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.

Atrayee De graduated with a BCL from the University of Oxford in 2019.  Since then, she has been making her way through the dual-qualification process in the UK, and is currently working as a Trainee Solicitor in the UK.
Atrayee De

Atrayee De graduated with a BCL from the University of Oxford in 2019.  Since then, she has been making her way through the dual-qualification process in the UK, and is currently working as a Trainee Solicitor in the UK. In this FPA, she talks about the BCL experience, gaining work experience in the UK, Project i-Care and a whole lot more.  

You opted to read the BCL right after your Indian law degree – even back then, was the goal to eventually immigrate to the UK?

The UK seemed an exciting place to study, but I did not have a grand plan to immigrate long-term. After qualifying in India, I decided to continue my legal education in another common law jurisdiction. Initially, I considered both the UK and the US as both countries have world-class universities and highly regarded legal courses.

However, the cost of attending the top US institutions is famously high compared to top institutions elsewhere and I quickly found that they had very few scholarships available to Indian nationals studying law. In contrast, the UK was more open in that respect.

The appeal of Oxford was also a big part of my decision. The university is highly respected globally, and the BCL is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious master’s degrees in law. I was humbled by the opportunity to learn alongside some of the sharpest legal thinkers from around the world, particularly as I was one of the youngest people offered a place on the course, and I knew many of my peers were taking the BCL to build on years or even decades of legal experience.

The chance to be pushed intellectually by brilliant peers and faculty at Oxford was very appealing to me as a young lawyer, and that is primarily what I was seeking. I planned to maximize my legal knowledge and analytical abilities and build my future there.

What were some of the schools you had shortlisted? Was there anything in particular about the BCL that got you to Oxford?

When considering master’s programs, I was lucky enough to receive offers from several prestigious UK universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, QMUL, LSE, and KCL. I ultimately chose the BCL program at Oxford. The beautiful location and chance to study at the closest thing to a real-life Hogwarts appealed to my inner child and added to Oxford’s allure.

But more importantly, I was drawn to the BCL for its renowned rigor and excellence in legal education. I could see that the BCL would be intense and demanding, but I saw that challenge as an opportunity to take my legal knowledge to the next level. I was eager to receive the best possible instruction from experts at the height of each area of law alongside exceptional students from around the world. The curriculum focused on global legal perspectives was also highly appealing to me.

I should also mention that I am incredibly grateful that I was given the Bodh Raj Sawhny Memorial Scholarship, which goes to the top Indian student reading for the BCL. This scholarship enabled me to attend, which I’m incredibly grateful for. I found it humbling to be given this special chance to gain the tools to advance my legal career and I knew I had to seize it.

With the benefit of hindsight, what were some of the highlights of the BCL experience? How do you think the BCL helped you in your professional career?

Looking back, a major highlight of my BCL experience was having the honor to represent Oxford as a speaker at the International IP Moot Court competition. I was also fortunate to be offered opportunities to judge prestigious moot court events alongside distinguished judges, barristers, solicitors and law professors. I am extremely grateful that the course provided so many opportunities to interact with current and future leaders in law, as well as with exceptional scholars.

Serving as a Research Associate on an interdisciplinary law and technology project was another highlight as it allowed me to pursue my passions for both fields while developing talents that enabled me to attain my current role, where I practice at the intersection of law and tech.

More broadly, the BCL provided an invaluable foundation for my legal career. The rigorous curriculum and global approach sharpened my analytical abilities and understanding of complex legal issues. Learning from renowned academics and brilliant peers elevated my thinking and knowledge.

The demanding workload, while difficult, instilled mental discipline, expanded my legal mindset and equipped me with practical abilities central to my profession. The knowledge and capabilities I honed there have served me well so far and I’m sure will continue to do so.

Since the BCL, you have been working your way through the dual-qualification process – I will come back to this in a minute, but what I wanted to know more about was the mini pupillage you were selected for – how difficult was this to find? And what were some of the learnings made?

There is a lot of competition for mini-pupillages, and especially during the pandemic, there were limited opportunities available, so I was very fortunate to be selected. I gained some eye-opening glimpses into life as a barrister and found that extremely valuable. I gained firsthand exposure to the day-to-day work of barristers in commercial law which was a major area of interest for me.

In practical terms, the mini-pupillages let me apply and sharpen my legal research, writing, and analytical abilities in a new context. Shadowing barristers on cases and collaborating on arguments enhanced my skills and knowledge substantially. The intensive workload and quick turnarounds mirrored the demanding but stimulating reality of practice I could expect in any future legal role.

While at times difficult, the mini-pupillages endowed me with practical legal skills and experiences that have served me well since. I remain very grateful for those opportunities. I ultimately decided to train as a solicitor myself but my experiences have given me huge respect for the barrister profession and helped equip me to work closely alongside them in my current role and my future career.

As someone who has now worked with a number of UK-based organisations, what is your reading of the career opportunities that foreign trained lawyers have in the UK?  Any specific aspect that you think has worked in your favour thus far?

As a foreign-trained lawyer who has worked at several UK organizations, I’ve found promising career opportunities in the UK legal market. With London as a global business and finance hub, demand exists for lawyers like myself who offer an international background and adaptability. My varied perspectives and flexibility to understand complex cross-border issues have been assets.

Whilst there are limitations on how I can practice here compared to a UK-qualified lawyer, my employers have recognized the value I bring to the table as an India-trained lawyer given the shared common law principles that underpin our legal systems and the international nature of many of the cases I work on.

Their recognition that the BCL program at Oxford provided me with a strong foundation in the commercial awareness, critical thinking and soft skills needed to work with UK and multinational clients has certainly helped create opportunities for me.

However, success as a foreign lawyer in the UK rests primarily on merit, skills, and a willingness to learn the intricacies of British legal practice. As much as my academic or geographic background, I think a consistent effort to keep performing at the high standards I know I’m capable of and seize on any opportunity to learn and develop expertise in UK law are qualities that have enabled me to add value in roles so far.

There are challenges navigating a new legal system, but recognising you can overcome those through learning and collaboration has allowed me to gain knowledge and progress my career. My experiences in London working on a large international class action in my previous role and on meeting the legal needs of multinational clients in my current role have been very rewarding.

I think this exemplifies how the legal field is increasingly global, and I’m very fortunate to have these experiences as a foundation for my future career.

Coming back to the dual-qualification process, it would appear that you are interested in becoming a solicitor  – is this correct, and if so, was this a decision you had made early on in your academic career? What have been some of the most challenging bits in this process?

Yes, that’s right – I am currently on the path to becoming a dual-qualified solicitor in the UK. This was not something I had in mind when I originally came to the UK to study, but after graduating and working here for several years, the greater flexibility to practice and, consequently, greater opportunities available to UK-qualified solicitors became highly appealing to me.

Qualifying here is a very different process to qualifying in India.

The two year training contract and ongoing examinations at the core of the process is famously rigorous and whilst I was able to get partial exemptions to reflect my Indian qualification and previous experience, it’s still a long road ahead. Intense studying alongside a full-time work schedule and responsibilities I’ve accrued as an already practicing lawyer has taken discipline and tested my time management abilities at times.

However, I have embraced the challenge, and I think it’ll make the reward of becoming a UK-qualified solicitor even sweeter in due course. I’m very excited by how this qualification and specialised expertise will expand my ability to serve clients and the justice system and very grateful for the opportunity.

Moving away from education, you are also the founder of Project iCare – could you tell me a bit about the hows and whys behind this organization?

I really appreciate you asking about this. I founded Project iCare in May 2020 to honor my late grandfather, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, to raise mental health awareness, educate people on the real world impact of mental health issues, and create a supportive community.

Project iCare offers an anonymous platform for individuals worldwide to share their mental health experiences through our “Care Stars” program. We also distribute bite-sized informational resources on various conditions. Additionally, our blog explores the intersection of law and mental health. To be clear, we do not give medical or legal advice but we offer a judgment-free space for honest dialogue and, where possible, we point people in the direction of other resources.

I’m so grateful to the team of volunteers that have joined the project, contributing skills ranging from programming to graphic design and helped the project to reach a wider audience. I’m also extremely thankful and full of admiration for the people who have shared their personal stories on the platform and in doing so, allowed us to learn from their journeys and helped to de-stigmatise mental health issues.

Mental health issues affect people from every background and every walk of life, but they currently don’t always get the same level of recognition and empathy as physical health issues. I hope Project iCare can contribute to promoting inclusiveness and challenging misconceptions, and through this we can help encourage understanding and compassion.

Though still small, I know we have already had an impact on our audience and I hope Project iCare can continue to grow and make a difference in creating awareness and community around mental health. My hope is that by shining light on mental health challenges, we can realize that we are never alone in this fight.

Please visit our website to learn more and join our community.

Lastly, any advice for the Indian law graduate who is considering a masters abroad?

I moved to the UK without any prior connections to the country and I can testify from firsthand experience that the change in culture (and weather!) can be a bit daunting at times and that there are challenges and downsides as well as upsides.

For me, those upsides outweighed the downsides and it’s been an amazing experience but I wouldn’t say it’s the right path for everyone.  

My advice is to stay true to whatever your dreams are. If a masters in the UK or elsewhere aligns with the dream of someone reading this then I wish them the best of luck in applying, I’d like to reassure them that the obstacles to studying abroad are surmountable if you do your research and put the effort in, and that when they get there I hope they enjoy their time studying as much as I did.

On deciding where to go, I’d encourage them to avoid choosing where to go purely by how prestigious an institution is and research programs thoroughly so they can take into account whether the curriculums and strengths of the faculty fit their interests. It’s also important to be think about costs, whether you’ll need a scholarship or to work part-time, as well as career prospects.

For those considering a similar career path to myself I’d add that with a foundation in Indian law, you bring invaluable experience and diversity of thought. Legal training at any level is challenging but it’s also a very rewarding career that gives you a bright future.

Finally, on a personal note I am extremely grateful for the support of my parents and professors in making my journey possible. I hope others studying abroad will have their own support network, remember their roots back home during difficult times, share their culture proudly and never let anyone limit their journey based on background.