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.

Avantika Bhandari recently obtained an S.J.D. from Penn State University, and also holds an LL.M. (Class of ’15) from the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. In this FPA, the 2013 Amity Law School graduate discusses her journey as an S.J.D. candidate, international teaching practices that Indian law schools can adopt, and a whole lot more. 


Avantika Bhandari, SJD from Penn State University
Avantika Bhandari

Can you tell me a bit more about the SJD programme – when did you realise that this is what you wanted to do?

Generally speaking, S.J.D/J.S.D program is considered to be the most advanced law degree that is particularly suited for a candidate who wants to pursue careers in academia and scholars of law.

After completing my LLM, I joined Amity Law School as a teaching assistant to further my interest as a researcher and academic.

I taught the subject “Intellectual Property and Biodiversity,” an interdisciplinary subject focused on legal issues and their relationship with biotechnology and intellectual property rights.

I loved being in the classroom so much that I knew within a few months that I would enter academia and thus came the idea of pursuing S.J.D.

How did you use your time as an LLM candidate to prepare for the SJD? 

Honestly, I had no idea about an S.J.D during my LLM. It was only when I started teaching when I realized that a Ph.D would be a stepping stone in my career.

But, I would like to say the topic that I picked for my thesis (traditional knowledge, and patent law) started to snowball at the time of LLM. And as luck would have it, this was one of the topics that I taught extensively at Amity. 

But, I would like to add that generally law schools prefer candidates that have completed their LLM from their law schools. To me that was surprising because I don’t see this norm in other fields. 

Coming to the LLM, how was the experience at Franklin Pierce? What were some of the highlights of the course? 

Franklin Pierce was a memorable, exciting, and an eye-opening experience for me. Trust me, I can go on and on about my experience there. Because of such a wonderful experience, I knew I would return to the US to pursue further studies.

Franklin Pierce was an intense experience, because there was so much to read, learn, and absorb from a students’ view. I like the fact that school was so IP-focused, from Tech transfer to International IP courses, it covered everything that one could think of. And I really enjoyed that.

I particularly enjoyed patent law, IP Tech transfer & Global Development, and IP & Int’l Trade the most. I was interested in the policy, and international landscape, and it still continues to fascinate me.

Compared to the LLM, how was the SJD experience? Was it difficult to remain motivated during the entirety of the course? Any advice you would have for those considering a doctorate degree?

I will answer the second question first. Yes, in all honesty, it was difficult to stay motivated. Any Ph.D student that you talk to would say that writing could be the most difficult part, that’s because we have a tendency to postpone it.

That is why it is very important to create timely chapter-vice deadlines either by the university or by yourself. 

The S.J.D was an intense experience, and intellectually stimulating. I feel PhDs can be a lonely journey for many, including myself. While during the LLM one has batchmates and constant interaction, the S.J.D lacks that kind of structure. There will be times that the university selects 3-4 candidates or more, but mostly intakes are low. 

My advice to the aspiring candidates would be to start working on your applications as soon as you decide that you want to pursue S.J.D/J.S.D. The research proposal is one of the most time-consuming documents that takes months of hard work, so start writing as soon as you know your area of interest. 

You have also spent some time teaching in India – what are some of the best practices that you have observed in US law schools which you would like Indian law schools to adopt? 

That’s a good question.

    1. Interactive teaching: Most of the professors engaged in interactive methods of teaching, which made classroom learning fun, and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the Socratic method of teaching during patent law class, where the professor picked up a student and questioned them for a solid 10 mins. It was intimidating at first for international students, but it helped us become more confident. At least, it really helped me.

    2. Real-world experience: Clinical programs are deeply rooted in U.S law schools. Pretty much every law school has clinical programs that provide students with real-world legal experience assisting clients and communities. The clinic students may help clients in litigation, negotiate and mediate disputes, or at times even develop policy by drafting legislation. I believe that active clinical programs in every Indian law school would benefit students and our legal system.

    3. Networking: Legal field is all about networking, and US law schools truly embrace this fact. For instance, many law schools have career fairs, networking events, and guest speakers from law firms just so that students can interact. Moreover, the student career department in the universities are incredibly active in sharing job postings, and checking your resume and cover letters. Indian law schools need career departments that can help students get placed, I am sure many law schools have that but it’s still not a dominant practice.

    4. Diversity: Anyone who has been to the US for further studies would agree that diversity is what makes their experience more enriching and meaningful. Interaction with students hailing from different countries and cultures gives one perspective on other legal systems. I know it’s not fair to compare Indian law schools on the basis of diversity, but, diversity creates a meaningful impact.

Also, how do you think research and publications can be encouraged in Indian law schools?

Research and publications take time and patience. What I have observed is that the faculty has an insurmountable workload, teaching 3-4 hours coupled with preparing materials for the next day pretty much takes up a day. Research and publications then become the least of priority in the academic agenda. 

Secondly, there should be some kind of deadlines and/or track-keeping systems that faculty is producing at least 1-2 publishable papers. As far as students are concerned, it would be beneficial for them as well as the faculty to collaborate, it can be a win-win situation for both.

Lastly, I believe that creating an active policy and advocacy department in law schools will help bridge the gap between academia and lawmakers.

Academicians have years of knowledge obtained via constant research and study, and can make a huge impact on policy issues. 

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering studying outside the country? 

I believe that it would be very beneficial if the law graduate has some work experience in the area She/he wants to do an LLM, so that you’re absolutely sure that’s the field you want to be in.

Also, previous work experience can be beneficial when applying for jobs in law firms. (This is the unanimous advice given by LLM graduates)

Ask yourself: why an LL.M? 

For anyone wanting to pursue a doctorate,  I would say pick up a topic that you are passionate about, and make sure it has some relevance in today’s world (universities look for that), and just go for it.