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.
Raashika Kapoor graduated with a law degree from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in 2021. The very same year, she enrolled at Humboldt University of Berlin for an LLM in International Dispute Resolution. In this FPA, she shares her reasons for choosing this particular programme, completing an internship in Germany, the LLM experience itself, and a whole lot more.
At what stage of your undergraduate course did you start planning for a foreign LLM? Did you consider working for a few years before enrolling?
The year I joined my undergraduate law school, I had made up my mind to go abroad for an LL.M. Planning for the LL.M. essentially began in the 3rd year. It is however important to consider that applying for an LL.M. is not an overnight process.
It takes consistent grades through the years, extra-curricular activities and motivational drive.
As for working for a few years before enrolling, I had considered that on a few occasions, especially when Covid-19 hit the world. But as my applications went forward and I received positive responses, I decided to study first, gain more theoretical knowledge and then practice.
What were some of your expectations from a specialised LLM?
My undergraduate law degree (B.A.LL.B.) was very generalised, where I gained an insight into many areas of law. From a specialised LL.M. I had expected to gain deeper knowledge in my field of interest and see for myself if I really want to move forward in it.
Given the specialised nature of your interests (ie international dispute resolution), what were some of the schools you shortlisted apart from Humboldt? And what got you to narrow down on Humboldt?
I had shortlisted schools such as LSE, QMUL, UCL, Kings and MIDS Geneva. and had received admits from all four UK universities.
However, I didn’t not make it to MIDS.
Out of the four schools in London and Humboldt. QMUL, UCL and Kings offered a specialised LL.M. in dispute resolution but I proceeded with Humboldt.
Firstly, the course at Humboldt covers the broad area of international dispute resolution with a strong focus on international arbitration, which is what I wanted to expose myself to and only a few schools deal with that.
Even though the course is primarily focused on commercial and investment arbitration, participants will have the opportunity to learn about other areas of arbitration, such as sports arbitration, arbitration of cross-border M&A disputes, energy arbitration, mediation, negotiation and so on, from professionals located all over Europe.
Secondly, the small class size attracted me. We are a cohort of 27 students and it feels like a family. There is enough room for individual interaction with professors and practitioners and no hesitation in clarifying questions.
Thirdly, there is an exponential difference in cost of education as well as that of living between London and Germany. Moreover, I did not want this year of mine to be limited to college. I had wanted to travel and for that I felt Germany would be a better option.
Additionally, making a life abroad is not easy at all.
As much as I would want to work here, there are a number of factors that may not be in favour of international students. While there is definitely no guarantee of landing a job in the EU, after Brexit, I was not very sure of prospects in London either.
So, I decided to take the plunge and came to Berlin.
Any advice for prospective LLM candidates on the Humboldt LLM application itself? For example, how much time did you spend on the applications, how did you choose your referees etc?
My applications in total took nearly 8-9 months of my time. All applications require a statement of purpose / letter of motivation. My approach was to decide two stories that I want to tell the universities and make individual alterations for respective colleges.
As for referees, I chose people I had a close association with.
My mentors, who played a very important in role in my journey through law school, academic director who was part of every administrative as well as academic decision through the years and professors with whom I had a rapport and whose subjects had a relation to my future course applications.
For the IDR LL.M. at Humboldt the application deadline is March 31st for the academic year beginning in October. The applications are sent through an online portal on the website.
The primary documents that must be submitted are the application form, the letter of motivation and two letters of recommendation.
How easy or difficult was it to land an internship in Germany? Did you receive institutional support in this regard?
Landing an internship is not easy, be it in India or Germany. As Indian students, we face a number of obstacles in getting an internship; abroad we are outsiders. Simply phrased, it is not easy to land an internship in Germany.
Law firms tend to look for people who know the law of the land. They have to be convinced to take you over someone who is their own.
Hence, it is very important to highlight how you can contribute to their team / work. One thing that people do not really stress upon is that rejections are normal.
You will receive a number of rejections through the process. I personally have lost count and that is absolutely alright. Unless you try you wouldn’t know.
I was fortunate to receive an internship opportunity and gain an insight into the German work culture.
Institutional support with regard to work opportunities has been there throughout, in the form of making available documents required to be submitted. Assisting with administrative work, informing about open opportunities etc., the institution however, does not bring opportunities to you, there is no placement cell for that purpose.
What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of the LLM experience? Looking back, have your expectations (from an LLM) been met?
Living with myself, managing my life and balancing between college and home is what I definitely give credit to myself for.
As one of the youngest students in my LL.M. batch, my entire experience here has been rewarding. Intellectually stimulating discussions, close interaction with practitioners as faculty and interacting with students from nearly 15 different countries (in a class of 27) has broadened my perspective.
I did not enter the program expecting myself to be the guru of arbitration, I came here to learn, interact with people from different backgrounds (cultural and educational), make mistakes, memories and experience a different life.
My undergraduate studies at GGSIPU were very conventional. At Humboldt, I had to familiarise myself with the socratic method, the readings and discussions.
I believe it is safe to say that looking back, my expectations have been met.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
My advice for prospective LL.M. candidates would be to start preparing in time. You cannot possibly anticipate the outcome but what you can do is not beat yourself up about it. Preparing to go abroad can be very intimidating and it does feel like a rat race. You may be the smartest of the lot and still get rejected without knowing the reason for it.
What I learned through the process is to not take this personally.
You can study at the best- known college in this world and decide not to pursue your area of study further. So, give yourself time. Do not apply to a university for the sake of applying.
Furthermore, master’s abroad is not limited to universities alone. It is an experience of a lifetime where you learn to live with yourself away from your comfort zone, meet new people, blend in a different culture and also feel homesick sometimes.
In your batch of 100-200, everyone will be equally qualified / educated. What will make you stand out is your skill set, your abilities to express and communicate and to have your own identity. The year would be for you to understand and discover yourself!
With the kind of finances and risks involved, I would recommend taking an informed decision.
Lastly, an experience abroad can positively add to both personal and professional growth. It is not going to be a bed of roses or a stroll in the park but it may be worth it.