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.

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.

Digital Picture for IDSA Leiden

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!

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.

800px-OsgoodeHallLawSchoolLibrary2

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.

First Person Accounts: Anubhav Tiwari (LLM in International Human Rights from Essex University)

Anubhav Dutt Tiwari on his LLM from Essex University

Anubhav Dutt Tiwari

Anubhav Dutt Tiwari graduated from NUJS in 2013, and worked for about a year  before enrolling for the LLM in International Human Rights Law from Essex University (Class of ’15). He is currently a Senior Research Associate a Jindal Global Law School (JGLS).

In this edition of First Person Accounts, Anubhav discusses the reasons behind his decision to study at Essex University, the state of Indian legal academy, and his advice for Indian law students interested in an LLM abroad.

(Edited excerpts)

At what point of time did you realise you wanted to do an LLM? Was it as an undergrad, or only after working?

Anubhav Tiwari: All my internships had been at corporate firms, and I got a PPO in my fifth year. So, I sort of stumbled into a law firm for a year. It was during this time that I realised I wanted to do an LLM primarily because I did not feel I was being challenged intellectually. I also thought that the LLM was a good way to change my field of practice.

How did you use or explain the Clasis work experience while applying for a degree in human rights? 

Anubhav Tiwari: I did explain the good aspects of working in a demanding corporate law firm environment and the takeaways of professionalism, in my motivation letter.

How did you go about course/university selection? Essex is known for its HR faculty, but were there any other courses that you looked at?

Anubhav Tiwari: I was sure I wanted to study further human rights, humanitarian law within PIL. Essex was a natural choice due to its reputed faculty and Human Rights Centre. Moreover, [former NUJS Registrar] Sarfaraz sir from NUJS had also done his LLM from there and he gave very good reviews of the faculty.

I had also applied and got through Leiden, though eventually the faculty profiles at Essex convinced me to go there. In fact, I had also gained admission at Queens Mary but decided against it because living in London would have been too expensive.

Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?

Anubhav Tiwari: I did not mainly due to the fact that I was late. I took a student loan.

At Essex, what were some of the big changes in the learning experience as, say, compared to your undergrad days? 

Anubhav Tiwari: Essex was quite different from NUJS – the entire orientation of lecturing and discussion was very different. We did not have examinations, instead we were expected to write publishable papers for ever subject taken. In the eight months I was there, my research style completely changed.

Moreover, the environment is conducive to studying more than in any university I have seen. I have been to Christ for a year, then NUJS and now Jindal and I have to say, UK universities have an environment which compels you to study!

The accessibility of professors and the empathy they have with the students was also very nice. Further, the faculty were actively using their professional experience from the field to give us perspectives. At the same time they were not forcing us to take a view, but instead forcing us to not take sides!

Looking back, anything you would have done differently? For example, would you have gone fresh after NUJS or do you think work experience is important?

In hindsight, I feel a bit of experience in human rights would have been better before taking up the LLM. Work experience, according to me, is definitely important before an LLM.

What was your cohort like (age, experience, regions)?

Essex is known for its diversity in terms of the students. My class had representation from almost all the continents, and was the perfect mix of diverse backgrounds and experience – extremely necessary for the study of human rights.

What got you to JGLS, and what are you working on at JGLS?

I am trying to find my space in academia as a field-based researcher bringing his experience to the classroom while teaching. My focus is on refugee rights, citizenship issues, etc. My style of researching is going to the field and collecting data before analyzing and bringing out the main themes.

JGLS gave me the space and freedom to do these and also encouraged me to take on ‘controversial’ and sensitive research – something I believe very few universities in India do. Right now I am the lead researcher with the Centre for Human Rights Studies at JGLS, I also teach Legal Methods to first-year students, and have other research projects with colleagues at Jindal Global University.

A PhD must be on the cards?

Yes, a PhD is the next step. I am in talks with UNSW Australia where I have found supervisors. The next step would to be finalise the scholarship.

Having studied in India and abroad, what do you think are some of the differences in law schools in the two regions? Also, how do you think Indian law schools can attract younger faculty and/or researchers like yourself? 

The difference is faculty! Even at NUJS, we remember the good faculty very well because they were few! And most of them were young.

I feel in order to attract young faculty – you need to give them freedom to research. And also incentives. Younger faculties want to research, teaching comes secondary, and law schools in India should recognize this. I also think that if NLU’s did away with the UGC NET requirement, you would have a lot more younger faculty applying.

Last question – any advice for Indian law graduates or law students looking to pursue a post-graduate degree? 

Be sure that you want to do this and also be mindful that a post-graduate is actually more relevant if you intend to get into academia.

First Person Accounts: Soumya Shekhar (National University of Singapore)

Soumya Shekhar.jpeg

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of lawyer’s who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world.

Not necessarily restricted to an LLM, the FPAs should serve as some guide as to which is the ideal law school for you.

Soumya Shekhar, a graduate of NLU Delhi (Class of ’13), completed her LLM from the National University of Singapore (Class of ’16). In this FPA with Amicus Partners, she talks about the things that worked, and those that did not, and a whole lot more.

Amicus Partners: At what point in your undergrad did you start thinking about a masters? Or was this something you chose, after you started working?

Soumya Shekhar: I always had a passion for academics. Since my fifth year, I had a plan in my mind that I would pursue a Masters degree after obtaining some work experience. Hence, a Masters degree was always the plan.

AP: What made you join Luthra & Luthra? Looking back, would you have done things differently?

SS: I had interned at Luthra when I was in my fourth year of law school. The work environment and the learning opportunities there were unparalleled. Hence, when I received an offer, I did not think twice before accepting. No, I would not have done anything differently.

AP: Two years at Luthra, you enrolled for an LLM. How did you choose the course and university? Apart from NUS, were there any other schools that you were looking at?

SS: Since law school, I have been extremely interested in corporate and financial services laws. A number of my publications and paper presentations were also on various aspects of corporate law. Hence, the subject in which I wanted to pursue a Masters was always to be corporate law.

NUS has a very good faculty in corporate law plus I had interacted with a few of its alumni before deciding. I did get through University College London but I chose NUS over that, primarily because I got offered a full scholarship from NUS.

AP: How was your LLM experience at NUS? Anything you particularly liked and/or disliked? If you could give any advice to law students who are looking to do a masters, what would it be?

SS: My experience at NUS was brilliant. The academic culture there and the quality of lectures are very different from the way we are taught in India. The stress on analytical thinking over rote learning was something which impressed me the most.

Students looking to pursue a Masters should do so for the right reasons. Do a Masters if you are genuinely interested in academics and have a passion for learning.

AP: Did you opt for any scholarship/aid for your LLM?

SS: I received the Faculty Graduate Scholarship from NUS.

AP: How were the recruitment prospects of your LLM cohort? Did you consider working in Singapore, or was there little scope of this once you graduated?

SS: At the time of passing out I had three offers from various top law firms in India. My cohorts too had secured good offers. I, personally was not inclined to work in Singapore, however, those who wished to work there did land jobs.

AP: You mentioned that you are now working as an independent consultant. How has that journey been?

SS: The journey has been amazing so far. Being a legal research consultant requires me to provide my clients with impeccable research and legal writing. The wide variety of legal research and the writing style picked up by me during my time at NUS immensely helps me in my current work profile and also adds to my credibility.

First Person Accounts: Bhavya Mahajan (Pepperdine University)

Bhavya Mahajan

Bhavya Mahajan

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of lawyer’s who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world.

Not necessarily restricted to an LLM, the FPAs should serve as some guide as to which is the ideal law school for you.

Bhavya Mahajan recently completed an LL.M from the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University.

In this FPA with Amicus Partners, the Panjab University graduate (Class of ’16) talks about choosing the ideal LLM, internships at law school, and a whole lot more.

Amicus Partners: At what point in time did you decide to pursue a master’s degree? What did you want to get out of the LLM program? 

Bhavya Mahajan: I wanted to pursue a master’s degree from the very beginning of my law school. Initially, there were no expectations, and I just wanted a master’s just for the sake of it. It was during the 4th and 5th year of my law school when I started giving it a serious thought.

I then wanted to get a specialization in an area of my interest which, I was clear by that time, was not litigation or corporate law. I also hoped to getting more exposure and experience in a different and better academic setting.

AP: How did you go about university selection? 

BM: My application process was very haphazard. I was not looking to apply to the States or any other country rather I was preparing for my CLAT entrance. One thing that I was clear about was that I wanted to specialize in a field that had other prospects than litigation.

It was a complete coincidence that I found out about Pepperdine University and their ADR programs, and it interested me a lot. So, I went ahead and applied.

However, I still was not sure about going abroad, and did not apply to any other university. Besides, I was a little late with my applications and some universities had stopped accepting applications by then.

AP: Also, was it your internship at the State LSA that prompted your decision to study dispute resolution? 

BM: Partially, yes. I briefly interned at the State LSA and had some exposure to mediation. When I was considering various specializations, dispute resolution was on my mind. There were other factors at play too.

AP: Did you apply for any sort of financial aid/scholarships?

BM: Yes, I did. So, all the applications submitted to Pepperdine University are, by default, considered for partial scholarships. The amount awarded by the university generally varies but can go up to 50% waiver in the tuition fee.

I also applied for the JAMS scholarship which sponsors the education of one student. Unfortunately, I could not get the JAMS scholarship but I received a 50% waiver as the Straus Merit Award.

AP: What were some of the biggest learnings during the LLM? How demanding was the course?

BM: The course itself was very fulfilling and challenging. The biggest difference there was the focus on research and analytical learning which, sadly, I missed out on during my LLB. I had never realized my strengths at legal and academic research before this. Simultaneously, I had a chance to get hands on experience in mediation as well as arbitration.

The course load can be very demanding as we are required to balance our academic requirements whilst doing our mandatory internship(s). But the best thing about the course structure is that it is flexible. As an international student, you also have an option to complete your degree in more than one year or two semesters.

AP: You also managed to secure a few internships, as well as a Research Assistant  (RA) position. Any advice for how one can go about this process?

BM: The procedure for hiring an RA varies from university to university. I had applied for the position in the very beginning of the program but got appointed after one semester. Pepperdine’s School of Law generally tries to evaluate the new students before offering them research positions.

The best approach here would be to stay in contact with your professors, and before applying for research positions figure out what would be the area of your interest. Also, RA positions can be demanding too. So, to start working as an RA and then be unable to focus on academics is a bad idea.

As far as the internships were concerned, the key was networking. Most of the universities in the States have a culture for promoting communication. Pepperdine especially, was very proactive in organizing meet-ups with professionals from the field, host guest lectures or interactive sessions and seminars.

The first internship that I secured during my masters was with a guest lecturer who was a family law attorney and mediator. I liked her lecture and ended up talking to her after the class. I expressed my interest in interning with her and she was kind enough to offer me a position.

AP: How did the United Nations Funds and Programmes internship happen? What is the kind of work that you did there?

BM: I stumbled upon the opening a few days after my graduation and decided to apply. The position requirements were specific and they wanted someone with an academic background in mediation. I thought I was a good match for the position. Their selection procedure included a review of academic writing samples and course transcripts. The final decision was then based on a Skype interview.

The work, initially, focused on office’s outreach and mediation advocacy. The Office catered to five different UN agencies and conducted various training programs and conflict management seminars on a regular basis. I was actively involved with this and simultaneously assisted the Ombudsman with the cases.

This included communicating with the visitors, follow-ups, participating in intake and mediation sessions. Most importantly, I was given the responsibility to research and draft articles for the Office’s annual report. I was also actively involved in the editing of the report, which came out during the last week of my internship.

AP: Looking back, anything that you would have done differently with respect to your LLM applications?

BM: Yes, definitely. I would have planned things more thoroughly and researched more about different universities and the programs that they offer. Also, I would have researched the scholarship programs better. I did not know about the Fulbright program until after I started my LLM. Had I known about it earlier, I would have definitely given it a shot.

AP: Any advice for law students considering a master’s course?

BM: I would say that plan ahead of time. Keep exploring different options. Choose a field based on your interest or experience, and not because it will pay well in future or someone else said it was good.

AP: Last question, what do you think a good legal education should provide?

BM: I strongly believe that a good legal education should focus on analytical learning. The legal education system in India is designed to ask the students ‘What the law is’ rather than ‘How to apply this law’. Experiential learning is important too and requires equal emphasis but the former can help the students prepare better for the latter.

First Person Accounts: Hussain Somji (University of Hong Kong)

Hussain Somji speaks to Amicus Partners

Hussain Somji

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of lawyer’s who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world.

Not necessarily restricted to an LLM, the FPAs should serve as some guide as to which is the ideal law school for you.

Hussain Somji is a Mumbai-based lawyer who completed his LLM from the University of Hong Kong (HKU). In this First Person Account, Somji shares the reasons behind choosing HKU, job prospects post the LLM, arbitration in India, and much more.

 

Amicus Partners: Why choose HKU? Were there any other law schools/universities that you were considering?

Hussain Somji: Since arbitration law was the area targeted for my study, I started looking at universities in popular arbitration seats such as Singapore, London, Hong Kong, Paris, Geneva etc.

Queen Mary in London was an option but I did not want a large batch size of 100+ students. NUS was not running the arbitration course that year. HKU had a good global reputation and the tuition fees were half of what is normally paid in London.

Since I had not studied in a school of great repute, I was keen on choosing a university that offers me a good standing with arbitration courses. MIDS was also an option but I did not make it considering my academics in law school were not that strong.

So the factors that led to my decision were:

  • lower tuition fee;
  • popular arbitration seat;
  • good global reputation for the its law school; and
  • a small batch size (30 or so students with a mix of full-time and part-time students).

AP: When did you decide to do an LLM? Was it while you were studying law or was this a decision you made while working?

HS: After four years of practising experience since I was then sure of dispute resolution as the area of practice to specialise in.

AP: Did you apply for any sort of financial aid? 

HS: Yes, I did apply for the financial aid offered by the University but later learnt that those (also student accommodation) are usually offered to students who choose non-commercial subjects such as human rights and so on.

AP: How was the LLM experience? What were some of the pros and cons of the course?

HS: Outstanding! I have no regrets.

The faculty, infrastructure, library, research opportunities and facilities are all top-notch. Without being biased, I am unable to think of any cons as of yet except that if you are interested in applying for work positions post your LLM, one could face language barriers as HK does a lot of China related work where language could play an important role.

AP: If you had any advice for those interested in this program, what would it be?

HS: Weigh your options wisely but you will not be disappointed or regret at all doing this program. Also remember, HKU offers CIArb courses as part of the its curriculum and so if you want a dual benefit of CIArb qualifications with an LLM, it is the right place to be at.

AP: Did HKU help LLM graduates in recruitments? 

HS: Opportunities are circulated on the universities job portals and dispute resolution specific positions are shared with LLM graduates. There is no dedicated desk or office for this purpose.

AP: How was the internship at the HKIAC?

HS: This was something that gave me a completely different perspective and an insight into how an arbitral institution works. I was very clear about my return to India and re-commencing practice but wanted to carry this experience with me.

AP: What were some of the benefits of the LLM when you resumed working in India?

HS: I was clear of commencing counsel practice on my return with a focus on arbitration related work. The depth of research conducted as also the fundamentals of arbitration law that remain same across the model law countries including India, the grasp in matters was almost immediate.

Recently, I was in fact approached by a Swiss Arbitrator to assist her in some research concerning HK law on arbitration. As with every course, you have a different way of looking at things and you try to bring in the international standards in your domestic practice which is immensely helpful.

AP: Anything else that you would like to tell Indian law graduates looking to do a LLM?

HS: An LLM is not a job creator. It is for those who wish to immerse themselves into a subject to apply it in practice. Be proactive as all universities offer ample opportunities to improve your academic profile that helps a lot in the professional world.

Be clear on what the objective is and choose a university and location accordingly.

In arbitration law, location matters as it gives access to a pool of lawyers and practitioners who will be helpful to connect with throughout the term either in their capacity as professors or just generally in conferences and seminars.

First Person Accounts: Saraswathy Vaidyanathan (University of Edinburgh)

Saraswathy Vaidyanathan

Saraswathy Vaidyanathan

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of lawyer’s who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world.

Not necessarily restricted to an LLM, the FPAs should serve as some guide as to which is the ideal law school for you.

In the first post under the First Person Account series, Saraswathy Vaidyanathan (HNLU, Class of 2016) shares some insights into an LLM degree from the University of Edinburgh.

Graduating from Edinburgh with a specialisation in intellectual property law, Saraswathy discusses the differences in legal education between India and the UK, how to select the ideal law school for you, and much more.

 

Amicus Partners: At what point in time did you decide to apply for an LLM?

Saraswathy Vaidyanathan: I was sure I wanted to do a LLM towards the end of my 4th year. However, I was conscious of my LLM plans at the start of my 4th year as I was making the choice of honours papers. Just to [explain] the honours bit, HNLU gives you an option of two honours papers for the 4th and 5th year which becomes the subject of specialization. Since I wanted to do a LLM in Intellectual Property (IP), I chose IP as my first honours and Constitutional Law as my second honours paper.

AP: Could you tell me how you went about the university selection? What were the parameters that you kept in mind while going through this process?

SV: For the University selection, first I decided the countries I want to apply to. I picked three countries: the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. After deciding the countries, I chalked out the Universities I wanted to apply to. Singapore and Hong Kong were easy as NUS and HKU are the best options, in general. For the UK, it was difficult as there are many Universities. So, I decided the parameters for myself and then narrowed down. Following are the factors I kept in mind in no particular order

  • Location of the University
  • Finances (Tuition + Cost of living)
  • Worldwide Ranking
  • Professors/Teachers in the subject applying for
  • General Course structure
  • Subjects offered
  • The University branding

AP: Why did you narrow down on Edinburgh University? And did you apply for any sort of financial aid? 

SV: I made it to HKU, QMUL and Edinburgh. I chose Edinburgh for the course structure and subjects offered. I was sure that I do not want to take any paper which has written examination as a mode of assessment. QMUL has that. Also, cost of living was a factor. London was seeming way heavier on my pockets than Edinburgh. HKU I dropped as it was offering me IP + IT Law LLM whereas I wanted to do pure IP.

I did not apply for any scholarships.

AP: What were some of the changes you observed, in terms of the learning experience, between your undergrad and your post-graduate studies? Was the the dissertation the most difficult part of the course?

SV: So, learning experience in India and UK cannot be compared on the same pedestal for obvious reasons. In my personal opinion, in India you can do really well provided you are determined. You have to find your own motivation and keep going with it. In the UK, the teaching happens in such a manner that the professor pushes your thinking and in turn your learning limits.

The professors there are experienced, absolutely well-versed and have practical [knowledge] of the law along with the theoretical knowledge. There is a reading list for every lecture, if you don’t read it, it is your loss. Further, the fact that the teachers there form interpersonal relationships makes a lot of difference.

For example, my professor after a class joined us for a pint of beer in a pub. In the pub, we managed to discuss IP and other things in general. In another activity, we were at the contemporary art museum discussing IP issues. So, after that every museum I visited, I tried to find the issues on my own. So, learning was never restricted to classrooms.

For me, the most difficult part was getting adjusted to the amount of reading, the method of teaching, and writing the assignments. The dissertation was difficult but not the most difficult part.

The feedback after the assignments was the most helpful bit in making the dissertation process easy. I knew where I was lacking, so I had to only improve that. At the end of the day, it is all about following a discipline and wanting to learn.

AP: How would you rate your LLM experience? Any thing that you would have done differently? 

SV: I finished the course in September 2017. It was a really enriching experience both for learning and living in a new country.

The one thing I would have done differently is to concentrate more on my writing skills. Even though I scored well in my assignments, I think I could have done better if I had improved my writing.

AP: How easy or difficult are recruitments in the UK now? 

SV: My idea of doing an LLM was to further my plans of getting into academics back in India. So, I did not really look for jobs there. As I understood and I am hearing now, recruitment is not the best in UK now due to Brexit.

However, a few of my friends managed to utilize the period post completion of course and before expiry of the visa by getting internships at law firms in London which is a good option to consider.

AP:  Lastly, any advice for students who are considering an LLM?

SV: Oh, I have loads of them.

  • Be very sure that you want to do a LLM from abroad for the right reasons. It takes a lot of effort to get through the course.
  • Choose the University carefully. You are associated with it for the rest of your life. Be aware of the deadlines and keep enough time at hand.
  • Don’t just go by the ranking and brand of the University. It is more important to check about the course you are applying for. For example, an IP course might be better in a lower ranked University than, say LSE.  Do your research well.
  • Have all your documents in place well in advance. There are no second chances if the deadline has passed.
  • It takes quite some time to write Statements of Purpose and scholarship statements. In my personal experience, you also end up writing your own recommendation letters which is even more difficult. Get your SoPs and similar statements checked from someone who has gotten through the process of a LLM abroad. Every University specifies the pointers for SoPs, personal and scholarship statements. So, again, do your preliminary research well.
  • Give TOEFL/IELTS as soon as possible. The slots gets filled quite in advance.
  • If you are not self-funded and plan to apply for scholarships, then start planning your LLM by the start or middle of your 4th year. All the scholarships are very competitive and applications close well in advance. Sometimes, even before the applications for LLM are closed. Plus there are chances that because you are searching at the last minute, you are not aware of certain scholarships.
  • Many foreign Universities have a good alumni network. Find the alumni of the course you are applying for and try reaching out. It will help you in the longer run.
  • Lastly, before you apply to a University know your worth. Many in my knowledge apply to Oxford and Cambridge for the heck of it and obviously do not make it. Spare yourself the disappointment and save your resources.