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.
Tejas Mundley is a recent graduate of the LL.M. Finance at the Institute for Law & Finance. He enrolled for the course immediately after completing his undergraduate studies in law from HNLU Raipur in 2019. In this FPA, he talks about the importance of starting applications early, the LL.M. experience itself and much more.
How early on during your undergraduate studies did you know that you wanted to pursue a master’s degree?
I was always inclined towards pursuing a master’s degree because its value addition was something that was undisputed in my mind. The only question I had was – When?
So, I took the opportunity to speak to people who had already done their master’s during the initial years of law school. It was around the end of my penultimate year that I decided to apply for a master’s straight out of law school.
And once you did, how did you go about selecting just what to study and whereto study?
As regards what to study, it was fairly simple, I wanted to pursue a program which was related to financial laws, particularly banking and finance and capital markets. Having decided this, it was slightly tricky to decide where to do it because this field is quite broad and most universities have courses related to it.
What I wanted essentially was to keep my options open. This meant that possibilities of staying back after completion of my studies and flexibility of curriculum were very important criteria for me.
In that sense Germany seemed a very competitive option because of its visa regime and the job opportunities on offer. I always get a feeling that students often avoid options outside UK, USA and even Australia solely due to the language barrier but I feel EU especially has a lot of competitive courses to offer for those willing to overcome this arguably straightforward barrier!
One doesn’t even have to be very fluent in German for example, all you need is some basics, a willingness to learn and then let your surroundings do the work.
What made the IL&F stand out for you?
Course flexibility, close ties with the legal and financial industry, and the internship program. As a student without proper work experience, this was a great opportunity to explore different areas of law and concepts.
The course requirements for the LL.M. Finance program were such that one had to pass 12 courses out of a possible 20, with there being no particular requirement for number of courses to be selected in a semester. This meant that one could take 10 in the first and focus on doing an internship during the remainder of your course and not have too many classes / exams to worry about.
More importantly, the courses were structured in such a way that the winter semester courses functioned as building blocks for the summer semester courses which were more case-study based.
In terms of ties with the industry, the ILF courses are taught by mostly partners and legal heads at leading firms and companies such as Baker McKenzie, Allen and Overy, Allianz Global Investors, etc. This meant that not only did we learn from experienced professionals who could share their “war stories” thereby giving better practical perspectives to build on classroom learnings, but also had mentors who a lot of us worked under during their internships! Nothing captures the relation between theory and practice better if you ask me.
As regards the internship program, it is really one of a kind. I say so because during my application process, a lot of alumni from other universities shared how difficult it was to find an internship abroad, especially when you are not qualified in that jurisdiction.
The internship process is worth its weight in gold for me because we get to choose from the crème de la crème of the financial sector and the sending of applications, coordination of interviews, etc. is all done by a dedicated internship coordinator at the ILF, Ms. Heidi Quoika, who was always available to lend an ear to our concerns during the process and allay many of our fears / reservations regarding where to apply.
I ask this of as many people as I can – any advice on going about the application documents like the personal statement? In hindsight, anything that you would have done differently?
Despite the benefit of hindsight, I would say that I wouldn’t have done my applications any differently. I feel that the key here is to start early. The application documents require a lot of creativity and reviewing, which is straightforward only when you adhere to strict timelines. I had narrowed down on ILF around June, 2018 and the admissions cycle began in November, 2018. The period in between was used to find the right professors who could give me recommendations and to customize my SOP to what the ILF required.
There were also some administrative tasks like getting my transcripts notarized, etc. which proceeded side-by-side. I feel that LORs are still straightforward, with the only challenging task being to find the most relevant referees.
The personal statement though was a different ball game altogether. It took me a lot of thinking to make it such that it was not a bland rephrasing of my CV, which I feel is crucial. As LLM admissions are without an interview, I feel its helpful to think of personal statements as a 5-minute presentation about yourself to the admissions committee. This really helps you find the right approach and the right content for your statement.
Additionally, it goes without saying that reviews from others who have gone through LLM admissions processes is of utmost importance because it always helps you find different approaches and different viewpoints, which you can then use to further enrich your draft.
How was the LL.M. experience itself? Looking back, what are some of the substantial differences in the learning experience between your undergraduate studies and the master’s course?
The LL.M. was a challenging, thrilling and fun-filled journey to say the least. The pandemic did put a dampener on many plans for the summer semester, however, credit goes to the ILF for ensuring that courses proceeded as per plan.
More than that, they even organised fun events like a virtual wine tasting where we were informed about different aspects of wine, what to eat it with etc. whilst drinking wine delivered to us at home! It was a great event and just went to show how efficiently the administration functioned in order to make sure the students had a good time outside courses despite the significant challenges of a raging pandemic.
Coming back to the courses, I feel the difference lies entirely in the approach. My undergraduate studies, like those at most Indian universities, were quite theory-focused. There was great attention paid to details which seldom have practical application and that was where the master’s was a breath of fresh air.
We never studied/focused on definitions, theories, etc. Whatever concepts we learnt were towards one goal only – how do you put this in an agreement?
On a similar note, what were some of the teaching practices at IL&F that you think Indian law schools ought to implement?
Use of case-studies, definitely. I loved this approach at the ILF because they were basically structured like a moot problem of sorts and one had to answer queries from a fictional client. This not only trained us to think like an associate but also made sure we had a firm grasp on concepts without a need to rote learn.
A good example of this is our investment banking course. We had a few weeks of learning on IPOs and underwriting, at the end of which, we were given drafts of an underwriting agreement, an agreement among underwriters, and a letter of engagement.
This was followed by discussions in class about how to approach negotiations of these agreements and the sticky points therein and we were invited to provide reasoned suggestions as to why clauses should be worded differently. This brought forth a plethora of ideas backed by experience of my colleagues from different jurisdictions and served as a great workshop of sorts, for all of us.
Lastly, any advice for the law graduate who is considering a foreign master’s?
As is repeated ad nauseum about LLMs, do not go expecting a job to be waiting for you at the end of your studies. LLMs are always a gamble (for want of a better term) and its entirely your decision about what you end up doing afterwards.
I would say do not take too much stress about your studies and take out time to hang out with your colleagues, visit new places, meet the locals and understand their attitudes and approaches towards life.
I have had the opportunity to see a lot of Germany during the past year and I have met absolutely fantastic individuals during this time who have enriched my experience at both a personal and professional level! The journey is definitely worth it.