Debolina Saha doesn’t stand still. She is a capital markets lawyer who has worked at some of the biggest law firms across the world.

Debolina Saha
Debolina Saha

She is also the founder of Internship Bank, which she says is part of her “quest to bring about gender diversity at workplaces in India.” (See below)

#WeAreElliott: Debolina Saha

And last year, Debolina enrolled in the Master’s in International Policy and Practice at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs (MIPP). In this First Person Account, she discusses her reasons for opting for the MIPP, why she thinks more lawyers should broaden their horizons, and a whole lot more.

Recently you shared your excitement at being able to work at a World Bank organisation, something you had dreamed of as a child. Has the feeling of incredulity passed?

I love working at the International Finance Corporation (IFC). I enjoy working on projects that have a true impact on the world. And my colleagues are incredibly smart and come from extremely varied backgrounds. I look forward to going to the office every day.

It’s also hard work!

I have worked at many law firms, including magic circle and silver circle firms. And I can say with confidence that working at the World Bank is as challenging as any law firm.

After more than a decade as a capital markets lawyer, you decided to get a master’s in International Policy and Practice. Why did you pursue this degree? And were there any other schools that you applied to?

I wanted to build on the skills that I developed as an international capital markets lawyer. Good lawyers learn to analyse and solve problems, communicate clearly and think logically under incredible pressure. These are incredibly useful skills that can be used in other fields.

I also wanted to open up new employment avenues and give myself a chance to work on projects that help others.

And that’s why I applied to the Elliott School. With an MIPP degree from George Washington University, I could leverage my skills as a lawyer and then look at career options in policy or as a diplomat.

I actually took a big risk during the application process. I didn’t apply to any other schools, I just applied to the Elliott School. I don’t know if that was a good strategy. But I wanted to be in [Washington] DC. And the Elliott School is one of the top ranked policy schools in the world.

It’s also close to the World Bank and the IFC in terms of location.

The physical proximity of the World Bank and IFC showed up in our classes. We always had people from these organisations take classes or talk about their experiences working in these organisations.

In the end, I think my strategy worked. Instead of blindly following the rankings, I took a more holistic approach to choosing the right school. I picked a highly ranked school with connections to the places I wanted to work.

I think this is another thing that potential applicants must keep in mind. If your goal is to work in Washington DC, you don’t want to be going to Harvard and then not know anyone in DC.

What have been some of the more rewarding aspects of the MIPP course? In a similar vein, what have been some of the most challenging?

I learned a great deal pursuing my MIPP degree. But interestingly enough, the MIPP course was also a terrific networking opportunity. And that was tremendously helpful. The course also put me in touch with the right kind of people who could help me achieve my dream of working in a developmental organisation.

I also liked the way the course was structured. It included a significant amount of critical analysis and writing. There is a certain type of writing in the policy world, and the MIPP really prepares you for that.

In terms of challenges, I think my law degree really helped me in terms of thinking analytically and critically. I still had to adjust my writing style — and that was a significant challenge. But I had a good foundation.

Could you tell me a bit more about your cohort at the Elliott School – what were some of the more common motivations behind enrolling for the course? 

The cohort was quite interesting.

For the first time in my life, I was in classes full of people from the military. I also had a classmate with a theatre background and one that is planning to run for president in Uganda.  It was an interesting and supportive cohort.

In fact, one of my cohorts recommended me for my job at the World Bank! I really cherish the sense of community and closeness my cohort had.

Looking back, how did you find yourself using your legal experience whilst a MIPP candidate? And did you find yourself having to unlearn anything through the duration of the course?

I had to unlearn how to write like a lawyer. In the policy world, you write to summarise. Everything needs to be short, direct and simple. But as a lawyer you describe more – so that took an entire semester for me to get over.

Would you advise other lawyers to do something similar in terms of courses?

Yes. Having a law degree is great. But people should always explore other avenues that could bring them satisfaction.

The Elliott School helped me envision other career avenues. I can now apply to organisations that would have otherwise not even looked at me previously.

A similar experience can do the same for others.

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a non-LLM graduate course abroad?

Well, one piece of advice is that you should really start networking from day one. Treat networking as part of your curriculum. You must go and take the initiative.