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.

Shelly Mittal, LLM graduate from the University of Washington's School of Law
Shelly Mittal

Shelly Mittal graduated with an LLM in Intellectual Property from the University of Washington’s School of Law (UW Law) in 2020. In this FPA, she discusses her reasons for choosing UW Law, the LLM experiences at UW Law and GNLU, and how she went about the enrolment process at the Washington Bar. 

The LLM at UW Law was your second LLM, the first being the LLM from GNLU – what prompted the decision to pursue an LLM abroad, and once this was decided, how did you go about selecting which schools to apply for?

When I decided to pursue a second LLM, the IP and Tech Law program at the University of Washington caught my attention. I had always had a fascination with multidisciplinary studies and was drawn to the idea of earning another master’s degree. Plus, as a foreign attorney, I needed to meet certain requirements to be eligible to take the bar exam in the State of Washington.

Although I had experience working as a Research Associate and clerked for the Supreme Court, I still needed to fulfil a three-out-of-five-year experience requirement. Pursuing another LLM seemed like the most practical and necessary route to take.

But how did I choose which school to attend? That was the next challenge. After some research and deliberation, I decided that the IP and Tech Law program at the University of Washington was the perfect fit for me.

Not only was it a well-respected program, but it was also located in Seattle, where I had relocated to be with my husband.

Why narrow down on UW Law?

There were many factors for choosing UW Law.

First and foremost, I was drawn to the school’s renowned IP and Tech LLM program, which aligned perfectly with my interest in tech law. As someone based in Seattle, hub of the tech market, it made perfect sense for me to pursue a program that specialized in this area of law. 

Additionally, I was also impressed by the faculty at UW. They had a great balance of both academicians and practitioners, which meant that I would have access to a range of perspectives and insights from experts in the field.

But it wasn’t just the academic side of things that drew me to UW. As someone new to the city and the culture, I was also looking for opportunities to grow my network and get involved in the community. I found that the student organizations at UW School of Law offered exactly that, providing me with opportunities to connect with other law students and professionals and get involved in meaningful volunteer work.

Finally, one of the most important factors in my decision to attend UW was the fact that they offered specialized courses for foreign attorneys like myself, designed to introduce us to the US legal system and help us prepare for the bar exam.

This was a crucial consideration for me, as it meant that I could be confident in my ability to meet the requirements of the Washington Bar (One needs to take a few mandated credits in Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure)

Sticking with this theme, what were some of the bigger differences between the LLM experiences at GNLU and UW Law? Any best practices from either of the law schools that the other should implement? 

Having had the opportunity to pursue LLMs at both GNLU and UW Law, I can say that there were some notable differences between the two experiences. One of the biggest distinguishing factors, as I mentioned earlier, was the faculty at UW. The IP and Tech program boasted an impressive mix of practitioners from top law firms, lawyers with years of in-house experience, academicians, and even judges.

This diverse group of instructors provided a valuable blend of legal reasoning and practical skills that I still use to this day. In my opinion, having a variety of faculty can really enhance a student’s law school experience.

Another difference I noticed was the ability to curate your own curriculum at UW. While this flexibility can be both an opportunity and a source of stress, I was fortunate to have found great program advisors who understood my aspirations and guided me accordingly. This allowed me to tailor my courses to align with my interests and career goals.

One aspect of GNLU that I missed while studying at UW was the sense of community that comes with living on campus. At GNLU, the law student community came together very organically, and it was something I found to be a truly unique and enriching experience.

Looking back, what have been some of the most rewarding aspects of the UW LLM? What role has the LLM played in your career choices? 

Reflecting back on my experience at UW Law, I can say that it was definitely a turning point in my career. The LLM program opened my eyes to the world of tech law and helped me shift my career focus from constitutional law to transactional law. This change in focus ultimately led me to pursue a career in-house and build a practice that is business oriented.

Another rewarding aspect was the opportunity to build connections with professionals and attorneys in the Seattle area, thanks to the school’s strong alumni network and career services. These connections have been invaluable in helping me grow my career and build a successful practice.

Could you tell me a bit about how you went about preparing for the Washington Bar – how early did you begin the preparation, were there any documentary requirements that prospective applicants from India ought to know about, and how challenging is the examination itself?

I started thinking about the bar exam as early as applying to UW Law. As I mentioned, one of the reasons to choose UW Law was their program for bar exam prep. When I began law school, I started reading about what the bar exam entails, how many times a year it happens, when would be the best timeline to take it etc.

Understanding the contours of the exam really helped me evaluate how much time I would personally need to prepare and how I could best prepare (because my personal ambition was to clear it the first time). 

To prepare for the exam, I took a bar prep course, which I started about 2 months before the exam date. The course covered all the topics that were going to be tested and provided practice tests and feedback on my performance.

The course was intense and required a lot of self-discipline and focus, but I found it to be very helpful.

There are documentary requirements and there is an extensive background check which takes months so one has to essentially apply a year before they intend to sit for the exam. You can read about Washington’s requirements here. So, yes, keep all your transcripts, degrees and bar licenses handy when applying.

What got you to join the South Asian Bar Association of Washington, and what are some of the ongoing/upcoming projects at SABAW that excite you?

I got introduced to SABAW during law school and immediately found professionals and stories that I could relate to. SABAW is a valuable organization which provides South Asian attorneys an opportunity to connect and interact.

The mission of SABAW to help law students and young attorneys navigate their lives has been close and personal to me. I really benefited from the different mentors I had very early in my career and I am excited that SABAW can provide these mentorship opportunities.

I have been closely associated with the Mentorship and Scholarships program at SABAW.

I am sure that your peers from RGNUL and/or GNLU ask you about the benefits of a US LLM – what do you say to them?

As every law school answer, it depends! It depends on where you want to practice, what kind of law do you want to practice and what your visa situation is.

An LLM in the US is a pretty uphill task considering the potential relocation, financial and cultural factors. Coming alone to the US can be scary and lonely unless you find your tribe. It is definitely worth it if you want to practice something like IP or tech law. 

It is a great option if you want to explore different jurisprudences and are interested in comparative studies.

However, pursuing an LLM just to check another box is not the right approach. The key is to really evaluate how an LLM will help you in your career and weigh the challenges against that.