First Person Accounts: Siddhartha Sarangal on the LLM at Stanford Law

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of law graduates who have pursued, or are pursuing, a post-graduate course (LL.M. or otherwise) from different universities across the world.

Siddhartha Sarangal

Siddhartha Sarangal is a 2015 graduate of National Law University Delhi.  After spending three years at Hotstar Disney (then Star), Siddhartha enrolled for the LLM in Law, Science and Technology at Stanford Law School graduating from Stanford in 2019. 

After the LLM, he joined Nitish Desai Associates, working in their Palo Alto office. Earlier this year, he founded his own consultancy  Red Cookie Consulting.

In this FPA, he discusses the reasons he applied to Stanford Law School, finding employment as a foreign law graduate in the US, making the most of the LLM experience, and a whole lot more. 

This is probably the one you get asked the most – how does one go about finding a job in the US after the LL.M.? What do you think worked for you?

 In my experience so far, and based on the experiences of those around me, I find that your network is the single most critical factor that leads to a job in the US after the LLM.

Each open position receives multiple applications and it is extremely cumbersome for a recruiter to assess each of the varied resumes against the job description.

A lot of employers use automated resume parsing and applicant tracking systems, which use machine learning to read a resume and decide whether to bump the candidate to the top of the list for a hiring manager.

These systems are notoriously difficult to get past apart from being extremely glitchy at times. Unfortunately, it falls on the candidate to find creative ways to land an interview – connections through previous employers, LinkedIn connections, or maybe even cold emails or reaching out over Twitter, etc. What worked for me – being targeted about my job search.

I wanted to come back to India and continue working in tech law and policy at Nishith Desai Associates. I was able to land that job through an LLM job fair organised by Columbia in New York. All opportunities since then have been through my network. 

Eventually my plans changed and I moved permanently to California instead.

Currently, I am working on building a consulting business, Red Cookie Consulting, that I founded earlier this year. We help seed and early stage tech startups around the world raise venture capital. We also help them design, implement, and enforce product and privacy policies, especially for startups that have vibrant user communities and voluminous user-generated content.

Going back to the LL.M., given your niche field of interest, what were some of the law schools you applied to? And why narrow down on Stanford? 

I am extremely interested in technology law and policy, so it made the most sense to apply to programs that offered specialzied courses in that field. I approached my boss and general counsel of Star India at the time, Mr. Deepak Jacob, for a recommendation letter to apply for a distance LLM from Edingburh.

He encouraged me to pursue a full-time LLM instead and strongly recommended the Law, Science, and Technology program at Stanford Law School.   

That led me to explore more full-time LLM programs based on three criteria: (a) either they offer a specialization in tech law or had consistently offered good tech law and policy courses by expert faculty in recent years; (b) flexibility to take courses outside of the law school; (c) are considered prestigious and have brand recognition.

Finally, I applied to only seven law schools in order of preference:

I was admitted to all except UChicago and Harvard but all I cared about was going to Stanford. 

Some reasons why I picked Stanford over the others:

1) Small class size: the LLM in Law, Science, and Technology program at Stanford only accepts about 15 students each year;

2) Stanford’s focus on an interdisciplinary education and allowing the LLM students to pick any number of courses outside the law school – I picked courses at the music department, the computer science department, the business school, the economics department, and the famous d.school;

3) Expert faculty who are at the forefront of their respective fields with one foot in academia and other in industry. Stanford’s faculty is integrated deeply within the tech ecosystem, serving as advisors and directors for many leading law firms and tech companies;

4) Stanford’s location in the heart of Silicon Valley;

5) Stanford’s location in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is gorgeous! 

What were some of the more challenging aspects of the LL.M. application process? With the benefit of hindsight, is there any part of the application that you would advise applicants to spend more time on?

I think the most challenging aspect of the LLM application process is knowing yourself. You are essentially selling yourself to the law school so you need to know what aspects of you make for the best sales pitch.

The law school admissions office wants to know your journey – how you got to where you are today and why you made the choices that brought you here; what your short term and long term goals are; what you think is lacking about you now that is stopping you from achieving some of these goals; why this particular program and this particular law school is best suited to help you get where you need to.

Some of these questions require you to take a pause and really think about yourself. And then there is the matter of presenting these thoughts on paper in a manner that is concise, effective, coherent, and persuasive – which requires excellent writing skills.

My advice is to spend the most amount of time on these aspects of the application, especially if you are targeting some of the top tier schools. I still apply some of my learnings from this process to help inform how we guide our clients to their next round of funding. 

With respect to the LLM itself, what were some of the more rewarding bits about the LLM experience? Again, with the benefit of hindsight, how has the LLM helped you in your professional growth?

The most rewarding bits about my LLM experience, and all of these helped me in my professional growth: 1) Rubbing shoulders with some of the most exceptional people I’ve met, in the LLM and beyond. People are brimming with ideas, passion, and drive. It’s very inspiring. People I’ve kept in touch with since then have helped me find opportunities in the tech industry; 2) Exposure to interdisciplinary education and how to use multiple disciplines to inform your decision making.

I set out to know more about fields of inquiry I didn’t even know existed. I was able to discover and study behavioral economics, design thinking, and the socio-political history of rock music. I also studied subjects that are allied to tech law and immensely interested me – big data analysis, coding and designing algorithms, policy analysis and implementation, etc.

Slightly off topic, but what made you take up the CIPP qualification? And again, any advice for prospective applicants? 

Signaling, primarily. I already do have background and experience advising tech companies with their privacy policies, processes, and helping them develop positions on public policy issues around privacy and data protection.

I have not found any real utility for the CIPP with job prospects, even though a few roles list CIPP as a preferred qualification. I do find it helpful when pitching to clients, who can rely on the certification to feel assured.

For prospective applicants – it is an expensive exam so decide carefully if you really need the certification. 

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

A master’s is not for everybody. You might be perfectly placed to achieve your short and long term goals without another degree. But if you decide to pursue one, especially outside India with the aim of landing a job afterwards, buckle up for the long haul and be prepared to face a lot of rejection despite your credentials.

But persevere because finding a job involves way more luck and hard work than one would think. During your degree program, talk to as many people as possible, preferably people who are as different from you as possible.

Take courses outside your comfort zone as much as you possibly can but make sure to maintain a coherent thread among all of them that allows you to connect the various dots. I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly valuable these last two things are. Lastly – have fun and travel! 

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