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.
Aishwarya Chaturvedi is a 2017 LLB graduate from Campus Law Centre at Delhi University. After three years of working in a law firm as well as an NGO (Nirman), she decided to enrol for the LLM at Cornell Law School. In this FPA, she discusses how she went about identifying where to apply, making the most of the foreign LM experience, and a whole lot more.
Before getting into the LLM, let’s start with the LLB at DU – why did you opt for law? And, looking back, has it been a fulfilling decision thus far?
Since childhood, it always intrigued me as to how a document in the form of a Constitution enshrines the hopes and aspirations of people along with acting as a bastion for a society to survive and flourish in peace.
This curiosity gave me the impetus to explore various thought structures that serve as the basis for law formation. As a result, from a very young age I started to get exposed to the writings of Aristotle, John Rawls, and Immanuel Kant.
My introduction to these thinkers led me to pursue an undergraduate honors program in philosophy which not only gave me a detailed insight on the various philosophical underpinnings of law as it is, but also on how it should be.
Along with this, almost in parallel, was the realization of a vast gap between the rights made available to the citizens by law and the real access to justice available to them.
I realized that a society which fails to provide for a vast majority of its population is a society that requires structural change and that the structure can only be changed by changing the laws of the society.
Thereafter, I pursued a degree in law to figure out how the social structure can be changed through laws so that the manifold people who form the Indian society and run its economy can live a life of dignity. It has been extremely fulfilling thus far. It helps one facilitate access to justice.
I have had the opportunity to work on different kinds of matters, witness the functioning of different legal forums in India and most importantly, read and understand a variety of legal problems that plague India.
Law has made me realise that it is extremely important to understand and respect different perspectives.
After the LLB, you chose to join the NGO Nirman, which focuses on child illiteracy – what prompted this decision? At that point in time, was a foreign LLM something you were considering?
I was always interested in working on child rights and particularly, child education. I had interned with NGO Nirman during college.
Nirman gave me the opportunity to apply some of the knowledge on human rights that I gained at the law school and facilitate greater access to education for underprivileged children.
While I was not particularly considering higher studies when I joined Nirman, the literature that I read and the problems that I dealt with on a day-to-day basis in expanding the work of the NGO prompted me to explore opportunities of further study abroad.
Finally, what got you to look at the US LLM? What were the schools you shortlisted, and what made you narrow down on Cornell?
I was familiar with the works of some of the professors of premier US law schools and was intrigued by the same. Further, some of my family members had pursued their higher education in the US and they encouraged me to consider it.
Additionally, my experiences at NGO Nirman and the law firm I worked with prompted me to delve into deeper questions about legal issues in India, and I wanted to learn how similar problems are dealt with in other common law jurisdictions such as the United States.
Accordingly, I shortlisted Cornell University, UC Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania, Leiden University and World Trade Institute, Switzerland.
Eventually, I narrowed down on Cornell because of its accomplished faculty, Ivy League status, small class size and of course the picturesque Ithaca campus.
Additionally, my older brother pursued his masters in public administration from Cornell University and spoke highly of the institution.
When it came to the application itself, any advice for future candidates? More specifically, how did you go about choosing your referees? And how long did you devote to the entire application process?
I would advise future candidates to work hard on their statements of purpose. Be as clear, concise and honest as possible.
Since I had work experience at the time of application, I chose to secure two professional letters of recommendations from my employers and two academic references from my professors at Campus Law Centre at Delhi University.
I devoted about three to six months to the entire application process.
At Cornell, you handled a fairly wide range of responsibilities, from being an RA to working with the schools South Asian Law Students Association – how did you find the time for all of this? Also, how do you think prospective LLM candidates can make the most of the (relatively) short LLM programme?
I wanted to make the most of my time at Cornell and thus, used my time judiciously. I wanted to explore Cornell and the opportunities it offered both academically and socially.
I also made use of technology by utilizing tools such as Google calendar which helped me schedule my meetings and gave me a clear sense of my tasks throughout the week.
I think the key is to prioritise.
I would advise prospective LLM candidates to prioritise the things they want to accomplish during their programme.
It is extremely important to explore the institution and make the most of the opportunities that it offers because an LLM programme abroad is essentially a culmination of various academic, professional and social experiences.
Now that you are in academia, any best practices from US law schools that you think Indian law schools should follow?
I believe that like US law schools, the Indian law schools could also make their curriculum more application based and make classes more interactive.
As far as possible, instructors should be encouraged to adopt a Socratic method and class simulations to develop critical thinking amongst students, and also to engage with the material.
In courses which are more application based, schools can mark students on assignments, papers and class simulations instead of a final examination.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
It is important to have a clear idea as to why one wants to pursue a master’s abroad. It is equally important to do a thorough research on the schools one wants to apply to.
I would encourage prospective applicants to explore a field that interests them and analyse which school would offer good opportunities in the desired field.
An LLM abroad offers one various academic, professional and social opportunities. Thus, it is crucial to identify what kind of environment and exposure one is looking for, in addition to the post qualification work opportunities that one may be interested in.