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.

Sunny Shah

Sunny Shah graduated with a law degree from NLU Jodhpur in 2012. After spending two years of working in a law firm, he opted for the LLM at Cornell Law School. In this FPA, he discusses his reasons for opting for this LLM, thoughts on the Return of Investment of a foreign LLM, and more. 

Nearly seven years after completing the LLM at Cornell Law School, how have you seen the LLM play a role in your professional growth?

The LL.M. has played an important role in my professional growth. I went for the LL.M. after two years of work experience with the intent that I would come back to India and continue my litigation practice in India.

During my LL.M. at Cornell Law School, I focussed on subjects relating to Dispute Resolution and Trial Advocacy. I believe the learnings during the LL.M. play an important role in my approach towards preparation for a case. Apart from that, the tag of LL.M. from a reputed university also plays an important role.

For some clients, knowing that you have done an LL.M. from a reputed university, brings trust and belief in you. Many clients show their appreciation of me having done an LL.M. from Cornell Law School, and at times is the reason for them engaging me. Further, LL.M. has also helped me develop valuable connections with lawyers from different parts of the world.

All in all, LL.M. from Cornell Law School has definitely played an important role in my professional growth.

And going back those seven years, how did you know that it was a good time to apply for an LLM? And once this was decided, how did you go about selecting just where to apply for the LLM?

From my days at National Law University, Jodhpur, I was always keen to pursue an LL.M. abroad. My parents, who are doctors, and who had also gone abroad for further studies, strongly believed that it helped them in their practice. They always encouraged me to go abroad for further studies.

While I was quite determined to go for an LL.M., I was not so sure whether to go immediately after completing my law or after some work experience. As my college placements were before the applications for LL.M. started, I decided to sit for college placements, not sure whether I would even get a job offer.

I happened to get an offer from one of the most reputed firms, Amarchand & Mangaldas & Suresh A. Shroff & Co. (now divided into CAM and SAM), and thus decided to work for a couple of years, and put my LL.M. plans on hold.

I must admit that once I started working, taking a break for education became a difficult decision than what I had anticipated. I discussed this with my Partner, Ms. Shaneen Parikh. Not only was she very supportive, but she also wrote a wonderful recommendation letter for me.

I was in touch with my professors from National Law University, Jodhpur, who also encouraged me, and wrote me recommendation letters. All reasoned that this was a right time to go, and that I have the rest of my life to work. With the blessings of the seniors in my professions and the support of my family and friends, I decided to apply for the LL.M.

As my elder brother was in US at that time, I was keen to go to US for further studies, and thus only applied to universities in the US. With the guidance of my college seniors who had gone for an LL.M., I decided to apply to Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, NYU and University of Chicago. Fortunately, I got an offer of admission from Cornell Law School.

With a few years of work experience under your belt, did you find it difficult to make the switch to student life once again? Any other aspects of the LLM that were challenging (but rewarding?)

Yes. As I said, though I was quite determined to go for LL.M., it turned out to be a more difficult decision than what I had anticipated. I had it in the back of my mind that after two years of work experience, I would go for an LL.M. However, once I started working, it did not feel like a very easy decision. Not many people took a break from work or pursued an LL.M.

Also, I was enjoying the work life, beginning to earn money, and thus was not sure about going back to student life. I discussed with a lot of senior people in the profession, and they all encouraged me to go, reasoning that I have my entire life to work.

Once I was in the Bombay High Court, waiting for my matter and sitting next to a senior partner of a well reputed law firm in Mumbai. We started talking, and he said that the only thing he regretted was not going for an LLM abroad when he was young.

Similarly, a well-known Senior Counsel of the Bombay High Court, when told that I had an offer from Cornell Law School, but I was in doubt, told me that the decision was a no-brainer, and that if I have the means, I should go.

Once I was in Cornell, I quickly got adjusted to student life again, and had some of the best moments of my life. It is now seven years since I am back, and I am glad I went. 

The LL.M. from Cornell Law School has been rewarding in more than one way. Cornell University is in a small town called Ithaca in upstate New York. It has one of the best campuses in the world, which would be difficult to describe in words. It has resources which are difficult to imagine.

Just the experience of staying there for about a year, engaging with professors and students from different parts of the world, taking part in activities not easily available in India, was a very enriching experience. It took me some time to adjust to the place, and found it difficult to make the use of all the resource within a short span of 9-10 months that I was there, but overall it was very rewarding by the end of it. 

A lot of LLM applicants make their decisions based on the RoI aspect – any thoughts on how this calculation ought to be made?

It is a very difficult question to answer. The LL.M. is very expensive, unless you have some scholarship. Further, it does not even guarantee a job abroad or an increase in salary once you return to India. Thus, calculating RoI is very difficult. Eventually, after many years, I believe one would feel that it was worth it, but there is no immediate RoI.

In my case, before leaving for LL.M., I had decided to move into Counsel Practice (akin to Barrister practice in UK) from Law Firm practice. I had joined the Chambers of Mr. Gautam Ankhad, and intended to continue with that upon completing my LL.M. In Counsel Practice. 

There is some gestation period before work regularly flows your way.

While the LL.M. from Cornell Law School has definitely helped me in my professional growth, it is difficult to calculate from RoI perspective. But, seven years down the line, I am really glad that I went as I will experience benefits of it throughout my career.

I would say, if you have the means, then go. If not, then there is no need to regret. An LL.M. is not a necessity, but definitely a very enriching and rewarding experience.

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

Definitely go for it, if you have the means.

As regards the process, LL.M. Applications can be time consuming, so start early in the process, especially if you are working and do not have much free time. As regards where to apply, both US and Europe have wonderful universities.

However, I believe that if one is looking to get a job abroad and settle abroad, Europe provides better opportunities. As regards the finances, there are many scholarships which one can try for. It is a time consuming process, but considering that LL.M. is really expensive, it is definitely worth exploring as many scholarships as possible.