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.
In this FPA, I get talking with Sudipta Purkayastha who graduated with an LLM from the University of Cambridge in 2018. Currently working as a Legal Assistant at the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, the GNLU graduate discusses her LLM experience, the Cambridge LLM application process, and a whole lot more.
Keeping aside every single thing for the moment, in 2015 you interned with the then Chief Justice of Bhutan – how did you land up here? And how was this experience?
My internship with the erstwhile Chief Justice of Bhutan was purely fortuitous – I wrote to the Chief Justice that I was interested in learning about their judicial system, and he was open to take on an Indian intern to introduce them to the Bhutanese system.
I was truly lucky.
The experience was simply brilliant. I was able to gain first-hand experience across the district court, high court and supreme court levels, and the Chief Justice ensured that I worked across a variety of civil, family and criminal cases across those court levels.
Bhutan isn’t as overwhelmed with cases as India, so it was good to see how efficient the judicial process can be if the courts are not flooded at all times. I drafted a research paper/opinion on Bhutan as a potential neutral arbitration seat for SAARC countries at the end of my internship.
Moving on, you applied for the Cambridge LLM right after completing the B.Sc. LLB course – how early on did you know you wanted to apply for an LLM? And when did you start the application process?
I knew I wanted to apply for an LLM around the end of my third year/by the beginning of my fourth year. I did not apply for any law firm internships, nor did I sit for the day zero (recruitment day) in the fourth year, although I was eligible for it.
I started the application process around 2-3 months before the application date, which included obtaining reference letters and various documents from the administration of the university.
I will say I should have started even earlier and kept track of the various scholarships available – unfortunately missed the deadline for most of them. IwWould urge those students who know they want to apply early on to start researching into the various scholarships available and make a proper list – many of them have very early deadlines, so be careful.
Were there any other universities you applied to? What were the criteria used to shortlist these universities?
Yes, I applied to New York University (International Law program), and Leiden University (International Criminal Law program). These programs fit my ultimate goal of pursuing international law (particularly international criminal law) best, and if I did not get through to any of these programs, I would most likely not have done an LLM.
The Cambridge LLM application requires one to be quite succinct – any advice on how to go about this? Any other challenges in the application process that were specific to Cambridge alone?
My only advice would be to keep reviewing the personal statement over and over again. Take a break, then come back and review it again, and each time, you will see something that can be rewritten or can be removed altogether.
Most personal statements start out having lots of superfluous information, and the more you look at it, the more you will find it needs editing. The statement doesn’t need to be unique in its content as much as it has to be well-written. If it’s well thought out and succinct, it automatically becomes a standout application.
For Cambridge specifically, I think the biggest challenge was figuring out which college I should apply to – Cambridge has a college system, and you apply both to the Cambridge University Faculty of Law as well as the individual college.
Both have to accept you for you to obtain a place in the program.
Even as an LLM candidate, you managed a fair number of activities – was this something you planned beforehand? Was it difficult to balance the academic and the extra curricular?
Yes, the LLM program is truly stressful, particularly because it is so short, so it was difficult managing extra curricular activities.
That said, the extra curricular activities were all within my area of interest, so I did not mind devoting a few hours outside of study for them every week.
You also completed a mini-pupillage in the UK – could you tell me a bit more about how you went about applying for this? And what were some of the learnings made?
For a mini-pupillage, one needs to send in a formal application to the chambers of their choice. It’s a two-week experience where you shadow a barrister and understand the relevant legal process.
The experience was great – I did my mini-pupillage at a criminal set, since my interest lies in criminal law. I accompanied the barrister to various Crown courts, and was able to see criminal proceedings across various stages of trial and pre-trial.
You are now working in the field of international criminal law – was this where you saw yourself way back when you were applying for an LLM? How do you think the LLM proved to be instrumental (if at all) in the journey thus far?
Yes, this is exactly where I hoped to be when I was applying for an LLM! The LLM was critical to me being where I am – in this field, an LLM is considered the basic qualification for even an internship.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
Stop focusing on which country and which LLM will ensure you a job, because the truth is, no LLM will ever guarantee a job. I wish students would approach an LLM program with the aim of obtaining further knowledge in the area of their choosing rather than as a gateway to gain any employment outside of India.
If all you know is that you need a job outside India, but don’t know the area of law to specialise in, don’t go for an LLM immediately; instead, work for a few years in India to understand which area of law suits you best.
You may be shocked to learn where your strengths and interests actually lie.
Don’t be shy to try out diverse internships/switch jobs to pin down what you really want to do.
Once you know, focus on which LLM has the most suitable course structure, alumni base, fees, and then see how the university’s location may be beneficial for future employment (in terms of visas, existence of international organisations/relevant law firms, etc)