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.

Yashu Bansal recently completed the Law & Digital Technologies LLM offered by Leiden University, a course she enrolled in after four years of working as a corporate lawyers. In this FPA, she discusses her process for narrowing down on Leiden University, the LLM experience itself, and a whole lot more. 
Yashu Bansal

Yashu Bansal recently completed the Law & Digital Technologies LLM offered by Leiden University, a course she enrolled in after four years of working as a corporate lawyers. In this FPA, she discusses her process for narrowing down on Leiden University, the LLM experience itself, and a whole lot more. 

You opted for an LLM nearly four years into your professional career – were there any specific events that made you realise that this was a good time to pursue international higher education?

Pursuing academics and research has always been my end goal – I however had plans to first experience the practical application of law before diving into teaching and research. I believe that understanding how law works helps me in my legal research and will help me in imparting impactful teaching.

After four years of working with law firms and as in-house counsel, I had gathered sufficient insight into the practicalities of the law – I was able to translate bare act provisions into ground level realities – for clients and companies. It was crucial for me to understand the same so that I can efficiently teach law to my students and research on real issues.

With a deep interest in technology, I had already worked on IT and E-commerce laws in India and had spent considerable time self-studying GDPR and the Indian data protection bills. Before India had its own technology laws, I wanted to finish my LLM from a country which had substantial experience with technology laws and that is when I decided to go for my masters.

And once you had decided to pursue an LLM, what were the factors you used to narrow down on schools? What were some of the schools you shortlisted, and what made you pick Leiden University?

I was determined to pursue an LLM which focused on technology laws. I found some interesting courses in Europe, UK and the USA – some were a mix of tech and IP; some were more about tech and telecom laws; and some courses were tech-intensive.

After a lot of deliberation, I had chosen Europe for my masters, for two reasons mainly. Firstly, Europe has been a leader in framing rules and regulations to govern the cyber world. In contrast with the USA, when it comes to cyber regulation, I believe that Europe is more about a ‘balanced approach’ and strikes the much-needed balance between the chaos of the cyberworld and the need for regulation.

Secondly, considering my end goals of starting an academic career in India after my LLM, I did not want to invest hefty amount of money which is generally the fee requirement in USA.  

In Europe, including UK, I had to choose between universities like KCL, QMUL, University of Edinburgh, Tilburg University, and University of Oslo.

I found Leiden University to be the best in academic research. I had spent time learning about the clinical research practices at the Universities, and reading research papers of the faculty. The research-centric environment at Leiden University, along with its highly reputed e-Law Centre, highly inspired me and hence, I made the decision to join Leiden University.  

Looking back, what were some of the most rewarding aspects of the Leiden LLM? Also, what were the most challenging? 

My LLM in Leiden University has been life-altering for me. When I look back, there are various aspects which have been highly rewarding for me and my future career goals.

The top three aspects for me are: one, the faculty – we had faculty coming from various backgrounds, and the same clearly reflected in their expertise and teaching style. For instance, we had faculty members who were practising in the Netherlands– working on GDPR and other technology laws; and we also had faculty who were coming from tech-background and gave us a deeper understanding of the intersection of technology and law;

Two, the exposure – Leiden University actively worked towards giving more exposure to its students and organised activities, guest lectures, tours and conferences for us. For instance, we had the chance to visit TU Delft and see their quantum computer – Quantum Inspire, which was truly fascinating for me. 

Three, my fellow students – Leiden University certainly has a unique admission criterion where they try to maintain a balanced mix of students who can learn from each other. With students from various countries and different work experience, every lecture was intellectually stirring.

The most challenging aspect, in my opinion, was adapting to the different teaching and evaluation methods at Leiden University. When it comes to teaching mechanisms, we were given sufficient reading material for class, and to be honest, I am yet to finish my “recommended reading” material. Covering all subjects, including thesis, in less than a year was indeed very challenging.

With regard to evaluation mechanisms, it took me the first two exams to get a grasp of the expectations of the faculty with regards to examination. Unlike my experience in India, we were required to be very crisp and to the point, and this challenge is rather rewarding in the long run.

Did you find yourself falling back on your work experience during the classroom teachings? Also, do you recommend other candidates to gain some amount of work experience before applying for an LLM?

For me, having work experience was very helpful during classroom interactions, especially considering that I had already worked with tech-focused clients. For instance, I had worked on privacy policies, SaaS Agreements, EULA and other legal documents in India which gave me a strong understanding of how businesses function in the real world. It was also interesting for me to analyse EU laws and understand how any provision would work in the Indian scenario – which is now very critical for me.

Before working towards a masters course, I would definitely recommend gaining some work experience. Work experience gives a different critical perspective, which is especially necessary in the field of law, where understanding the practical application of law is very crucial.

Along with the LLM, you also worked with a data security organisation, STRM – how did this come about, and was it difficult to manage the consultancy work along with the LLM course load?

Getting an opportunity to work with STRM was pure luck for me – a result of shared passion for bridging the gap between technology and law. I had come across the founders of STRM through a podcast which aims to bring law and technology together, and had the chance to meet them in Rotterdam at STRM office.

Working at STRM was a great experience – I had a front row seat to data protection in the EU while I was studying technology laws in depth. In addition to strengthening my understanding of the technology side, working at STRM helped me apply my legal expertise to finding solutions to protect the personal data of businesses in various sectors such as healthcare, fintech, and HR.

When I look back, with regard to managing the work load of a full time LLM and a part time role at STRM, I cannot thank my founders enough for making it so easy for me. With regard to my course subjects, it was a beautiful coincidence that my course topics often aligned with my research work at STRM. Additionally, I also had a great team who always helped me with my doubts – explaining me some very technical aspects, thereby adding to my overall experience at Leiden University. The work culture at STRM was also very supportive – I had the flexibility to take leaves before exams, and also work from home when need be.

What is your reading of the employment opportunities that such an LLM provides, whether in India or elsewhere? 

Employment opportunities depend on various factors of course. I can guarantee one thing though – India has great employment opportunities right now with such an LLM. We are gearing up on technology laws and such an advanced LLM will equip one with the required skill set.

In the field of data protection specially, there are great employment opportunities in EU as well, but visa requirements and language barriers must be considered. I am however not the correct person to comment on getting a corporate job in EU, but seeing my fellow classmates, I understand that it is challenging – but possible.

With regard to academic opportunities in the EU, I had come across some very interesting roles for students who want to pursue an academic career abroad. For me personally, I was determined to apply my learnings from my experience and contribute to the development of technology laws in India.

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a master’s abroad? 

In my opinion, having clarity on why you are doing an LLM is very important. Pursuing a masters abroad offers several benefits, be it academic learning, cultural exposure, or relocation to a foreign country. It is very essential to be certain on your expectations from an LLM and invest accordingly.