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 speak with Abhinav Kumar who has done an LLM from Penn State Law as well as one from the Queen Mary University of London.
What was the deciding factor when it came to your decision to go for an LLM right after law school?
I always wanted to pursue masters in a single go right after finishing the degree (BBA LLB) at Symbiosis Law School, Pune (SLS). My father always advised me to focus on a specialisation that I am interested in and dive head straight into it.
By the time I finished my 4th year of law school I had made up my mind to pursue further studies focused on Intellectual Property Laws. I was always passionate about IP rights and commercial aspects thereon, but interning specifically in the IP departments on multiple occasions definitely helped making the decision to base my career as an IP lawyer.
Given the background, I would say the deciding factor(s) were the passion and the opportunity available to pursue further studies, learnings from the internships undertaken in the IP field, parental support and a genuine travel bug.
Once a foreign LLM was on the cards, how did you go about selecting the places for applying for the LLM?
I was clear from the start about studying the LLM in the United States, so the choice was already filtered. The decision to select the university mostly depended on the programme offered, the professors, scholarship availability and occasional googling about the rankings.
Additionally, SLS, being one of the top law schools in India, offered great opportunities to engage with foreign university representatives.
With all the factors in mind, Penn State Law School fit in perfectly to complete the puzzle. Penn State has a great IP programme with renowned faculty and scholarship opportunities.
At what point in time during your undergraduate degree did you start the shortlisting and application process?
I started jotting down a rough strategy on how to approach the process, and started from the ground level. I took everyone’s advice seriously and acted on it, for instance, someone advised foreign colleges accept students with legal publications, so I started writing a research paper in my 4th year.
I took the TOEFL exam 6 months before I started applying and started collecting and filing documents around the same time. I strongly believe the hardest part about applying for a masters abroad is figuring out and gathering required documents before starting your application.
You went forward with a second LLM degree after gaining some work experience. What motivated you for the same? Once decided, how did you make the choice of Queen Mary?
I never thought of myself to pursue two masters (frankly no one did). When I returned from the US with the general IP masters from Penn State, I started working with Naik Naik & Co. (NNCO) in their non-contentious team, advising clients from the media and entertainment industry.
Working with NNCO I had the pleasure of advising national and international production houses, studios, talent management companies and celebrities. After working for roughly two years with the firm (1 year WFH due to Covid-19), I decided to learn more about the international market and entertainment industry.
Plus dealing with being at home (in Udaipur) and WFH, gave me ample time to think about my future and how to proceed with my career.
The desire to study further was also backed by NNCO and especially Mr. Lavin Hirani (Partner, MDP & Partners, Mumbai).
I am really thankful that I was permitted to work remotely while pursuing the LLM degree at Queen Mary.
Queen Mary was an easy choice.
I wanted to study in the United Kingdom this time around to gain the experience in both, the US and the UK market. Queen Mary is one of the few university in the world offering a full-fledged Interactive Entertainment Law and E-Sports Law module and is ranked the 26th best law university in the world.
Additionally, UK has great post graduate work visa opportunity (2 years post-graduation), which is also a plus.
You have worked quite a bit in the Media and Entertainment industry before going forward with an LLM in TMT laws. How do you think your work experience helped you in your year-long experience at Queen Mary?
The work experience and the practical knowledge I acquired while working in the industry before joining Queen Mary helped immensely during the entire curriculum.
It allowed me to choose advanced modules like Interactive Entertainment Law (Video games law), Commercialization of IP, among others, which modules require a certain level of prior knowledge.
Additionally, it was easier to approach and compare the theoretically aspects with the practical commercial side of things.
Having experienced both, an LLM before and after gaining work experience, what are some of the major differences you noticed between these experiences?
Both LLMs were great but very different from one another. During my first LLM at Penn State, I was a fresh graduate, so the LLM was a continuation of my academic path and getting a more detailed knowledge of my desired field.
Penn State was a fun experience where I made friends from across the globe and grew overall as a person along with first class quality academic experience. Penn State played a major role in expanding my outlook towards different people and cultures.
On the other hand, my approach towards the LLM at Queen Mary was more mature and professional.
Since I had some prior experience in the TMT field, I had the liberty to choose technical and detailed modules. Queen Mary was also a fun experience and I made friends for life, but I had a deeper vision of what I want to achieve with the LLM and how to get there.
How did your LL.M. play a role when it came to getting a job in a firm abroad?
The LLM helped me get an access to the UK market and opened up other avenues, including working in the videogames industry. My two team mates (Avi Bhandari and Juan Alberto Pulido Lock) and I, as the team “Pisco & Curries”, participated and won the Games Industry Legal Challenge, a renowned annual video games law moot competition.
The team was invited to the Games Industry Law Summit 2022 in Vilnius earlier this year and we got to meet and converse with the ‘Avengers’ of the video games law industry (over 300 lawyers and professional from across the world).
While the LLM put me in contact with the right people, what I understood from my interviews is that my previous experience in the Indian film industry and working with international studios played a major role in securing my current job at Clintons.
You are in your initial period at Clintons, but having worked for quite a bit in India, any major differences between the way Indian and foreign law firms operate?
There are notable differences in the working style of the firms in India and the UK, however the commercial aspects of the business are inherently similar.
The differences include the legal drafting style, working pattern, billing the clients, hourly rates, and the overall culture as such.
However, I believe working in a Tier I Entertainment law firm in India and advising international clients, prepped me very well to adjust in foreign waters.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad?
My main advice for anyone considering a masters abroad would be to first figure out the agenda behind pursuing a masters.
- If the aim is to find a job and work abroad, I would advise to pursue the masters after gaining substantial experience in a field. A masters with prior experience definitely helps the job hunting process.
- If the aim is to pursue a future doctorate or a career in academics, choose a college that aides research.
- If the aim is to have fun and enjoy a year getting to know people and living in a foreign land, then there is nothing wrong with that, just ensure you make the best out of it and have a blast.
In any case studying abroad helps you grow your personality and opens up your mind and thinking to a broader horizon.
(This interview was conducted by Swati Sabharwal, a law student at the University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University)