Through the looking glass: The Indian law graduate and a foreign LLM

A bit of the new. A lot of the old.

A bit of the new. A lot of the old.

It is soon going to be twelve months since Amicus Partners hit the ground, reason enough to do a reflective, “this is what we have learnt” piece. After all, learnings have been made, a whole bunch of them. But perhaps they can be written about at a later point in time; a quiet reminiscence that may be better placed in a journal rather than in a highly social medium.

Instead, this post is about the future, the future of legal education and how the Indian law graduate is being viewed by universities and law schools across the world. As you can imagine, there is a lot that can be said about such a broad topic; I have chosen to narrow down the focus to a few words. Four words in fact.

One: Awareness

If you were to ask me what is the biggest change I have seen in the space of legal education, it would be awareness. Not only are more Indian law graduates considering a foreign education, but they are more certain of where and what they want to study. Most significantly, the what is not necessarily strictly law, as this interview with Ameen shows.This holds as true for current students of law, as it does for the 2-5 year PQE group.

Furthermore, it is the diversity of options exercised that ought to be taken note of; you can find Indian law graduates attending graduate courses in Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia – the range is fairly impressive. And this is apart from the traditional favourites: the UK and the US.

This awareness is definitely reflected in how foreign law schools are viewing Indian law graduates. The admission officers that I have spoken to, from institutions across the world, consider India as a growing feeder source for international applicants. And why not? Here is a large group of English-speaking lawyers seeking, for a host of reasons, an international education.

The cynic would add “with money to spare” somewhere in the last sentence. I won’t. Not yet.

Two: Ambition

Closely linked to awareness is ambition though I must admit that I largely interact with law graduates who are looking to play at the global level. These graduates are not restricting themselves to domestic employment alone. Far from it. Be it policy development, human rights advocacy, commercial law, academy – the Indian law graduate harbours ambitions of a global nature.

And I think universities across the world are responding to this ambition, be it through offering specialised courses, offering generous funding, and establishing networks with Indian law schools.

What will be interesting to see is how domestic and global structures respond to this ambition, if and how new spaces will be created where such ambitions can be met. And, if they are not met, then what signals will that send to the future generation of Indian law graduates. Of course, this falls in the larger, global debate over the legal profession and what being a lawyer means in the 22nd century.

Three: Rankings

Ranking. Ranking. Ranking. If there was one question that dominates nearly every client conversation, it is the one on rankings. “What is the best law school for corporate law” or “Which is the best school for sports law?” – they are valid questions no doubt; I certainly understand the reasoning behind them.

But, I also think they are incomplete questions, missing the words “for me” at the end.

A lot of LLM applications are driven by rankings rather than anything else. And I don’t think this will change. Law universities are inherently competitive in nature, creating strict, nearly unavoidable hierarchies about what is desirable and what is not. And lawyers like to think in black and white. What could be more black and white than rankings?

What indeed.

Perhaps the first step would be to acknowledge the import of rankings while also understanding their inherent flaws, some of which are quite fundamental in nature. I often find myself telling clients that some rankings do not reflect the graduate level courses (US News I am looking at you) – an important, yet overlooked, fact.

As an aside, I am quite interested to see how Indian law schools react to rankings, more so with the entrance of the public NIRF framework, as well as the private QS group (and their I-Gauge service) in the field of Indian legal education.

Four: Finance.

This is a big word. A very, very big one. After all, graduate programs in law are fairly expensive in nature, especially at the high-prestige American law schools. Add in high costs of living, and you are looking at a significant financial investment. Which can also become a stumbling block at the admissions stage.

I would say approximately 40% of our clients would not take up a course if they do not receive adequate funding. I have little doubt that financial aid, ease of educational loans etc are going to play a crucial role in the years to come.

In some ways, there is hope. You have newer players like Prodigy Finance, MPower etc who offer online loans with no collateral requirements, but a loan is a loan at the end of the day. And with this current trend in exchange rates, some astute financial planning is definitely the order of the day.

But this also means that the Indian law graduate is now considering non-traditional, and less expensive, options for her graduate education.

Conclusion

Even if you set aside the obvious bias that someone invested in legal education will have, there is little doubt that the Indian law graduate finds herself in interesting times. Especially when it comes to her choices on higher education. How Indian law schools, and universities across the world, react to these changes (and the four words) will be what I will be watching with more than a little interest.

Studying the post-graduate preferences (LLM or otherwise) of Indian law graduates

With LLM application deadlines fast approaching, Amicus Partners has largely been kept busy with the counselling side of things. Which is unfortunate because one of the goals of Amicus Partners is to conduct research on the career trajectories of this country’s law graduates. More specifically, on where they choose to pursue higher education, if at all, where this takes them, and how do they view the Indian and non-Indian learning and working experiences.

Lofty (unattainable?) goals perhaps, and I don’t think we have come even close to capturing enough data to make accurate predictions. But, you have to start somewhere.

And that somewhere is here.

Thus far, we have managed to compile partial data on just under two hundred (one hundred and ninety-six to be exact) Indian law graduates who completed their Indian study of law in between 1998 and 2017.

And based on this data, there are four questions that we can answer. It goes without saying that there are strong elements of bias in this data set, a flaw most glaringly exposed with question number one.

Question No. 1: Where do they complete their Indian law degree?

Nearly one-third of the individuals hail from my alma mater (NUJS), something that is statistically at odds with the sheer number of graduates that older law schools (NLU or otherwise) have churned out.

After NUJS, you get NLSIU (27) then NALSAR (24) and then both, GLC Mumbai and NLU Jodhpur (11). Some of the other graduates that were tracked graduated from ILS, NLU Delhi, and Delhi University.

UniversityNumber of graduates
NUJS56
NLSIU27
NALSAR24
NLU Jodhpur11
GLC Mumbai11
Delhi University8
ILS Pune8
NLU Delhi6
GNLU5
SLS Pune4
KIIT Law School3
Ambedkar University3
Allahabad University3
HNLU3
NLIU 2

Question No. 2: Where do they go for a master’s course?

In terms of geographies, the United Kingdom is the most popular destination by a fair margin. And when I say “fair” I mean a big, big margin.

Just to give you some perspective on this, as per official LSAC figures, around 470 applications were made by Indian students for an LLM in the US between June 2017 and June 2018. Even if you presume that half of all American schools accept non-LSAC applications, that would mean about 1,000 applications were made.

On the other hand, according to official figures released by Cambridge University, there were 177 applications from India for the LLM program for the academic year 2017-2018. In other words, Cambridge University’s LLM course received more than one-tenth the number of applications received by US Law schools in total!

That is a staggering statistic.

Institution-wise, Oxbridge remains the strong favourite with forty-five Indian law grads choosing either the universities of Oxford (32) or Cambridge (13). Then you have the big guns from the US like Harvard Law School (18), Columbia Law School (16) and New York University (15) being the most popular choices.

University/Law SchoolNo. of Indian graduates
Oxford University32
Harvard Law School18
Columbia Law School16
New York University15
Cambridge University13
LSE7
Geneva Centre for International Dispute Settlement6
National University of Singapore5
Queen Mary University of London5
Berkeley4
Duke University3
University of Chicago3
Yale Law School3
Stanford Law School3
Edinburgh University2
UCL2
Univ. of Miami2
UPenn2
Univ. of Missouri Columbia2

Question No. 3: When do they go for their post-graduate degrees?

This was a particularly interesting question for more than one reason. After all, the “when” question is one the most commonly asked at Amicus Partners, and also one that has no “one size fits all” answer. Two, this opens up the door to better understanding the motivations behind the master’s program, and is a great pathway to understand the career trajectories of Indian law graduates.

At what point in time do they decide to do a post-graduate course, and are there any trends that we can spot along the way?

Now, out of the one hundred and ninety-six law graduates in the study, I have PQE data on only one-hundred and nine of them.

PQENumber of law grads
0 years26
1 year19
2 years20
3 years17
4 years10
5 years4
6 years4
7 years5
More than 7 years3

Based on this, one could argue that interest in a master’s course peaks within the first three years following the Indian law degree. After that, interest of the actionable kind declines until. At the cost of repetition though, it needs to be said that this is a rather small data set to play with. And perhaps, with more data, you could actually come down to a more accurate representation of just when Indian law graduates opt for higher education.

Question No.4: Is it only an LLM?

Like some others, I believe that a law degree can be a great liberal arts degree to possess and not one which is only meant to serve the needs of the legal profession. However, I don’t really have the statistical data to back this assertion at least as far as higher education choices are concerned.

The majority of those studied for a postgraduate course in law, but there are some notable exceptions. One of those is an MPP degree, another would be the MBA. As this study expands in scope, I am sure there will be a few other popular non-LLM options that will be churned out. I also think that today’s law graduates

Question No.5: What do they after the foreign degree?

Well, I have not really gotten around to figuring out just what sector of the legal profession, if at all, do Indian law graduates end up at after their master’s course.

Broadly speaking, of the data that has been collected, 82 have returned to India while 67 are working outside the country. For the remaining, I still haven’t been able to collect enough data.

Conclusion

Like I mentioned at the start of the piece, this is very much a work in progress and I think I will only get a more accurate picture with greater data. More specifically, data on what prompted them to pursue a master’s course, did they end up paying for the entire course, and how satisfied were they at the end of the program.

Those, to be honest, are the more important questions.

Far more important.

 

Always happy to hear your thoughts, please feel free to write in at: 

contact[at]amicuspartners[dot]co[dot]in

#Interviews: Molina Asthana on Australian LLMs, work-life balance & more

Molina Asthana

Molina Asthana

I came across Molina Asthana’s profile while looking for Indian law graduates who had made the shift to Australia. And the more I read about her, the more I thought she would make for a good interview for Amicus Partners.

A lawyer practicing in Delhi, Molina moved to Australia in 2004. A masters from Melbourne Law School was followed by stints at two top-tier law firms, being on the Board of the Law Institute of Victoria, and also becoming the Vice President of the Asian Australia Lawyers Association. Amongst other things.

I spoke to her on legal education, the utility of a LLM from the perspective of an Indian law grad, and law firms in general. Here are some edited excerpts from the interview.

First off, you do devote a lot of time to non-legal forums such as women in sports, the CommonWealth games, Melbourne University etc – how on earth do you get the time for this?

It depends on your passion. When you have a passion for something you will find the time to do it, no matter how hectic your schedule. I am passionate about creating greater diversity and inclusion for everyone in mainstream Australian community and I find that a lot of my work intersects as well so in doing one thing, I am also creating value for another.

I also find that more things that you have to juggle, the more likely you are to do them as you have no option. Whereas when you have much time on your hands you tend to procrastinate and not accomplish much.

I know it has been a while, but what were some of the bigger differences in the learning experience at MLS as compared to your time as a law student in India?

Indian legal studies still follow the rote learning technique. I remember that we had to remember case names, citations etc. There was little practical application. Whereas in Australia it is about application of principles. We had open book exams, take home exams or essays, based on either hypotheticals or analysis of cases.

In Australia it is about application of principles. We had open book exams, take home exams or essays, based on either hypotheticals or analysis of cases.

Also, when I did my law degree from Campus Law Centre, we did not have any regular moots or similar competitions and not much in terms of gaining practical experience whilst studying. Whereas here in Australia, there is much emphasis on taking part in such activities and also study tours, short-term internships and practical learning, organising seminars etc. Student groups are very active here and engage with the profession at all levels. There is emphasis on mentoring, networking and the value of being part of organised groups/bodies.

I know things have changed in India since then and when I go and speak at conferences or law schools in India I find that the students are much more engaged and dynamic.

Any advice for Indian law grads who are looking at the Australian LLM as a means to enter the Australian legal industry?

I would definitely recommend a LLM from an Australian university as we have some of the best  universities in the world. Melbourne University is rated 7 in the world for law, only after Yale, Harvard etc. Monash is also very good, as well as ANU.  I think many Indian students are not aware of opportunities to do a masters in Australia and that it is a viable and cheaper option than some universities in UK and US.

However, I cannot assure anyone that it a means to enter the Australian Legal Industry. To be able to practice in Australia you have to either complete an undergraduate law degree or do almost 11 subjects again (if you have done your law degree from India).

Melbourne Law School

“I think many Indian students are not aware of opportunities to do a masters in Australia and that it is a viable and cheaper option than some universities in UK and US.”

The masters does not help to get a job in itself. It may be useful only if you have done the local qualification or re-qualification. Further there are too many law graduates coming out locally every year and they are struggling to find jobs and it is much harder for overseas qualified lawyers.

The masters does not help to get a job in itself. It may be useful only if you have done the local qualification or re-qualification. Further there are too many law graduates coming out locally every year and they are struggling to find jobs and it is much harder for overseas qualified lawyers.

I think there are far more opportunities in India for Indian law graduates/lawyers who have completed a LLM overseas then there are in Australia as of now. In the future it may be different when we have reciprocity of recognition of legal qualifications between the two countries, something that I am also working towards.

So, my advice, looking at the current circumstances, would be to do a LLM degree here and then go back to India for better opportunities.

One of the interesting points in your interview with Louise Hvala, is how you used your own network to speak informally with potential recruiters. Do you think this aspect of networking is one that Indian law grads should focus on while in Australia for a LLM?

I think my point was to network to get opportunities directly with law firms. Most recruiters are also biased and would probably not put your name forward as they are not familiar with your qualifications, work experience etc.

I found contacts that got me interviews directly with partners and I was able to convince them the value I would bring to their law firm. I worked at the two top 5 law firms in Australia and in both places, it was because I met the partners directly. Though I moved on to the government after that to get more of a work life balance, I still stay in touch with them and with starting my own practice, I am now looking to work with some of the partners I worked for (deliberate emphasis on the words with and for) which means I’ve come full circle!

I always tell this story when I speak about my journey. When I started applying for jobs in Australia, I was told that my Indian degree and experience was not worth much. Recruiters said that it was unlikely that I will get a job at a top-tier or a mid-tier firm, so I should apply with smaller firms. A well-wisher told me that overseas qualified doctors were driving buses, so I shouldn’t get disheartened. Some went to the extent of telling me to give up my profession and start something afresh, even work at a call centre.

My first job was a top-tier firm. I then moved to another one, having rejected an offer from two other mid-sized law firms. Ironically, I got a call whilst there from a recruiter who had predicted I would never get a job with a top-tier and he said he had an opening at a boutique firm. When I told him, I was at [the top-tier firm] Minters [Ellison], he nearly collapsed.

I got a call whilst there from a recruiter who had predicted I would never get a job with a top-tier and he said he had an opening at a boutique firm. When I told him, I was at [the top-tier firm] Minters [Ellison], he nearly collapsed.

So, networking is important and finding a direct route works better than going through recruiters. Also, being proud of your heritage and confident in your background always holds you in good stead.

In the same interview, you also spoke about the highly competitive environment of law firms as one of the reasons you moved out of private practice. Do you see either Australian or Indian firms addressing this issue? Say, for instance, the mental health problems faced by lawyers?

I don’t think it is in the interest of law firms to address this issue. They are seeking to maximise revenues by using as little resources as they can and with market sizes reducing, particularly in a place like Australia, it is unlikely that they will do much to address this. In fact, in my time at the big firms I found that competitive behaviours were encouraged. This has led to isolation, depression and high rates of suicides in lawyers.

In my time at the big firms I found that competitive behaviours were encouraged. This has led to isolation, depression and high rates of suicides in lawyers.

I am now on the Board of the Law Institute of Victoria which is the peak body that governs the profession and one of our main concerns is the health and wellbeing in the professions, also for judges who are often under too much pressure. We also encourage law firms to address these issues. A lot of law firms have internal policies to address these issues and also free counselling services available, however practically I do not see them having much effect on general health and wellbeing. I also do not see much support systems that exist and I would like to see more being done in this space by law firms.

You are the Vice President of the Asian Australia Lawyers Association. Given that the legal profession tends to be a high-inertia one, how easy or difficult has it been to increase diversity in the legal profession and the judiciary? And any advice that could be used in the Indian scenario?

I have been a strong advocate for diversity in the profession not only because I want to see more lawyers from diverse backgrounds appointed to the bench or become senior lawyers in law firms but also because having that diversity is important for securing justice for litigants coming from these backgrounds. It is also imperative that judges are across cultural and cross-jurisdictional issues so that, like the old adage, justice is not only done but is seen to be done.

However, it is not an easy task to have achieve diversity in the legal profession, including the judiciary. The unconscious bias that people of diverse backgrounds face often translates into virtually no such people in the senior echelons of the legal profession. From the Australian perspective, diversity is not valued in the legal profession as compared to other professions or in indeed Australian society as a whole. Being different means that you had to try harder to prove yourself.

From the Australian perspective, diversity is not valued in the legal profession as compared to other professions or in indeed Australian society as a whole. Being different means that you had to try harder to prove yourself.

The legal profession in most Commonwealth countries has traditionally been the domain of the privileged. This phenomenon becomes pronounced in counties where the population is diverse and the under-representation of the changing demography leads to the perpetuation of the bamboo ceiling. There is much work for organisations like the Asian Australian Lawyers Association to address these issues and we do it through advocacy, lobbying with the Government, providing support and opportunities to lawyers of diverse backgrounds and constantly pushing our agenda.

In the Indian scenario, it plays out differently. Diversity is still an issue but it is more from the class perspective than people of different cultural backgrounds. Law is still a profession of the privileged and people who are from a ‘legal family’ are still likely to do better than those who are not, though with bright lawyers coming out of National Law Schools, things are changing. However, the profession still has a vast divide in terms of the highest paying lawyers, lawyers who are in the corporate sector and lawyers who practice in the lower courts and struggle to make ends meet.

To address this, there needs to be more homogeneity in the legal profession in India and the quality of legal education needs to improve as well. It should not be considered as a profession of last resort for people who cannot get into any other professional courses. The standards need to increase and there has to be compulsory Professional Development units that lawyers need to do every year to keep their practicing certificates.

To address this, there needs to be more homogeneity in the legal profession in India and the quality of legal education needs to improve as well. It should not be considered as a profession of last resort for people who cannot get into any other professional courses.

You mentioned that you always wanted to do an LLM but never really had the time. Would you recommend a foreign LLM to Indian law graduates?

I always did want to do an LLM when I was practicing In India and from an overseas jurisdiction, but I never could find the time to take a break from work to do it. However, I did an LLM from Melbourne University when I moved here, and I have to say it was the best thing that I have done in my life.

I enjoyed it thoroughly and I would recommend it to everyone. But I think it is useful to do an LLM only from a good university and after a few years of working in the legal sector because then you really get the most out of it. Also do it on a topic that is of interest to you.

I have also noticed that good Indian firms and corporates now prefer lawyers who have an LLM from a good university from overseas.  Of course, I have a bias towards Australia as I think it has some great law schools but doing an LLM degree from any good university overseas will definitely increase your job prospects in good firms both in India and overseas.

Of course, I have a bias towards Australia as I think it has some great law schools but doing an LLM degree from any good university overseas will definitely increase your job prospects in good firms both in India and overseas.

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