The Amicus Interviews: Dhvani Mehta, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (Part 1)

Dhvani Mehta has been on the list of people-I-must-speak-to for a while now. For many reasons. One, she is a Rhodes scholar. Two, she is one of the founding members of the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, a think-tank that has really pushed policy work as a viable career option for Indian law grads.

Three, it is high time that academy and research is given more attention, and information on academic careers be made more accessible.

In the first part of the interview, I get Dhvani to discuss her own experiences at Oxford University as a BCL student, an MPhil and then a DPhil. She also talks about, what I consider, the lesser known facts of research.

Without further digression, the first part of the two-part interview:

So, I know you always wanted to study outside the country. Why?

Primarily just for the experience of living in another country and also, perhaps, having the chance to be tested intellectually in a way that I wasn’t at [Government Law College Mumbai]. I am not saying that I had a bad legal education – there were several things that were very interesting and informative about [GLC]. It gave me a lot of opportunities to do other kinds of non-academic activities that I may not have had the chance to do if I was in a fully residential 5-year law school.

Having said that, I did not have the chance to do any proper legal research in college or do any serious legal writing. So, one of the reasons why I wanted to do an LLM abroad was to see if I would match up to that kind of environment.

I wanted to see what it meant to really think in a rigorous way and be taught by people who weren’t really interested in seeing what the right answer to a multiple-choice question was.

[I wanted] to see what it meant to really think in a rigorous way and be taught by people who weren’t really interested in seeing what the right answer to a multiple-choice question was. [People] who make you think more about what the law should be and not what it was. I had a vague idea that’s what an LLM abroad would equip me with.

Do you think you were right?

Yes, I would think so. In going to Oxford, my expectations from the BCL were definitely matched and then some. It was one of the most exciting courses that I did. It was unlike any style of teaching or examination taking that I had ever been used to.

When you mean teaching style, are you talking about seminars?

Yes. The seminar style of teaching meant you had to do a lot of reading before class. I was taken aback in the first few weeks to know that my classmates had detailed notes on everything they had read [before they came to class]

Oxford also has this tutorial system where you write an essay and discuss that one on one or in a group of three: you, a fellow student and the professor. You have the chance to critique the other person’s work, hear critique of your own work, defend it, conceive some points and get some very detailed feedback on your writing and thinking.

You stuck around at Oxford for quite a while. Any surprises along the way?

After the BCL, I was in for a general shock as far as coping with what writing a thesis or doing a research degree meant. I did not have a very clear idea of what that would entail at all.

I would say that perhaps Oxford does not do the best job of orienting its research students about what it is really going to be like doing an MPhil or a DPhil.

And what is it really going to be like?

It is going to be lonely. It is going to involve a lot of self-motivation. Your experience is going to vary depending on the kind of supervisor you have. You are going to enjoy it only if you are really passionate about the subject you are researching. I think it is a lot about finding your own way.

How do you do that?

I suppose trial and error. Perhaps I was unduly harsh on Oxford [earlier]. Of course, we had a legal research methods course, and we had support groups for DPhil students – it helps but ultimately it is something that you have to figure out on your own. I had a very supportive supervisor, and I also had a good college advisor.

It always helped to generally talk about your woes with other DPhil students, so we would go discussion groups, everybody would moan about the stage in which their thesis was. Everyone would learn not to ask each other how their thesis was going.

We would go discussion groups, everybody would moan about the stage in which their thesis was. Everyone would learn not to ask each other how their thesis was going.

The mental health of PhD scholars is a serious issue.

I would say that there was a time when I was doing the DPhil that I was definitely depressed. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the DPhil or I was just generally fed up of spending a miserable winter in Oxford yet again.

Again, there is support from the university, there is counselling that you can go to. You can take a sabbatical. There are a lot of systems in place that allow you to find your own pace, but it is still hard.

Apart from your research, you also worked with Oxford Pro Bono Publico (OPBP)

OPBP provides legal research assistance to other NGOs who are pursuing human rights cases across the world or made submissions to parliamentary standing committees or other governmental bodies. We would help draft amicus briefs for lawyers, again, fighting human rights cases.

I won’t say I saw it as an escape from my thesis, but yes it helped having something different to do and something that had a more tangible outcome. You know with the DPhil, you can’t really see the end in sight and it is very frustrating to go to the library every day, sit there for eight hours, and have a hundred words to show for it. Which you will probably erase the next day.

What is a day in the life of a DPhil scholar?

It depends on what kind of thesis you are writing. If your thesis has empirical research or a fieldwork component, then you are not in Oxford for some time, and you are out there doing interviews or gathering data from archives or whatever.

But most legal theses are not like that, so you are just usually sitting in the library, making notes, substantiating your footnotes etc.

What drove you?

Getting the “Dr” prefix before your name. I couldn’t be a real doctor, so this seemed to be the best way to do that (smiles). No, but I suppose what drives you is that [a PhD] is the highest academic qualification that you can get. And to anyone who is somewhat nerdy, that is a good goal to have.

And like I said, for people who are really passionate about the subject matter that they are pursuing or have a real interest in an academic career, a PhD is basically sine qua non– you can’t advance without a PhD.

I suppose what drives you is that a PhD is the highest academic qualification that you can get. And to anyone who is somewhat nerdy, that is a good goal to have.

First Person Accounts: Mitisha Chheda on an LLM in IP from George Washington Law

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued a masters course from schools across the world. In this FPA interview, Amicus Partners speaks to Mitisha Chheda, who recently completed an LLM in Intellectual Property from George Washington University Law School (Class of ’17).

In this FPA, Mitisha talks about the reasons behind choosing a specialised LLM (hint: Conde Nast), how she went about the application process, Research Assistant positions, and a whole lot more.

Mitisha M Cheddha

Mitisha Chheda

At what point in time did you decide to do an LL.M? Was this something you had planned to do even as an undergraduate or was this only something you opted for after working for some time?

It was during the fourth year of law school that I decided to purse an LL.M. This decision was largely influenced by my brother’s experience; he has earned his LL.M from a U.S law school. His LL.M experiences were an inspiration for me and a starting point for my own LL.M. pursuit.

Many students who pursue an LL.M. tend to have prior work experience before taking up the course. Prior work experience helps in choosing your Masters’ specialization and allows one to refine their skills in the desired concentration of law.

How did you go about the process of narrowing down on George Washington University Law School? What were the other schools that you applied to (if any), and how early did you start the application process?

I have always been very passionate about Intellectual Property (IP) law and Entertainment law. It dates back to my interest in travel photography coupled with the practical insights I gained during my internship at Conde Nast Traveller. It was this internship which led me to pursue law with a focus in IP.

Post my internship at Conde Nast Traveller I have been crafting my experiences only in IP. So, pursuing my Masters in Law in IP was a natural progression.

I started preparing for my LL.M application process six to seven months in advance. I had very few law schools in mind for the IP course – George Washington University, NYU, UCLA, Berkeley, and Georgetown. I narrowed down on George Washington University because of its robust IP Program, esteemed professors, and its proximity to the U.S Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S Copyright Office.

A lot of applicants struggle when it comes to writing the Statement of Purpose – any pointers on how applicants should approach this?

Indeed, the Statement of Purpose takes up a lot of time and like many other students I grappled as well. My advice is – be a good story teller. Apart from this, you should spend at least (I stress on “at least”) three to four weeks in writing the SOP.

My advice is – be a good story teller. Apart from this, you should spend at least (I stress on “at least”) three to four weeks in writing the SOP. One should also discuss their line of thought for the SOP with their friends who are not from the legal background. This helps in bringing a new perspective and in simplifying the SOP’s language.

One should also discuss their line of thought for the SOP with their friends who are not from the legal background. This helps in bringing a new perspective and in simplifying the SOP’s language. Unlike India, the U.S. prefers the written material to be reader-friendly and easy to understand even for a lay person.

What were the biggest changes that you observed when it came to the learning experience between your undergrad and post-grad days?

The biggest difference was the classroom experience. In the U.S., professors assign class readings before-hand and they expect you to come prepared for classes. During the class, you are expected to engage in classroom discussion rather than be lectured by the Professor alone. This method is known as the Socrates method.

I personally believe that the Socratic method was very helpful because every class introduced a new and novel thought process. We were encouraged to participate in healthy classroom discussions and submit various practical assignments as opposed to my under graduate program, where we would just appear for a final written test.

Was it easy to get a RA post while an LLM student? Any advice for those who may be interested in doing something similar?

It was not easy to receive a Research Assistant position. I found out about this position through a friend who was already a Research Assistant to the Professor I eventually assisted. One has to be aware and attentive and check out listings for these positions on the law school portal or notice boards.

Interested students can also reach out to the Professors well before their course starts, even before arriving in the United States. If not as a full-time RA, Professors also hire students on a part-time basis on a project-basis.

What is your reading of the job market in the U.S? Are you planning to write the NY Bar as well?

As foreign attorneys its slightly tougher to break into the U.S. job market, especially when your first degree in law is not from the U.S. So it is certainly an uphill task but it can be done.

The best way to go about your job hunt is to network and build new connections. You can do this by asking for coffee meetings, attending relevant events, and becoming members of relevant organizations.

For this process to work, it’s very important to stay in touch with your new connections and keep them updated with your progress. Persistence and patience are the most important attributes when looking for a job in the U.S. You have to keep trying and not give up. For most people who land a job, it is an organic process. It’s very rare for someone to land a job over-night, on the basis of a cold email.

You have to keep trying and not give up. For most people who land a job, it is an organic process. It’s very rare for someone to land a job over-night, on the basis of a cold email.

As for the New York Bar, it is definitely worthwhile to have it on your resume as it increases your marketability for the U.S. job market. But again, there are jobs in the U.S which do not require you to be enrolled with the Bar. So while it’s a great asset, it may not necessarily be indispensable. I do plan to take the New York Bar in July of 2019.

Looking back, any advice for law grads who are interested in an LL.M? And would you have done anything differently?

In addition to doing well academically, being involved in extra-curricular activities is equally important. One should strive to hold at least one leadership position or be a member of a committee during their LL.M. program.

For instance, be a part of the editorial board of a law journal, or the law school’s moot court association, help organize cultural events, etc. A clerkship with a judge or an internship with the legal team of a government office would also greatly help your resume.

The #Admission interviews: Prof. Margareth Etienne, Illinois College of Law

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Prof. Margareth Etienne / Illinois College

The Admission Interviews (AI) are meant to provide prospective LLM applicants with first-hand information on the LLM application process. In this edition of AI, Amicus Partners speaks to Professor Margareth Etienne, the associate dean for graduate and international programs at the Illinois College of Law.

In this interview, Prof. Etienne discusses several aspects of the LLM application process – right from how one should go about choosing a law school, what should one write in the Statement of Purpose, the JSD option, and a whole lot more.

So, let’s start from the start – how early should applicants begin the LLM application process?

Students should start investigating and doing their research into different law schools probably in the Spring (March-June) before they want to apply.

And as for the applications themselves, they should begin that process by September because there is a lot to prepare. They have to, in some instances, take an English proficiency exam, arrange finances or apply for funding, obtain letters of recommendation from faculty members or employers, and so on.

Each school’s application may be slightly different. It is important to find out what the law school requires for the application process, and you should give yourself about 3-4 months for this.

How do you think LLM applicants should choose a law school?

There are several factors applicants should consider. I would focus on the faculty and the curriculum. Too many international students rely on rankings. Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students. These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students.  These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

There are a lot of programs that focus on the JD course and do not really have a good program for LLM students. So, you might have a good experience, but it does not necessarily mean you will.

Take seriously instead the areas of expertise or subject matter concentrations that the law school is known for. I would also look at the faculty to student ratio. It is easy to get lost in a large school.

And I would finally look at the location. This is important for many reasons – for example, the costs of living – do you want an American campus experience or a large city experience? Most international students don’t have cars, so they should know how close they have to live to the school, how is the public transportation etc.

Location is also important because you may want to go to a part of the country that you would not otherwise see. After all, [an LLM] is also a chance to experience a different culture.

What do you look for in an applicant’s personal statement?

I look for the student’s motivation. Why do they want to come to Illinois? Are they familiar with our faculty and our strengths in technology or constitutional law or corporate law? Do they know anything specific about the law school? Or are they writing one generic statement simply because they want to spend a year aboard?

I am much more interested in the student who can connect their decision to seek an LLM to something in their background, or their work experience.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

Is this someone who will go out and do different things? Will she think about new ways of approaching a legal problem? What is her future trajectory? A personal statement that can demonstrate these elements is a strong statement.

How do you think applicants should plan for their finances?

I would say first look for schools that have an application fee waiver. Second, when you are considering the total cost of the experience including the full cost of living and not just the tuition. When you are applying for the visa, you have to show you possess the finances that cover the full cost.

Therefore, students should be wise consumers.

Also, look for a school that has significant scholarships and also what is your likelihood of getting this scholarship. As an administrator I may have to choose between allocating 5 full scholarships or 10 half scholarships. So, you want to look at both the amount and number of scholarships.

At Illinois, over 80% of our student receive scholarships, and many of our scholarships are about 50% but not all of them. We are known for being a great bargain for a great education because we invest in top international students.

Illinois College of Law has an option for students to complete the LLM in three semesters instead of two. How does that work?

One of the things we pride ourselves is the flexibility of our LLM program. Students can begin in fall or begin in January. They can complete the LLM in two semesters or choose to finish in three semesters.

Now, some students apply for the three-semester option at the outset while others come here and then choose to extend their coursework in order to study for the bar or improve their practice or language skills. It really depends on the student.

What do you think are the benefits of an LLM from the point of view of an international student?

First of all, getting an international LLM really opens up opportunities, be it academic or career-wise. The LLM allows students to take the Bar exams in the United States, and in some cases gain employment here.

But whether a student choses to sit for the Bar or not, the LLM degree distinguishes them when they go back home. The American system of legal education is unparalleled and students think differently after they leave here.

The LLM broadens your perspectives. Students learn to think about the different ways in which things can be done about various approaches to solving legal problems.

The LLM also provides important global networking opportunities. One of the reasons I mentioned that students should look at the student faculty ratio is that many students come to the US and study for a year, but after that year, they know no one. You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career.

You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career. And the same holds true for your classmates.

And the same holds true for your classmates. The Illinois LLM is diverse and so students have colleagues from South America, Europe, Africa, and different parts of Asia. In 5-10 years into their practice, it may be helpful for them to know people practicing law in different regions.

And you can’t do this by continuing your education at home.

A lot of our clients are looking at joining academia as a profession. Any advice for those considering the JSD or other doctorate degree?

I would highly recommend the JSD for someone who wants to teach or be in academia.

In many countries, you really need a doctoral degree to join the highest ranks of academia. But the JSD admissions are also very competitive, most schools take 5-10 JSD students a year. So, if we have an LLM class of 70 students, even if they all want a JSD we can’t take them all. It is very, very competitive.

My advice for LLM students who are looking at the JSD is that they should apply to several schools because admission is so competitive.

Any final words of advice for those interested in an LLM in the US?

Do your homework and start early. All law schools have detailed websites, so do your homework and really try to understand the program as much as you can.

No NET for Assistant Prof. post if you have a foreign PhD from a top-500 University

For those Indian law graduates looking to join academia, here is a development that ought to be of interest. As per multiple reports last week, the University Grants Commission has allowed foreign PhD holders to be directly recruited as assistant professors. Most significantly, this does away with the requirement of the National Eligibility Test – a factor that has discouraged many in the past.

This development can actually be traced back to July last year when the UGC published the succinctly titled UGC Regulations on Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education. [pdf]

Amongst other things, the Regulations state to be eligible for direct recruitment to the post of Assistant Professor, you can either go through the established route of the NET (although there are some exceptions to this) or have a PhD from a foreign degree that has,

“obtained from a foreign university/institution with a ranking among top 500 in the World University Ranking (at any time) by any one of the following: (i) Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) (ii) the Times Higher Education (THE) or (iii) the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Shanghai).”

These regulations have been notified in October last year so I am not sure why this has been picked up only now. In fact, this particular provision (of PhD from a foreign university) was mentioned in this news report from June of last year.

Whatever be the reason for the recent reports, what this effectively means is that Indian law graduates can consider different pathways to entering Indian academy. And, also, the NET is no longer a mandatory requirement for becoming an Assistant Professor.

Three Executive LLMs that mid-career lawyers can look at

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Ever feel like life is too slow?

So far, clients at Amicus Partners have largely been of two kinds: one, law students in their final or penultimate year of law and two, law grads with a few years of work experience. So naturally, our focus has been on the LLM (and other masters courses) that are tailored for these two segments; I would say that 95% of our clientele is not really looking for anything else.

However, over the last few weeks, I have become aware of a small section of lawyers who are also considering “executive” programs – courses with a reduced residency requirement, tailored to fit into a working professional’s schedule.

Essentially, these programs provide some of the big draws of a full-time LLM: specialist knowledge, brand, and networking without having to give up the entire year (or ten months) that the full-time course would take. And of course, the associated costs that a year out of the country would carry.

To be honest, I am not quite sure if Indian lawyers see executive LLMs as a value proposition, but I do come across lawyers who are considering it. Typically, these are lawyers who are firmly on the Partner track (or close to it), and looking to up skill. At the same time, they are also wary of a year-long departure from the office.

The question is though, will they bite?

Institutions like Columbia Law School certainly think so. They have recently launched their Executive LLM program, and they are not the first major law school to do so. Given below are the details of two other US law schools that offer executive LLM’s.

Of course, you would be well-advised to read through each program’s fine print to see if they satisfy your requirements such as Bar eligibility, qualifying for OPT etc.

Columbia Law School’s Executive LLM in Global Business Law

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Columbia Law Schools Exec LLM/ Columbia Law School 

 

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The newest entrant, as far as I know, to the “e-LLM” club, the Executive LLM from Columbia Law brings a whole lot to the table: online courses and assessments, a three-month residency requirement in New York City, and some stellar faculty. The website mentions that they prefer applicants with a minimum of five years of work experience.

Tuition: $72,560 (More info)

Application Deadline: January 18, 2019 (Preferred deadline is Dec 18, 2018) (More Info)

Contact: ExecLLM@law.columbia.edu

Pros: Faculty, Career Services, Brand, Location

Cons: Does not qualify you for NY Bar, Expensive, First year of operations

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Executive LLM Chicago

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The Northwestern ELLMC/Northwestern University

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Born out of the accelerated summer LLM program, Northwestern’s Executive LLM Chicago (ELLMC) course was formally launched in 2016.  With a curriculum that “will focus on the way lawyers interact across the world with business clients and enterprises”, the ELLMC is not really for someone looking to make that switch to the US. In fact, this is one of the facts that are clearly stated on the website itself (see below)

Tuition: $67,066 (See more)

Application Deadline: Rolling admission

Pros: Qualifies you for California Bar (but read the fine print), scholarships (partial) available, entire course is class-based

Cons: Not tailored for US employment, Expensive

London School of Economics and Political Science Executive LLM

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LSE’s Executive LLM/LSE 

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With an LLM that is quite popular amongst Indian law graduates, LSE does enjoy a certain amount of brand recognition in India.  In addition, the ELLM at LSE also comes with a set of specialisations, and can be completed over the course of four years. Applicants with at least 3 years PQE are preferred.

Tuition: £3,250 per module, 8 modules for completion (£26,000)

Application Deadline: Rolling admission

Pros: Can be covered over 4 years, Location, “Exit points” for those who don’t complete course

Cons: No scholarships, Fairly intensive teaching schedule [pdf]

In addition to the three listed above, one can also look at IE Law School’s Executive LLM that is jointly offered with Northwestern University. And lastly, thanks to LinkedIn, I found the Master of Advanced Corporation Law (MACL) course from the University of Michigan’s Law School.

The Fortnightly with Professor John Flood (Part 1)

If you are visiting this blog, the chances are that legal education is a topic of interest for you. It certainly is for me, and the past few months have allowed me to read about some of the more innovative changes that are taking place in the world of legal education.

At some point in my research, and I am guessing this will be the case for others as well, I chanced upon the writings of one Professor John Flood. A Professor of Law at Griffith University, John Flood has written extensively on the changing nature of the legal profession, amongst other things. But that is not all. Listen to this episode of the Happy Lawyer to get a glimpse of his career. Also, visit his SSRN page where you can find, inter alia, his book on barrister’s clerks in the UK.

Anyway, what I found particularly intriguing about him was his thoughts on legal education, and what the future holds. Which is why I am quite excited to introduce the “Fortnightly with John Flood” (FwF) series where the professor answers a question or two on legal education.

Enough digressing, here is the first FwF:

What do you think the purpose of legal education ought to be?

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Prof. John Flood

I think the answer depends on what you want legal education to achieve. Some people will insist it should be practical and vocational in nature. Perhaps if it’s an emerging economy with a great need for lawyers to handle business and emerging human rights, then creating a vocational attitude might be the way to go.

However, in both business and human rights I would like lawyers to be aware of the deeper issues that can arise. Should business be purely free market with no concern for the neighbourhood effects (externalities) which might consist of poor environmental regulation or poor labour laws regulating conditions of work?

The American approach is to consider law one of the professional schools along with medicine, business and journalism. But their approach is predicated on the fact that professional students will have done a liberal arts degree before taking a professional degree.

In many other countries like the UK or Germany law is a first degree therefore it is expected it will serve a double function of being a “liberal arts” degree along with professional training. This is not the best approach as it conflates practice and theory in ways which are antithetical. In such jurisdictions students taking law frequently resent having to take subjects like legal theory or jurisprudence later on in their degrees feeling they are a waste of time and a detraction from learning how to do “real law”.

In many other countries like the UK or Germany law is a first degree therefore it is expected it will serve a double function of being a “liberal arts” degree along with professional training. This is not the best approach as it conflates practice and theory in ways which are antithetical.

There is a tendency in many countries to follow the American style of legal education. Aside from the supposed practical aspects, American legal education has a scientific bent to it which is illustrated by the popularity and dominance of law and economics, something which isn’t found much elsewhere. These give law and legal education gravitas and status.

Law in many ways reflects what societies are like. It is a kind of social science, perhaps the first. So as societies change, so must law. And the biggest changes affecting society are those caused by automation and machine learning. Unfortunately legal education has taken very little account of these yet.

It will have to.

 

(Image taken from here)

First Person Accounts: Shantanu Kanade on an LLM at the Leiden Law School

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued a masters course from schools across the world. In this FPA interview, Amicus Partners speaks to Shantanu Kanade, who is currently pursuing an advanced LLM in International Dispute Settlement and Arbitration at Leiden Law School.

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Shantanu Kanade

A graduate of HNLU, Shantanu also has a masters degree in global studies from the Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA). In this FPA, Shantanu shares his reasons for choosing Leiden Law School, his advice for those looking to pursue an LLM, and what life in a European law school is like.

When did you decide to pursue an LLM? Was it during your days as an undergraduate student, or only after you started working?

I was deeply interested in public international law (PIL) as a subject while in law school. I was able to secure really good grades in the mandatory course on PIL. Further, three out of the four moot courts in which I represented HNLU (Manfred Lachs, Frankfurt Investment Arbitration and Jessup) were based on PIL or related subjects. Having said that, I had never considered the possibility of charting out a career in this field.

It is only whilst pursuing my first Master’s degree at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA) that this thought struck me. I had the honour of reading courses on International Criminal Courts and Law of the Sea from Professor Gudmundur Eiriksson, a titan of international law. Thanks to him, I had the chance to interact with HE Judge Abdul Gadire Koroma, former judge of the International Court of Justice, who impressed upon me the power of international law to create a more just and equitable international order. These priceless interactions made me rediscover my love for the subject and inspired me to apply for a specialised LLM in the field.

In fact, this is the second post-graduate course that you are pursuing. What prompted you to take up a Master’s in Global Studies at Jindal University? 

To be honest, there was not much planning or thought that went into this decision. I had started working as a transactional lawyer right out of law school but after about two and a half years of doing so, I decided to quit because I felt that my true calling lay somewhere else.

I was a little unclear about what that “somewhere else” truly was, though I had a few vague ideas. I therefore decided to take a short break to figure out what it was that I really wanted to do. A few months in, I had all but decided to join the chamber of a senior advocate in the Bombay High Court and pursue litigation.

However, a few days before this, I came across the MA(DLB) program offered by JSIA while I was randomly surfing the internet. I have always had a keen interest in international affairs and a voice within me said that this was something that I would want to pursue. I called up the school and they informed me that I would have to take an entrance test. I took the entrance test without much preparation and got an admission offer.

It wasn’t the easiest decision to make because: one, it was entirely unfamiliar territory and two, it involved a significant investment of time. However, I decided to trust my instinct (as I almost always do) and went ahead. As I look back, it was a decision that changed my life for the better.

How did you narrow down on Leiden and the specialised LLM? Were there any other courses/universities that you considered?

As I mentioned before, I found an excellent mentor in Prof. Eiriksson. He was of the opinion that Leiden Law School is a great place to pursue an LLM in PIL. He also emphasised (and I think that is something that future applicants may want to consider) that while the Ivy League schools in the US may have a better brand name, Leiden Law School is a better bet if one is looking to pursue a specialised LLM in PIL. This is primarily because PIL as a branch of law has its roots in Europe.

While the Ivy League schools in the US may have a better brand name, Leiden Law School is a better bet if one is looking to pursue a specialised LLM in PIL.

In fact, Hugo De Groot, widely regarded as the father of international law, is known to have read at Leiden University.

I think it is important to mention here that I had originally applied and been admitted to the Advanced LLM in Public International Law. Until last year, international dispute settlement was a specialised track within the Advanced LLM in PIL program but starting this year (2018-19), Leiden has decided to offer a new program altogether that focusses solely on international dispute settlement and arbitration.

Leiden University

From 2018-19, Leiden has decided to offer a new program altogether that focusses solely on international dispute settlement and arbitration (Source)

Once admitted, I was given the option to move to this program and I chose to do it because I was particularly interested in this field. The new program, the Advanced LLM in International Dispute Settlement and Arbitration (IDSA), while maintaining a PIL focussed approach, also incorporates a private law element by way of courses on international commercial arbitration, advocate and writing and negotiation and mediation.

The IDSA program is, in a way, Leiden’s answer to the MIDS program and seeks to be more connected to practice than the Advanced LLM in PIL program, which takes a relatively more philosophical and academic approach. The practical approach of the IDSA program is reflected in the fact that several of our classes are taught by practicing lawyers. So far, we have had law firm partners, barristers from the UK and associate legal officers from the ICJ [take classes].    

Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?

Unfortunately, I missed the deadline to apply for financial aid. However, I must share that Leiden University has the Leiden University Excellence Scholarship for international students who have been admitted to a Master’s program.

I am, however, fortunate enough to have supportive parents who offered to loan me the money required to pursue this degree. Having said that, I must say that the overall cost (tuition fee + living expenses) of pursuing an Advanced LLM at Leiden is considerably lower as compared with comparable schools in the UK and certainly those in the US.

The overall cost (tuition fee+ living expenses) of pursuing an Advanced LLM at Leiden is considerably lower as compared with that comparable schools in the UK and certainly than those in the US.

At the same time, the academic standards of Leiden are at par with most law schools in the world when it comes to PIL (Leiden is consistently ranked in the top 10 for PIL across different rankings). This makes it quite an attractive option.

I know it is early days but what are some of the big changes that you have seen when comparing Indian law schools and international ones?

In the limited time I have spent at Leiden Law School, I have witnessed certain notable differences between law schools in India and the ones here in their approach to education.

First and foremost, there is much greater emphasis on the Socratic method of learning, essentially meaning that each class is more of a conversation between the teacher and the students as opposed to a situation where the teacher does most of the talking. As a student, one is constantly encouraged to come up with new ideas and challenge existing notions, which is intellectually stimulating.

Second, the relationship between teachers and the students is a lot less formal, especially when it comes to a Master’s program. The professors respect the fact that most, if not all, students have had some work experience before joining the program and accordingly bring a perspective to the table. They are always happy to have a chat over a cup of coffee to discuss any queries or concerns that one may have.

Second, the relationship between teachers and the students is a lot less formal, especially when it comes to that in a Master’s program. The professors respect the fact that most, if not all, students have had some work experience before joining the program and accordingly bring a perspective to the table.

Last but not the least, the method of assessment is a lot more holistic. For each course that one studies, assessment is usually broken down into sit down examinations, essays and take home examinations (in which one may refer to whatever material they wish). Further, the method of assessment is also tailored to suit the nature and content of each course.

For instance, in the course on ‘Negotiation and Mediation’, our assessment shall be based on a simulated negotiation exercise in which the class will be divided into different groups and each group will be given a specific mandate to negotiate.

Any advice for Indian law graduates who are looking to pursue a master’s course outside the country? 

I am afraid there is not a “one formula fits all” advice that I may be able to offer in this regard. Every prospective applicant is different in terms of a number of things, including whether one desires to pursue a general LLM or a specialised LLM, the area of law in which one desires to specialise in, whether one plans to pursue it straight out of law school or after working for a few years, one’s financial situation and so on.

Assuming that one has limited financial means at the time of applying, one must be clear in their mind about why one wishes to pursue an LLM and what one expects to get out of it. Do keep an eye out of scholarships (offered by the concerned university and otherwise) and ensure that you apply in time!

Quite a few Indian students set out for an overseas LLM with the idea of being able to get a job. Such students must bear in mind that merely earning an LLM degree will not by itself be enough to land them a job. The LLM year merely gives one a networking platform and how well one uses this platform is up to each individual.

Merely earning an LLM degree will not by itself be enough to land them a job. The LLM year merely gives one a networking platform and how well one uses this platform is up to each individual.

Further, while pursuing an LLM from a university in a particular country does increase one’s chances of finding a job there, most countries would require one to qualify the local bar examination if one intends to work in a law firm. On a slightly sceptical note, I think one would also do well to appreciate that there seems to be a progressive increase in protectionist and anti-immigrant sentiment in several western countries and that may sometimes, not always, work to the disadvantage of Indians.

Please note that these are just words of caution meant to provide a realistic perspective and are not, by any means, an attempt to dissuade anyone from pursing an LLM abroad. In fact, I would day that if one has the means, one must definitely consider pursuing an overseas LLM for the immense potential it has to broaden your horizon.

I am three months into my program as I write this and I am enjoying every bit of it. I can vouch for the fact the sheer experience of living in a different country and studying in a class with people belonging to several different nationalities and legal traditions is, in itself, an enriching experience. I have always believed in enjoying the journey as much as the feeling of reaching the destination. In line with this philosophy, I am treating this as an opportunity to, besides earning a Master’s degree, immerse myself in the Dutch culture and explore Europe (the added advantage of pursing an LLM from a university in continental Europe is that your residence permit allows you to travel freely to all countries within the Schengen area).  I also hope to acquire at least basic proficiency in a new language, preferably French.

Speaking of which, proficiency in a foreign language, especially French or Spanish, is a great asset for students desirous of pursuing a career in international dispute settlement since the ICJ and some arbitration institutions would require one to have at least a working knowledge of one of these languages. Further, quite a few law firms working in this field have teams working on international disputes based out of Paris. Accordingly, if one has the chance to learn a foreign language while in law school, I would strongly recommend it. I regret not having done it myself.

I can go on and on about this but I think I will choose to stop here as I think I have broadly covered the major points. I would conclude with this last bit of (really important) advice for all the prospective students: Don’t let the dishes and the laundry pile up, everything else will take care of itself!

The Amicus Interviews: Professor Kellye Testy, President of LSAC

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Professor Kellye Testy [Source]

Professor Kellye Testy, the President and CEO of LSAC was in India recently, and I am glad that I got the chance to speak with her on the sidelines of a conference on the future of legal education.

I was particularly interested in two aspects of Prof. Kellye’s career thus far: one, her ability to increase faculty and student diversity at the University of Washington’s College of Law, and two, she was Dean of UW Law when the university raised more than $500 million from private contributions.

Both of these factors are, in my view, going to become increasingly relevant for Indian law schools, and I think there is a fair bit that we can learn from the likes Prof. Kellye. And of course, as head of the LSAC (which oversees the LSAT India entrance examination), I was quite curious to know her views on gauging one’s aptitude for a legal education.

(Edited excerpts from our conversation)

How do you think the LSAT is better than, say the Common Law Admission Test?

I think there are a number of advantages to the LSAT. The first one is that it is a very reliable test. It has been around for 70 years and we continually improve it. So, we have the advantage of making sure that every question has been tested before it is released, that all the questions are well designed etc.

I think the most significant thing about the LSAT is that it tests aptitude and basic skills. It looks at things like reading comprehension, reasoning etc. So, it is not asking a young person to already know the law, because that is going to be learnt in law school. [The LSAT] is about making sure that you have that fundamental core of skill to make sure you really thrive once you are in law school.

The other thing I would say is that it is administered by an independent organization. We are non-profit, we are not associated with any institution – there is just a very high degree of transparency and fairness.

Are you in favour of the three-year model or the five-year model of studying law in India?

Well, I actually am in favour of both models in the sense that there is nothing wrong with the ability to take an undergraduate degree that is focused on law. [This degree] can help people decide if they want to study law more thoroughly. It is also good for the world generally if more people understand law, because law is so important to democracy and the rule of law.

But law is complex. And the ability for someone to have a 3-year degree is also really appropriate because then the student might be a little more mature, and have the ability to think about what the [law degree] might mean for their career. I am not someone who thinks there is only one model; there can be multiple ways to study law.

At the University of Washington’s College of Law, you managed to increase diversity in students and faculty.

[Educational equality] is a serious problem, and it is one that I have spent my life trying to figure out. Really starting from the youngest of ages, there is inequality based on race, economics, gender and all kinds of things that don’t let everyone have a level playing field. What that means if when you start admitting students to law school, you are going to see that inequality.

And unless you really address it, you are going to have everyone be the same in your law school class. I have always believed that diversity of all kinds makes the educational experience a lot stronger.

The way we encourage [diversity] is that, first of all, we really reach out broadly. We try and hold forums so that people who may not have lawyers in their family hear about law, and we explain the process of applying to law school.

We also do scholarship programs so that there is more of a level playing field [with respect to] economic class.

And then the other thing that is so important is that when you are conducting admissions, you look at the whole person. So, you use the test scores as part of the file, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. You also ought to look at what the personal statement says, what does the person want to do, what are their leadership capabilities. I think you can admit a diverse class when you take more factors into account.

So, you use the test scores as part of the file, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. You also ought to look at what the personal statement says, what does the person want to do, what are their leadership capabilities.

The other interesting bit during your previous tenure is the funding that UW managed to raise. 

We talked a lot about costs in the conference, and it is a good subject because good education is expensive. You are paying people – faculty and staff. These payments have to come from either the state or [federal] government or student fees. And you don’t want to have students bear the whole burden.

I have found that looking at alumni, at the friends of the law school can really help. It is a very reciprocal relationship. Because once an alum graduates, his or her reputation is linked with that of the law school. So, [alumni] have every interest in wanting the law school to thrive.

Once an alum graduates, his or her reputation is linked with that of the law school. So, [alumni] have every interest in wanting the law school to thrive.

But how do you build this reciprocal relationship?

It needs to start when the person is a student – you make sure that the students know that as alums, they are going to be asked to give back. That they are going to be privileged by having that law degree and that once they are out, they should help students.

So, early on you start to help your students understand that this is not just a transaction – it is not that they are there and gone. It is their law school for a lifetime. And that is what I help them understand – once you are with me as a law student, then we are together. The fate of the law school, and your reputation are interwoven. So, you can help future generations by going out and being successful, and then giving back to the law school.

We are involved with the alumni from day one. We do continuing legal education for alumni, we keep them informed about what is happening. We invite them to come back and be judges in moot court competitions. We cheer them on when they are doing well in their careers. We help them when they are not doing so well.

It really is about helping the alumni understand that they may be students for three years, but they are part of the law school family their whole life.

It really is about helping the alumni understand that they may be students for three years, but they are part of the law school family their whole life.

I know US law schools are facing their own troubles of increasing costs and lower number of applicants.

Law schools did have a decline in applications after the great recession. The good news is that it has recently started going the other way – there has been an 8% increase in the number of students applying in the US, and some people think it is because what they call “Trump Bump” – people are mad about what the government is doing and thinking, “I have got to be a lawyer to help push back on the government, and make sure that the world is fair”

Now when it comes to international LLM students, the US law schools have seen a decline in numbers because of [US] immigration policy. And I think some of what motivated the JD students to apply is making the LLM students reticent to come.

Final question – what got you into law, and would you recommend it to others?

I had a bit of of a non-traditional way into law. I am a first-generation college graduate in my family. I grew up in a really small town, and I didn’t know any lawyers. But I happened to grow up in a town that happened to have a university in it – Indiana University.

And even though I was very disconnected with that, I used to sneak into the gymnasium to play basketball. That is what motivated me to first go to college – sports. And I became a journalist because I was a sports writer. I went to Indiana University to play basketball, and then I realized that I actually like academics.

I was studying journalism, and one day in communications class, a professor told us to go to the law library, find the “New York Times v Sullivan” case – it is a very famous libel case. So, I went to the library, found the case, read it, and fell in love. I realized that I would have to go to law school someday.

But because my family could not help me economically, I worked for almost five years. And then I went back  to law school, applied to only one law school (Indiana) because I was so fond of it!

I have never been sorry I went. I think students should study law because it helps you be a better citizen, it helps you be a better person. I also think that there is just so many things you can do with a law degree. You might want to be a traditional lawyer, you might want to be in business, you might want to be a journalist who writes about law or what have you.

I have never been sorry I went. I think students should study law because it helps you be a better citizen, it helps you be a better person. I also think that there is just so many things you can do with a law degree.

First Person Accounts: Akshay Aurora, JD student at Osgoode Hall

Akshay Aurora speaking with Amicus Partners

Akshay Aurora

Although certainly not as popular as an LLM, at Amicus Partners we do see some interest in the JD (Juris Doctor) programme amongst Indian law graduates. This three-year program is comparable to the LLB degree that Indian universities grant; both are post-graduate professional degrees.

In this First Person Account with Amicus Partners, we get Government Law College graduate Akshay Aurora to speak about the reasons behind his enrolling for the JD at Osgoode Hall Law School, at York University in Canada. Akshay shares his thoughts on the JD degree, his time as a law student thus far (he is currently a 1L), and why a JD might must make more sense than an LLM.

Were you considering a post-graduate degree while you were studying at GLC, or was this something you decided to take up after working?

I did consider doing a masters around my 4th year of law school. I dropped the idea once I started my job at Trilegal, but decided to take it up a few months into the job. I did consider an LLM, there were quite a few programs I was interested in actually.

Two questions on the JD itself – Why the JD, and two, why Osgoode Hall?

I chose to do the J.D. program because after a year of practising in India I did not think I would want to spend the rest of my life practising there. I needed to find away to move abroad but be able to litigate.

An LLM is considered to be an academic degree (at least in North America), and would not serve my purpose of wanting to practise law abroad. Throughout law school I have been confident that I would only work as a barrister, and so it would be pointless for me to do a 10-month LLM, only to be outdone by J.D. students who are considered to be more “practice-ready”. The J.D. program in law schools in Canada is based on a very interesting model – only the first year has mandatory courses, and the rest of the years are determined by you. I found this a lot more attractive than a ten-month LLM, which surprisingly, costs as much as the 3 year JD (purely in terms of tuition).

The J.D. program in law schools in Canada is based on a very interesting model – only the first year has mandatory courses, and the rest of the years are determined by you. I found this a lot more attractive than a ten-month LLM, which surprisingly, costs as much as the 3 year JD (purely in terms of tuition).

Career development offices are also geared towards J.D. students and do not put the same amount of effort for the LLM students, so finding a job, networking opportunities, volunteer work etc. are much easier to come by when you are in the J.D. program. The structured On Campus Interview (OCI) process is also available only to JD students.

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The library at Osgoode Hall (Image Source)

I chose Osgoode because it is undoubtedly Canada’s leading common law law school. It has an unparalleled reputation, particularly in the field of clinical and intensive education. Some of the professors I came across during research in India are now my professors, and they are all experts in their respective fields. Osgoode also places its students in great positions.

Did you look at applying at any other law schools, either in Canada or the US?

I applied to a four schools in the US, in Canada I only applied to Osgoode and UBC (Vancouver). In the US law schools are extremely expensive, and I was not keen in studying in that sort of political environment. The US was always a backup for me.

Fun fact: when I did get accepted to my US law school choices, even after scholarships, they were more expensive than Canadian law schools!

Early days yet, but how are you finding the learning experience thus far? 

I’d hardly call it early days, it has been three months of rigorous work and it feels like its been forever!

I can confidently say the Indian legal education system is far behind in understanding what it actually takes to be a lawyer. Our professors, while extremely qualified, were often tied by the various external issues like lack of funds/administrative issues etc. Its extremely saddening to see great faculty unable to teach well because our syllabi are simply too theoretical.

If you would compare it to your GLC days, what would be some of the bigger differences?

The larger differences appear to me between Canadian and Indian law – both former British colonies, but with contrasting views to the law. In India the judiciary is quasi-legislative when it wants to be, and paradoxically, sometimes very positivist in their application of the law. If the law is bad, it does not matter to Indian judges, they continue to apply it as is.

Canadian courts, on the other hand, take much advantage of the lack of codification – especially in the field of contract law. They are eager to find good solutions to previously decided bad law. In fields such as criminal law, they are more concerned about attaining social justice than blindly applying precedent.

Unlike in India where provisions are simply taught as is, or judgments are simply remembered for their ratios, that is not the case here. As one of my professors now says “A case is a solution to a problem, not a rule.”

From an education perspective, this is how law is taught as well. Unlike in India where provisions are simply taught as is, or judgments are simply remembered for their ratios, that is not the case here. As one of my professors now says “A case is a solution to a problem, not a rule.” We are constantly taught to challenge bad decisions, fight for dissenting opinions, and find solutions in common law for problems that people face. I feel like professors here start a process of making us excellent future human beings who happen to be lawyers. In India, the course is designed at making us great lawyers who happen to be human beings.

Lastly, any advice you would have for law students or law grads considering a JD degree?

If you have the willpower, it will change your life. Be very aware of what you want, your goals may be purely academic in which case an LLM works. But if you plan to practice abroad, a JD places you in a much superior position than an LLM, especially in fields like litigation or criminal Defence/Crown (Government).

I know it has only been a few months into my JD, but having spoken to many LLM students and having watched them go back to India after spending large sums of money, I am extremely happy with my decision. You must be cognizant of the monetary drain, but also aware that once you graduate the return on investment is very high, unlike India, there is not a culture here of making interns/junior lawyers slave away without minimum wages at least.

Let’s talk about legal ed (baby?)

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Clickbait-ey it may be is, but the headline is my one-line takeaway for me after attending a recent symposium on the future of legal education. Held in New Delhi (cough cough) over the past weekend, the two-day event saw multiple panel discussions, each with a diverse mix of speakers.

For me (and Amicus Partners), the symposium was particularly relevant since it was organized by LSAC, and Harvard Law School’s Centre on the Legal Profession (CLP). For obvious reasons, I watch both these organizations with more than a little interest. After all, LSAC has been conducting the LSAT for Indian law schools for a while now; LSAC is also the preferred mode of LLM admissions for roughly half of all US law schools.

I was also keen to meet Professor Kellye Testy, the recently appointed CEO and President of LSAC, and our brief conversation (to be published soon) did not disappoint.

As for the CLP, well I have been following Professor Wilkins and the GLEE project for a couple of years now. They have managed to come up with some interesting publications, so if you have the time do take a look.

Anyway, I could not attend all the panel discussions but the ones I did attend were well worth the hike to Lutyens Delhi. The discussions also made me realize that there is such a pressing need to start publicly debating issues that plague Indian law schools.

Some of the pertinent (law is showing – Ed) points that I think deserve more discussion are:

  1. The funding structure of law schools and not necessarily only on the fees component. Do Indian law schools have a road map for moving away from government funding and/or student fees?
  2. How efficient is the entrance mechanism for law schools? And here efficiency includes access, as a means to measure one’s potential, and overall purpose.
  3. Greater involvement and/or support of the Corporate Bar when it comes to Indian law school

Sure, some of these topics fall directly in the clichéd category, but I don’t think that lessens their importance.

We need to talk about legal ed.

And we need to do it now.