First Person Accounts: Joshika Saraf on the LL.M. at SOAS + Clinical Legal Ed

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.

Joshika Saraf is a Lecturer (Clinical Legal Education) at the Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat. In 2019, she graduated with an LL.M. in Human Rights, Conflict and Justice at the School of Oriental & African Studies. 

In this FPA, she discusses the LL.M. application process, the importance of Clinical Legal Education in Indian law schools, and a whole lot more. 

Joshika Saraf (LL.M., SOAS)
Joshika Saraf (LL.M., SOAS)

SOAS is an extremely interesting choice – what made you consider this? What were some of the other schools, if any, that you applied to?

My journey at the law school shaped my interest in the human rights discourse. I was fortunate to have some amazing professors who helped me learn more about human rights throughout my five years of law school.

My decision to do an LLM was quite unplanned, to be honest.

And, by the time I made up my mind and applied for my masters, only SOAS along with a couple of other universities (Essex and QMUL) were accepting applications.

So, I ended up applying to all three. I got my results immediately after, and I was luckily accepted to all the three universities. 

However, what made me choose SOAS over others was their course structure which was apposite for my requirements. SOAS has an impressive faculty, and their works have always inspired me as they resonated with my domain, which revolves primarily around gender equality.

Additionally, the Human Rights Clinic and the prodigious library at SOAS left me with no other option but to accept the offer. 

With the benefit of hindsight, what advice would you give to law grads who are preparing their LL.M. applications? Anything you wished you had known when you were applying? 

  • Always apply early – this gives you enough time to understand the course structure as well as a university better. It also helps one to apply for scholarships.
  • Do not faff in your Statement of Purpose as the folx reviewing the application are way smarter that one thinks. Make sure that your statement reflects who you are (and not what you think the Admissions Board wants to read). Every single person is unique and you should emphasize that in your application.

  • Talk to the alumni of a university that you are interested in – as it puts a lot of things in perspective. 

How was the LL.M. experience itself? Again, with hindsight, what were some of the most rewarding aspects of the course?

As cliché as it sounds, my entire year was an amazing experience. I believe the most rewarding aspect of the course was the incredible people that I met, and the friends that I made throughout the year – many of which remain my closest friends to date.

Coming to the present, what got you to take up a teaching post at your alma mater? And is there anything that you are particularly looking forward to? 

After coming back from my master’s, I started working with the Centre for Justice, Law and Society (formerly known as the Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Technology) as a Research Fellow.

Gradually, I was promoted to the position of Research Associate, and finally my current position – Advocacy and Communication Coordinator. Since quite a few of my colleagues teach at JGLS, I would always be privy to conversations around their teaching experiences.

However, I never thought of teaching, until I saw a vacancy for the post of Clinical Lecturer.

I have been a part of Clinics before, but Clinical Legal Education (CLE) is not institutionalised in India as of yet. The advertisement of the said vacancy at JGLS strengthened my faith to build a case for institutionalisation of CLE. This is precisely what motivated me to take up this position at my alma mater. 

I have started teaching the Reproductive Justice and the Law Clinic to an exciting bunch of students, and I am particularly looking forward to a journey of exploration, learning, unlearning, reflecting, and enjoying the experiences that come along the way. 

What is your take on clinical legal education in Indian law schools? More specifically, do you think CLE should be given more importance? And how can teaching CLE be made more effective?

At the outset, I believe that Clinical Legal Education (CLE) is extremely important for any student to gain first-hand experience by creating a balance of both academic and vocational training. It aids in garnering essential skills such as fact finding, reflective learning, team work, research and writing, and empathic learning.Therefore, CLE helps in developing reflective practitioners and lifelong learners. 

Indian law schools, however, do not offer robust clinical legal programmes. There is a lack of an institutionalised approach towards CLE. Resultantly, there are multiple legal aid clinics in law schools, run by students with little or no supervision.

There is a need to give more importance to institutionalisation of clinics. 

There are various ways that can be adopted to make CLE more effective. One such way is to decolonize CLE, and further establish decolonial spaces.

Such spaces can be established through (i) story-telling and talking circles to advance new ways of learning laws (ii) open dialogue with students about their identities (iii) integrating critical decolonial theories, and (iv) student led classroom discussion.

Lastly, any advice for Indian law grads who are considering a master’s abroad? 

Plan ahead. Pursuing a master’s abroad is an investment, and it is also a stepping stone into the next direction in your career.

So, whether you decide to stay there after the completion of your degree, or plan to come back to India, make use of every single opportunity you can – to learn, to grow, and finally to have fun! 

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