First Person Accounts: Manan Shishodia on the UPenn LLM

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 (an LLM or otherwise) from different universities across the world.

Manan Shishodia on the UPenn LLM
Manan Shishodia

Manan Shishodia graduated with a BA LLB from Jindal Global Law School in 2017. After spending a year clerking in the Supreme Court, he moved to litigation and dispute resolution focusing on commercial law. In 2021, Manan enrolled for the LLM at University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

In this FPA, he discusses the LLM application process, making the most of the LLM experience, and a whole lot more. 

Alright, before getting into the LLM, I wanted to ask you about the clerkship you did under Rohinton J. – how was this experience, and did it push you towards enrolling for a Master’s? 

I was very fortunate to work under the tutelage of Justice Nariman. It has certainly been one of the most educative experiences.

Working with a judge entails many advantages. The biggest being an opportunity to work on a plethora of subject areas – including civil, criminal, commercial and constitutional cases. Doing the clerkship straight out of law school, helped me get a bird’s eye view of many such areas of law and understand cases from a ‘neutral’ perspective. This enabled me to make an informed decision of the area I want to practice and pursue my further studies in.

I worked extensively on bankruptcy and arbitration cases. As I developed a keen interest in those areas, I was naturally drawn to study those subjects in more depth and pursue a Master’s at some point.      

At what point of time did you start considering applying for a foreign LLM? And what were some of the schools you shortlisted? 

I applied for my LLM after working for three years. At that point, my thinking was that I had garnered sufficient work experience to have a nuanced understanding of the Master’s program and cope up with its rigours.

I had also thought that I should not delay my pursuit any further as it becomes increasing difficult to pursue a Master’s with every passing year.

I had only shortlisted three schools – Berkeley, Penn and Harvard. This was primarily because of the renowned faculty in these colleges for commercial law (Berkeley and Penn) and disputes/ litigation (Harvard and Penn).

Continuing on, what were the factors that got you to narrow down on Penn Law? 

My foremost decision to narrow down on Penn was – Mr. Gary Born, a renowned arbitration counsel and arbitrator. While working on commercial arbitrations in India, I had often read and cited Gary Born’s commentary and papers. Getting an opportunity to sit in his Investment Law Arbitration class (along with Mr. William Burke-White) was a dream come true.

In addition, Penn is a highly sought-after school for commercial laws because of its renowned faculty and active initiatives in that area specifically.

Another major reason was class size. Penn has a smaller class size of 115-130 vis-à-vis other colleges where its anything ranging from 180-300. For these reasons, it was the obvious choice.

Was it difficult making the switch from a legal practitioner to an LLM candidate? Any challenges faced during this transition?

Yes, it was quite challenging to make this transition. One is obviously because I was not attuned to giving exams in the last three years.

However, the transition process is enjoyable and the learning experience becomes substantially better when you are able to couple your practical experiences as a practitioner with what is being taught in the classroom.

There is a lot to unlearn and the method of teaching in USA is largely socratic. One of the challenges is definitely adjusting to this extensive application-based form of learning but it’s a very joyous experience.

One of the challenges many LLM candidates face is managing their time during a (relatively) short course – any advice on how one can go about making the most of the LLM experience? More specifically, how does one go about applying for an RA position? 

My advice will be to seize every opportunity in your field that comes your way.

For instance, as my area is commercial arbitration – I joined as a Board Member of International Arbitration Association at Penn Law and was a Research Assistant to Professor William-Burke White who had taught me Investment Law and Arbitration in the first semester of law school.

Most law schools have very active societies that organise conferences and events. One can make the most of LLM experience by being a part of these societies that enables you to interact with Professors and practitioners.

In addition, I highly recommend being associated with the Moot Court competitions – as a University Team Coach or a Judge/Arbitrator.

The process to apply for a RA position was simple. I was taught Investment Treaty Arbitration by Professor William Burk-White in the first semester. In my second semester, I wrote to him about a few research questions that I prepared during my study. I had also expressed my interest in assisting him with any of his ongoing research projects.

As luck would have it, he had delegated some research work to me and that association continued till the end of the semester.

You devoted quite some time to moot courts (Jessup and Vis-Vienna) while at UPenn – what were some of the motivations involved here, and how do you think this benefited you?

The motivation was primarily my avid interest in mooting which I pursued during law school. Even after graduating from law school in 2017, I have been involved in judging many domestic moot court competitions in India.

The skillset that one develops from moot court competitions is relevant for litigation in general. Being associated with two most prestigious moots during my LLM, helped me build a stronger profile for seeking jobs in the area of disputes/litigation in USA.

In all my interviews, I was asked many questions about my experience of judging Jessup. I can certainly assure you that Jessup is a great conversation starter with Partners of reputed law firms as it is the most prestigious moot court competition in the world.     

More importantly, the experience of judging Jessup and Vis Vienna yielded an enormous benefit, both in expanding my knowledge of international law and arbitration and in practicing approaching legal problems in a very balanced and contemplative way that is unique to the role of a judge.

I had the opportunity to interact with senior practitioners, some of whom with over 20 years of legal experience. This presented both, an incentive to work hard and an opportunity to learn.

What is your reading of the kind of employment opportunities that an LLM opens up in the US?

Since my background is in Commercial Litigation and Arbitration, my answer will be specific only to that area.

As an LLM graduate, it is certainly very difficult to secure a job in litigation/disputes. The pool of candidates (both JD and LLM) trying to get a job in Litigation or disputes is very large. Litigation/ Disputes seems to be the top most choice for most of the students.

Naturally,  JD candidates are given more preference.

LLM candidates must be really focused from Day 1 to build a strong resume and ensure that they don’t leave out any opportunity which comes their way.

The journey for securing a job in disputes/litigation is replete with failures, rejections and disappointments. It is an important lesson in persistence and not losing hope till the last day.

My advice would be to reach out to your former employers who can make the necessary introductions to the Partners of law firms. If you have worked with foreign law firms earlier in a particular case or arbitration or transaction, then the introductions can be made more easily.

For instance: Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas has a close working relationship with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

Similarly, there are many foreign firms that work with Indian firms and if a person has been involved in any cases with foreign law firms, it certainly gives you an edge.

I highly recommend attending conferences and webinars pertaining to your field/subject. I had attended the New York Arbitration Week where I met a few Partners of a law firm in a breakout session. I had also attended a few events hosted by Global Arbitration Review. The “Careers in Arbitration” Page on LinkedIN is an immensely beneficial resource for job openings and events.

I recommend being proactive on LinkedIn. One must fully update their profile, follow all relevant pages/blogs pertaining to your field and actively apply for job postings on LinkedIn.

Remember, there will be more rejections than acceptances but don’t ever give up. Most importantly, enjoy the entire process and don’t be bogged down by any hurdle that comes in the way. 

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

It is definitely an experience worth having. It is a year of self-discovery and meeting many interesting people across the globe. My advice to those ‘considering’ a Master’s abroad would be to definitely pursue it.

It is really helpful to reach out to students who have pursued their Master’s in the particular school [you are interested or have got admission in].

This enables you to make an informed decision while choosing schools and maximising on your experience. 

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