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.
Henaa Mall is currently enrolled in the LL.M. course at the University of Toronto, a programme she took up nearly thirteen years after completing an LL.B. from Campus Law Centre at the University of Delhi. In fact, this is her second LL.M; she also completed an LL.M. from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
In this interview, Henaa shares a few thoughts on her journey so far, starting a language school for the underprivileged, the master’s course at UoT, and a whole lot more.
Let’s start with your first law degree – the LLB at Campus Law Centre. Did you ever consider applying for the integrated degree? Looking back, how do you think your undergraduate degree helped you in the study of law?
I finished my schooling in the year 2001 and back then there weren’t many integrated degree programmes. I wrote the entrance exams for Amity and Symbiosis and did clear them both. Fortunately, I had scored well in my 12th grade and sought admission in Political Science Honors from Hindu College, Delhi University.
Not only it is one of the most coveted courses, but it is also one of the most prestigious colleges in India and I did not want to give up on the opportunity to ‘feast’ on what it had to offer.
Also, back then I was torn between journalism and law and I wanted to take my time to organically make that choice. I had interned with NDTV in 2002 when it was the English news desk of Star News and then worked with a Standing Counsel at the High Court of Delhi. It was during these experiences during my undergraduate programme, that I finally decided to pursue law.
Additionally, the concepts I studied as a liberal arts student helped me understand law through the lens of political science and that proved to be invaluable for me both as a law student and a legal practitioner. What I learnt during my undergraduate programme continues to influence me in my decision-making process till today.
Five years after your LLB degree, you opted for an LL.M. at Symbiosis Law School in Pune – again, what were some of the reasons behind opting for this course? Why did you choose to study at SLS?
I wanted to get into academics after being a corporate lawyer for over five years. Back in 2012, status of a foreign LL.M was not clear with regard to being eligible for teaching in India. Therefore, I decided to err on the side of caution and pursued my post graduate studies in India.
When that decision was taken, I had to select the academician under whom I wanted to study.
The journey of Dr. Shashikala Gurpur inspired me a lot and I wanted to learn from her. SLS, thus, became the most obvious choice for me.
Since then, you have worked in a number of fields including starting your own language school! What were some of the most challenging aspects of building a language school? And what have been some of the learnings made along the way?
Henaa’s Language School (HLS) is a not-for profit initiative where we make ‘English’ and ‘French’ available to the underprivileged students. I started HLS with my partner – S. Gunaseelan and with the help of my sister – Ravisha Mall. Apart from catering to students, we have special programmes for homemakers and those aspiring to go abroad and do not have the financial bandwidth to do so.
HLS was born in April 2018. At that time, I was undergoing severe trauma on the personal front and it became a source of solace for me. It taught me that the best way to heal is to help those who aren’t as fortunate as I am. Over the last three years, we have taught over 300 students and each one of those students has reaffirmed my faith in my ambition of removing the elitist air around foreign languages.
The most challenging aspect of establishing a language school is to convince parents to allow their children to study English. Most people stress on subjects like Maths and Science at the cost of English. I have spent hours counselling parents on the importance of allowing their children to learn English for we are living in a world where communication acts as a glue.
As a part of this initiative, I started writing columns in a local newspaper to make English available to those who couldn’t travel to our location. This compelled me to open two more branches and in less than two years we were successfully running three centres along with having an active online presence. When Covid-19 hit, it was not difficult for us to transition given that we had already tapped into the online space as early as 2018. This taught me how important it is to stay relevant at all times.
Establishing HLS is by far my most satisfying experience.
You are currently completing an LL.M. at the University of Toronto – why another LL.M. and why at UoT? How different has this experience been compared to, say the LL.M. at SLS?
An LL.M is the safest way to understand the law of a country where you are planning to plant your roots as a lawyer.
I was crystal clear about the University of Toronto (UoT). I never intended to go to any other law school because you have to be among the best legal minds in order to see where you stand, and while many would consider it a waste of time, energy and resources, I see university experience as the gentlest introduction to any country.
My experience at UoT is very different from the one I had at SLS and I say this because of two reasons – first, I was at SLS for two years and had an entire semester dedicated to legal methodology and dissertation that honed my research and writing skills. It was supervised very closely by my mentor – Dr. Bindu Ronald who was extremely generous with her time and expertise whereas at UoT my LL.M is for a period of nine months and I am required to pack a lot in this short a time; and second, the academic process at UoT is an ongoing one.
You are required to read the prescribed reading before you sit in a class because classes are all about discussing the readings and class participation. In fact, class participation constitutes about 10%-15% of your term end evaluation.
I enjoy studying and therefore, both the approaches, albeit vastly different, contribute massively towards enhancing your knowledge acquisition and application.
A lot of law graduates are interested in settling down in Canada – any advice on how they ought to go about it?
Practice of law in Canada is not what we are used to in India. My first suggestion, therefore, would be to fully acquaint yourself with the process, the cost implications and time required for the same. It is an extremely long and arduous process, but at the same time, it is highly gratifying. To be a lawyer is a privilege and therefore, it must be earned with utmost dedication.
My second suggestion would be to search for mentors. There are multiple ways to connect with existing law students, articling students and lawyers in Canada. Reach out to them, ask for their time and pay attention to every single word that they say.
This will help you in two ways – one, it will accelerate the process of breaking into the legal community in a country where you are completely new; and second, you will gain an insight into their journey which means you can chart out yours without committing the same mistakes as they did.
Finally, keep yourself abreast with the developments that are taking place on the shores of Canada – keep an eye on the changes in the immigration requirements, programmes and policies.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
Be prepared to give your 100% and then some more. It is a competitive process, and you are required to bring forward your A-game every single day. Brush up your basic concepts, understand the requirements of a common law jurisdiction and work on your reading habit. It is important to be fearless in your pursuit of excellence and never take ‘no’ for an answer.
A rejection letter from a university shouldn’t sit in your inbox – ask the admission coordinator on what you could have done better to earn a place in their university; connect with the present students; tap into social media aggressively by joining the relevant Facebook groups; read sample statements of purpose and see how you can improve yours – stay authentic and keep at it.