I recently came across this rather interesting article by Megha Mehta, an LLM graduate from Harvard Law School who is currently teaching at NLSIU. In the article, Megha offers a critical view of the US LLM experience, and how it (the LLM) is often not quite what it is made out to be.
In a world where peer pressure, soft marketing, and “signalling” are almost impossible to ignore, I thought Megha’s article (and her views on other topics) deserved a bit more attention.
Hence, this interview.
Your recent article on the Harvard LLM published in Quirk was such a refreshing read – how has the response to the piece been? And, if you had some additional word space, anything else you would have included?
I got some pretty good responses thanking me for being candid about the experience.
I don’t think there’s anything else I would have included but I might do a separate written piece on general issues involved in pursuing an academic career and whether there’s really that much of a difference in terms of sexism, microaggressions, mental health fallouts, etc. involved relative to law firms and litigation.
Coming to your own decision to pursue a master’s – what were some of your own motivations in pursuing a US LLM?
At that time I was sure that I wanted to take up a career in Indian legal academia.
Having a LL.M. from a foreign university helps in increasing your ‘legitimacy’ and credibility both in terms of applying for academic jobs and being taken seriously by students/other academics though I personally don’t think it should be the case.
I specifically wished to study feminist legal theory and the course catalogue and faculty present at U.S. law schools seemed a lot more diverse and interdisciplinary as compared to the U.K. and Indian colleges.
I also felt that U.S. scholars had produced more cutting-edge scholarship in this field. Hence I specifically applied only to U.S. law schools.
Follow up question – what were the criteria used to shortlist schools, and which schools did you end up applying to?
U.S. law schools generally favour their LL.M. candidates/graduates when it comes to J.S.D./S.J.D. applications.
So, I chose colleges which had professors I saw myself doing my doctorate-level research under. From a more strategic perspective I shortlisted Ivy Leagues as a LL.M. from those schools would favour my resume on the job market.
Finally, I shortlisted schools which offered interesting courses related to feminist legal theory, criminal law and constitutional law, which were my research areas of interest.
Taking all these factors into account I applied to Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, Columbia and NYU. I received acceptances from all except Yale.
You were a recipient of the Global Hauser Scholarship at NYU, but opted for HLS instead – what was the rationale behind this? In hindsight, do you think the financials of this decision worked out?
Both are stalwarts in the field of feminist legal theory, which was my core academic research interest area. Hence even though Hauser is a prestigious opportunity, I opted for HLS.
I was able to financially sustain this decision through a combination of financial aid from HLS along with Indian scholarships. I was also fortunate to get a decently-paying academic job in India after the LL.M.
However the financials of the decision have obviously restricted my ability to join litigation or take up other opportunities which may not offer enough to pay off student loans.
Just on the funding question alone – anything that you would like prospective LLM applicants to know?
Most law schools do not list the financial aid criteria for LL.M. students separately on their website.
Please check the criteria for J.D. students before filling out your financial aid applications so you know what information to include.
Also keep in mind that apart from internal financial aid, opportunities for funding for Indian LL.M. students in the U.S. aren’t that many. Try to renegotiate the initial aid package offered by the school.
The Quirk piece discusses the cultural differences quite a bit, especially the difficulty some students face in networking, and (essentially) selling your profile – any other examples of difficulties that you think more applicants ought to know?
This is fairly basic but please learn cooking and housekeeping before you go.
I feel like Indian students are used to other people picking up after them even if they have lived in dorms earlier.
American dorm-mates will be quick to call you out on this and will be quite racist/passive-aggressive about it even if their own habits aren’t particularly perfect.
It’s a very self-reliant culture so don’t expect help when it comes to performing basic housekeeping tasks (e.g. even small things like opening a can).
Also generally be prepared to tackle some amount of microaggressions/subtle racism due to differences in skin colour, nationality and purchasing power.
Lastly, any general advice for the Indian law grad who is considering a master’s abroad?
Do it only if you’re seriously interested in one of the three things:
- Doing a Ph.D. abroad .
- Getting a job and/or eventual citizenship abroad
- Taking a break from practice to study and travel abroad;
AND have saved up enough to sustain the financial hit of the LL.M. (especially if you’re also considering a Ph.D. later where your net savings will continue to be zero)
Have serious discussions with your parents about whether they can loan you the money. If your parents are unsupportive or lack resources make sure you have peers who are willing to help you out.
Do NOT fall for the romanticization of LL.M./academia as some kind of break or ‘chill’ getaway from Indian law firm/litigation culture.
Most of the people who successfully make this transition are:
- privileged enough to resume practice in India without hiccups (e.g. famous SC judges/senior advocates), and/or
- already have a support system abroad and have been planning to move there and/or
- have been seriously considering a change of nationality for other reasons.
If you have any doubts, please wait and make an informed decision.