First Person Accounts: Heli Pathak on the Public International Law LL.M. at Leiden University

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.

Heli Pathak is a 2014 law graduate of Nirma University, who enrolled for the LL.M. in Public International Law at Leiden University in 2015. In this FPA, she discusses how she went about selecting where to apply, the application process itself, the benefits of the LLM as a working professional, and a whole lot more. 

 

Heli Pathak

At what point of time did you decide that PIL was a field of law you were interested in? And on this basis, what were some of the schools you shortlisted for your LLM?

It was in my undergraduate studies itself, that I had decided I wanted to pursue a Masters Degree. There were no specific goals with which I was pursuing LLB degree, and participating in co-curricular activities helped me understand my skill sets.

Our college had a Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Center, and out of curiosity I attended their meetings. That’s when I really got interested in Public International Law and Refugee crisis. Also all thanks to my professors, they recommended a lot of extra reading material for the same.

In order to realize my interest, I attended courses at ISIL (Indian Society for International Law) and started picking out internships to match my interests. I interned at AALCO (Asian-African Legal Consultancy Organization), NHRC (National Human Rights Commission), etc. to name a few. That’s when I decided I wanted to assimilate further information in this field and started researching my options by talking to people and reading research papers pertaining to this field.

Choosing a school for this course was very easy, because of the fact, that I had already narrowed down the subject of my interest and because its a very niche area, there weren’t many options. Because I talked to people at my internships/extra courses and read research papers on the subject, I had the benefit of limiting my options based on the limited authority in Public International Law domain, particularly Humanitarian Law.

So, I chose only 3 colleges to apply to i.e.

  • Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights
  • Advanced Studies Program in Public International Law at Leiden University
  • MA in International Law and Settlement of Disputes at UN University of Peace

 

What made you narrow down on the Leiden LLM? What were some of your expectations from the LLM?

All the three Universities were premier ranking in the field of International Humanitarian Law, and I got accepted in all three of them. But it all came down to cost of living, tuition fee and capacity to be absorbed as a professional at the earliest. The location was also something of prime importance.

Personally, the LLM at Leiden for a legal professional is a dream come true because of its proximity to The Hague-International Court of Justice. And precisely for this reason, I chose the LLM at Leiden and also for the reason that it had some of the best faculty in this field, in terms of actual working professionals coming to teach us.

My expectations from the LLM, was just to learn as much as possible along with honing my researching skills and to a certain extent get an insight into working in the field with this knowledge.

 

Any advice on the LLM application process? Looking back, what were some of the more challenging aspects of the application?

My advice would be to first clear your intent for receiving  a masters degree. I think the question I asked myself again and again was “Why do you want to do it?” so that I did not waiver from my goal.

During the application process, I was tempted to apply to more colleges and at times I doubted myself that whether I would get in any of these places at all. I used to also think, if not any one of these three then what after? But I pacified myself with the thought that if not any, then I would apply the following year. I already was working at that time and for me the purpose of my LLM was clear.

In terms of challenges, the biggest obstacle I faced was, absolute lack of guidance. No one I knew, was pursuing this specific degree, whom I could ask questions pertaining to preparing application, writing an SOP, career options, etc.

In 2015, social media/professional network on internet was still at a very nascent stage, so connecting with people in this field was not as easy as it is now.

 

Did you apply for/receive financial aid?

Yes, I did apply for Student Education Loan from a bank, which was the most difficult part of the process. I was granted the same as well after crossing various hurdles.

 

How was the Leiden LLM experience itself? Were your expectations met?

The Leiden LLM was an overall extremely enriching experience. The course itself was very demanding with regard to academics, but in that span of a year, I can safely say that not only did I acquire knowledge but sharpened my research skills.

My expectations were 100% met and it was in consonance with my professional growth.

With the benefit of hindsight, how have you seen the LLM help in your own professional and personal growth? For instance, as a judicial clerk, have you found the LLM experience helping you manage workload?  

In hindsight, I sub-consciously acquired skills which have helped me immensely in all the jobs I took up. Some of them are:

  • Deadline pressure: In the LLM course, the mode of teaching was very non-traditional (as compared to India). So instead of conducting conventional written exams, many of the subjects had paper submissions and take home exams. These forms of assessment pushed our limits and helped me form well researched, fact based legal opinions in a very limited time.
    As a judicial clerk, for my employer to carry out his function of speedy disposal of cases, I have to assist him with very thorough and detailed research notes, which are multidimensional as well.

  • Networking: Because the LLM course itself was non-traditional, within the coursework, we were encouraged to interact with the professors, visiting faculty and the alumni. These interactions helped me in connecting with people and maintain healthy professional relationships.

  • Attention to detail: In the masters program, the faculty pushed us to have a microscopic view of each and every issue that was presented to us. This helped me in forming a subjective and objective view with an exhaustive analysis covering all facets of the issue at hand.

 

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?

My advice would be to make a reasoned, calculated and thorough decision before pursuing a master’s degree abroad. Such courses are highly professional in nature it depends on the individual, as to how much advantage can you siphon out of it. Try and talk to as many people as possible to be guided in the right direction or meet your goals in the most effective manner.

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