees. My advice would be to seek a referee who you share a good equation with and can provide a strong recommendation for your candidature.
I personally believe a persuasive and compelling narrative in your recommendation letter is more vital than a big referee name.
Did you apply for/receive financial aid?
I did not apply for financial aid. Given the very small size of the LL.M. class and relatively low tuition fees, the option of obtaining a tuition fees waiver is made as a very special exception. However, there exist other external scholarship opportunities which one can explore.
How was the LL.M. experience itself? What were some of the most rewarding aspects of the course?
The LL.M. experience by far exceeded my expectations. I would personally recommend the IDR LL.M. program because it provides the student a tailor-made combination of both theoretical knowledge and practical skills of international dispute resolution necessary to meet the sophisticated demands of the global legal market.
We had modules on mediation, adjudication, negotiation, international commercial arbitration, international investment arbitration and EU private international law. The ICC Arbitration Rules and DIS Rules were taught by leading counsels from these institutions who provided a comparative perspective which is very useful in practice. But most of the times, our teachers instruct us to think outside of the box.
We had soft skills training in Oral and Written Advocacy where we were taught on how not to only focus on substance but also in all the other elements that involve a dispute resolution.
In my view, it is essential to be a great writer and to be a great speaker so your language skills and your drafting skills are really essential. And then you need some analytical capabilities in order to assess the facts. The module on Academic Writing trained us to proactively analyse and draw-up an individual dispute strategy for the particular case at hand. A Master Thesis to write and defend in oral examination allowed students to deepen their knowledge and conduct research in a specific area of their interest.
Further, our class is a very small size class with 25 international students from 23 different countries. This exclusivity created a stimulating and unique learning environment where we can benefit from direct contact and discussion with the lecturers. I can say that we are more of a family than a class. Also, Berlin is such a beautiful and multicultural city and as a student you can enjoy the most out of it.
I found the whole experience very rewarding and I couldn’t have finished the IDR LL.M. on a higher note than being conferred with ‘Best Student’ award for outstanding performance.
What is your reading of the employment opportunities that such an LL.M. affords?
In general, the benefits of an LL.M. vary depending on the legal culture where you’re hoping to practise. In civil-law jurisdictions in western Europe, most firms consider an LL.M. essential.
If you want to practise in Germany, your chances of being hired without an LL.M. are very limited.
That said, the IDR LL.M. offers a wide spectrum of legal and networking opportunities with leading practitioners of the international arbitration world. Furthermore, the guest lectures every week provides broad exposure to different niche application areas of international arbitration.
In such an environment, it is not difficult to find valuable internship opportunities with these experienced professionals. Subsequently, with a right approach and strategy, these internships may be converted into a future position.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
An LL.M. is never a bad thing, but I would highly recommend a specialised LL.M. over a general LL.M. A specialised LL.M. degree from a top or well-known law school may give you the edge. There are several international arbitration lawyers doing wonders who might not have done so without a specialised master’s degree.
The more specialised the program, the better it’s going to be regarded. So, if one institution has an amazing arbitration program, it would be wise to choose this over another top law school where its arbitration offering may be less substantial.
There’s now a plethora of arbitration courses for students to choose from and it’s hard for a student to have a sense of where to go. One important variable is the level of specialisation that the program offers.
Many LLMs label themselves as arbitration-focused but turn out to include a relatively small number of arbitration-related courses. Before applying, students should search for details about how many arbitration courses there are and who teaches them. The presence of big names from the international arbitration world coupled with a small size of the class offers a fantastic opportunity to learn from and network with arbitration luminaries.
Lastly, having a couple of years of prior professional experience before applying for LL.M. is imperative for it helps to effectively choose and focus on the specific branch of law that one enjoys working in and wishes to delve further.