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, we get Mallika Mendhiratta to talk about her LLM experience at Cornell Law School, the LLM application process, preparing for the NY Bar Exams, and a whole lot more.
You have a pretty interesting career trajectory leading up to the LLM – What got you thinking about an LLM in the first place? Was this something you had considered right after your law degree?
For my first degree in law, I went to an average law school. Therefore, getting internships and jobs was an uphill battle. I knew I had to have a reputed law school on my CV if I wanted to have the kind of career I envisioned for myself.
So, to answer your question, an LLM was always on my mind, right after I finished my law degree and began searching for jobs. My first thought was to apply for LLM at one of the National Law Schools.
However, my research indicated that an LLM from India did not do much in terms of making one a more desirable candidate in the Indian job market. It was only advantageous for people who wanted to pursue academia in the future. That has never been my plan.
In 2015, I pursued the post graduate diploma in International Law and Diplomacy from Indian Society of International Law. During the course, I met several research scholars, fellows and students from some amazing universities around the world. I think that was my cue to look towards a foreign LLM degree instead of one in India.
However, it took me a while to process all of this, put my affairs in order and finally take the leap.
How did you go about selecting just where to apply? And what were the schools you shortlisted?
I was very clear that I wanted to be in New York and that I wanted to go to an Ivy League school. To me, it did not make sense to expend resources without considerably improving my pedigree.
Luckily, New York is home to two Ivy League schools. I applied to Cornell, Columbia and NYU. Why narrow down on Cornell?
Cornell has an interesting list of courses offered besides just those required to qualify for the Bar Exam. It also offers several clinical courses which gives students a chance to get their hands dirty while having someone to guide them along the way.
The law school also has a smaller class size as compared to other law schools. This was definitely the most outstanding part.
In the long run, it gave me a better opportunity to know my peers and interact with the outstanding faculty.
Lastly, the Cornell campus is one of the most tranquil and beautiful places. I was excited to be able to study in a place seeped with so much history and become a part of a legacy.
Any thoughts on how one should go about the LLM application process? From a procedural perspective, what are the things that LLM applicants ought to be cognisant of?
I believe it is very important to figure out the goals you want to achieve from your LLM. Are you looking to do a specialization? Or do you just want to bear qualification of another jurisdiction? Do you want to go back to your home country after the program is over or do you want to pursue a career elsewhere?
Answering these questions is important and would help the applicant identify the correct LLM program which fits the bill as per their requirement.
Start the application process early. The TOEFL/ GRE test dates are sometimes booked out. Plus they have their own schedules by which they release the test results which may or may not match your deadlines.
Make sure that these dates are WAY before the deadline. I remember that I scrambled at the last minute to find a testing location which had availability. Even then, the results for test were to be released too close to the application deadline for Cornell.
The same goes for Letters of Recommendation (LOR). Make sure that they go on time. Gentle reminders are the way to go. Also, getting a LOR from a Supreme Court Justice/ Senior Lawyer who you have connections with is great.
However, personalized recommendations made by people who actually know you, also go a long way in making your case to the admissions committee.
A Statement of Purpose is one of the most important parts of your application. A common mistake that applicants make while writing the SOP is that they list out all their achievements and experience in paragraph format. That is not required.
The admissions committee can see all of that on your CV. Instead, draw on your experience to demonstrate how the program will be a good fit for you, how the program will further your career and/ or your goals. Don’t forget to add a paragraph about why the particular law school would be great for you.
Looking back, what have been some of the most rewarding aspects of the Cornell LLM? More specifically, how did your work experience play a role in the LLM experience?
As I reflect on my experience so far, I realize that before the LLM program, I was just a law graduate who had enrolled with the Indian Bar Council. The Cornell LLM program made me a lawyer in the true sense of the word. (Not paid to say this). The teaching as well as the testing pattern pushes you to think like a lawyer. Courses like Intensive Trial Advocacy were really helpful in gaining valuable lawyering skills.
This was a novel experience as compared to my Indian law school experience where we just crammed laws and the important judgments to pass our exams.
I believe that my work experience before the LLM helped me build a profile which was strong enough to get the coveted acceptance letter. It also made me a more mature learner, away from the idealistic tendencies that I had after having just passed law school.
How have you gone about preparing for the NY Bar? Are there any resources/organizations whom you would recommend to others who are looking at the NY Bar?
One piece of advice that I have consistently received from colleagues who have passed the NY Bar is to take the bar prep as a full time job. It is not something you do on the side. Consistent study for at least 8 hours a day plus revisions are the only way to pass the Bar.
The NY Board of Law Examiners requires foreign candidates to submit their foreign transcripts for evaluation. This process takes anywhere between 3-6 months. Be cognizant of this.
If you have decided to take the NY Bar, it is prudent to send in your documents as early as possible.
This will help you in two ways. Firstly, it will help you in deciding whether you need to take qualifying courses for the Bar during your LLM. Secondly, since the foreign evaluation is a pre-requisite to register for the NY Bar, an early assessment will ensure that you do not miss the deadline to register for the bar exam.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
Read about impostor syndrome. Particularly about managing it. Do not let it get to you. It has the ability to hold you back from being an active participant and marring your law school experience.
Also, networking is the best piece of advice that anyone will give to you. You need to make connections, whether or not you plan to return to your home country.
I know that it doesn’t come easily to a lot of us. But the rewards of this particular skill are worth the effort.
Needless to say, plan your finances. Do not hesitate to ask your institution for financial aid.