Anjali Rawat is a graduate from the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research( NALSAR) , Hyderabad who went on to pursue BCL from Oxford University, completing the course this year. She is a proud Oxonian and is planning a career in academics.
This interview was conducted by Faiza Khanum who is a final-year law student (BA-LLB) from University Law College, Bangalore and a part of the UPeksha Mentorship Programme.
Hello Anjali, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your accomplishments ?
It’s more like an endeavour than an accomplishment. I was born and brought up in Rishikesh, a small town in Uttarakhand. I completed my schooling there from ISC Board in 2010. After that, I cleared CLAT in 2010 and went on to pursue law at NALSAR. After graduation I joined ICICI Bank as a legal manager. At one point I realised that my main interest areas are family law, constitutional law and human rights law and I could not envision myself working long term as a banking and finance lawyer.
Therefore, I applied for judicial clerkship under Justice. L Nageswara Rao in the Supreme Court and had an enriching experience working as his law clerk and research assistant for 13 months in 2018-19.
Subsequently, I joined Oxford University for my BCL program in October 2019 funded by the Dr. (Mrs.) Ambriti Salve Scholarship instituted by Mr. Harish Salve at Exeter College, University of Oxford.
What was your motivation for doing BCL from Oxford University ? How did you decide the university and your area of specialization ?
I had applied to a couple of universities in US but in UK I had applied only to Oxford. The BCL program at University of Oxford attracts some of the best law graduates and I decided to pusue it both because of the repute of the course as well as the prospect of studying under some of the best academics and professors in family law, human rights law and socio-legal studies.
The Bachelor of Civil Laws programme (BCL) offered by the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford is a generic masters program in law which lets you choose from a broad range of subjects. I was interested in family law, constitutional law and human rights so I selected modules in these areas more specifically comparative human rights and equality law, children and family laws, and law in society.
My primary motivation for pursuing BCL was to take up a career in academics for which masters and research degrees are a must. I want to teach family law. For me, a post graduation degree like BCL was not just a prerequisite but something that would enhance my knowledge on the subject.
How did you prepare your BCL application ? When did you start and what were the challenges that you faced while applying for BCL ?
The applications for US universities usually close in November-December. Amongst the UK schools, applications for Cambridge close in December and for Oxford, in January. I started preparing in September 2018, which gave me adequate time for preparing my application for Oxford.
I would, however, recommend that prospective aspirants start much earlier than that.
Having extra time would certainly helps with the administrative aspects of the application process and and leave time for improvements based on feedback from friends and professors. One of the biggest challenges is to arrange letters of recommendations (LORs) and finalize a refined statement of purpose (SOP) which one thinks truly represents them and their ambitions and motivations to pursue graduate studies in law.
In terms of your application, I would say that there are two major components – SOPs and LORs for which the applicants would need to approach their college professors or employers. A CV is also part of most admissions applications and should be a crisp 2-3 page statement of one’s major academic and professional work.
For Oxford, apart from the aforementioned things, there is a requirement to submit a writing sample/ essay of 2,000 words. Each of these components should be given equal attention as they are equally important in strengthening one’s application.
How many Universities do you think an applicant should apply to, in order to secure an admission ?
I had applied to five universities. A big factor in these applications is the cost involved. Each application costs around 100 dollars/pounds which is a heavy expenses. Ultimately, each individual should decide the universities as per their interest areas, repute, cost, etc. and how serious they are about pursuing the masters program at the particular university in question.
Having said that, more options give you the flexibility to choose another university if you are not accepted into the ones you were hoping for. The basic work to be done for these applications is similar – CV, SOPs, LORs.
With a few modifications, the application should be personalized based on the university and the courses one is interested in applying to.
Around 5-6 applications should be manageable as they would be spread over a few months.
What do you think made your application standout ?
Oxford is a traditional university which gives a lot of importance to the applicant’s academic record. Thus, my consistent academic performance was definitely a factor that helped me get into Oxford.
However, different universities have different criteria and some universities are happy to overlook academic performance if one can display dedication to a certain area of law through non-academic ways such as work experience, extra-curriculars, amongst others.
Oxford does have a bias towards good academic performance (requiring people to be in the the top ten percent of their class) but if one works to strengthen the other aspects and have a well-rounded application, it should work out for the applicant.
How was your experience at Oxford University? How is BCL different from other LLM programs ?
Oxford prides itself on the unique tutorial system alongside traditional lecture and seminar method of teaching. The tutorials give student a chance to interact with the professors closely by having them look at your essay and argumentation with personalised feedback.
So, for each module, I had a chance to attend 4-5 tutorials where I had the opportunity to discuss my learning and writing directly with my professors. This specialized attention makes the tutorial system at Oxford one of the key reasons for choosing Oxford.
Additionally, I love my stay in Oxford and walking through the historic city of Oxford certainly inspires confidence and motivation to do better in me. I was here through the entire pandemic and have seen the city at its busiest as well as completely empty. However, not to credit the beautiful buildings alone, my fellow students at Oxford are what have made my experience most memorable.
Did you take any assistance of a scholarship ? If , an applicant wants to apply for scholarship, how can he/she do that ?
Scholarship is a very important aspect of studying abroad because financially some of the masters courses are exorbitant and sometimes, particularly for international students. There are two kinds of scholarships – from the university itself and those which are sponsored by the UK/ Indian government or other non-governmental organizations.
The UK government offers Chevening and Commonwealth Scholarship famously and the US government offers Fulbright Scholarship. Some scholarships are instituted at the prestigious universities by famous personalities as well.
I was lucky enough to get the Ambriti Salve Scholarship which is specially provided for Indian students who have been accepted at the Oxford University to pursue the BCL program. For this, I am immensely grateful.
Other famous university based scholarships include Rhodes, Felix, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann and some law-specific ones such as Salve, Cornelia Sorabjee, HSA Advocates, Ratanshaw Bomanjee, BR Sawhney etc. at Somerville and Exeter colleges.
Several scholarship applications need to be made well in advance before the applications are due for the master’s program.
The applicants should keep track of the timelines for these different scholarships.
Why do you think foreign LLMs are so sought-after? What benefits do you get from them ?
The charm of foreign LLMs is because of the exposure you get both academically and culturally. One gets to study with a diverse cohort of students and under the guidance of top academicians and scholars. The experience is truly one in a lifetime.
You learn many new things by living independently and by interacting with people from different parts of the world. One witnesses a different culture altogether which helps in broadening of perspectives and expanding of one’s intellectual base.
How has the pandemic affected your BCL program at Oxford? If anyone were to plan on studying for LLM during the pandemic, what would you advise them to do?
This year has been a bit strange, nobody expected coronavirus to come and change our lives like this. We have a 3-term system at Oxford. My 3rd term was entirely affected by the pandemic. We shifted to online classes on Zoom and Teams as did the world.
Nothing changed in terms of the teaching however the closure of libraries made us entirely dependent on electronic sources. Though we had several online calls and meetings, it was nothing like actual social and academic interaction in person.I have had some of my most interesting conversations after class.
In class, of course, we have great discussions but the informal discussions after class allows one to engage with the topic without the formal constraints of a seminar.
We missed out on pre-exam group study as the pandemic meant that people could not gather together and most of the learning had to be done within the confines of our college accommodations. A large part of studying abroad is in the social and cultural experience which has been severely impacted by the pandemic.
If students are okay with missing on that, then I do not see why they the LLM cannot be pursued during the pandemic. In fact, because of the pandemic, students can focus their time on studies and make the most out of it.
What’s more, like me, you will get to say that when the pandemic struck, you were studying at Oxford (chuckles).
What are the pros and cons of doing LLM after gaining some work experience and directly after finishing LLB?
I thought of studying further only after gaining four years of work experience. The reason why I did that was because I wanted to acquire some savings before I started my academic journey again.
While it was clear that I wanted to pursue a teaching career, I also wanted to cover my base by gaining some practically exposure of the non-academic legal career. Thus, I worked for a few years before thinking of getting back to studies and starting the application procedure.
In my view, studying after working for a few years can be a very enriching experience since one has gained some practical knowledge of the workings of law. If one does an LL.M. right after finishing LLB/ BA LLB, one potentially misses out on the real life workings of legal world and related practical aspects.
On the other hand, starting an LLM right after undergraduate degree gives one the advantage of starting young.
Thus it is possible to argue for both sides.
What message would you like to give to all the other LLM aspirants ?
In addition to learning from the course, one should interact with your classmates, peers, professors a lot. Make the most of that one year you get and do not forget to have fun in the process. Explore as much as possible both academically and culturally.
What are your future plans ? What are you planning on doing next?
I have already started M.Phil in law at Oxford University itself. I would ideally want to pursue a D.Phil afterwards. In terms of my long-term plans, I want to teach family law especially highlighting the gendered aspects of the law. My research interest lies in the interaction between gender equality and religious personal laws.
However, it’s okay to not have a plan. Sometimes the whole point of doing an LLM is to get some clarity on what one wants to do. At the end of the day, one has to enjoy and love what one is doing.