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

Margareth Etienne - professor of law

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.

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?


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.

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.


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.

Studying the preferences of Indian law students with respect to foreign LLM’s


Over the past few months, we have been conducting online surveys for Indian law students interested in an LLM abroad. Broadly speaking, there are two goals behind this exercise: one, to understand just what the client (in this case a law student) has in mind, and what her future plans are. The other, and I think this is more important, is to help measure just what do Indian law students look for in terms of higher education opportunities.

The survey has nine questions in total, ranging from where the student wants to study, the criteria for choosing a particular university (at the master’s level), and how the master’s degree is going to be funded. Thus far, we have managed to elicit just under 100 responses (96 to be exact) from six different law schools across the country. The law schools that have participated thus far are NUJS, GLC Mumbai, Jindal Global Law School, KIIT Law School, NLU Delhi, and the School of Law at Christ University in Bangalore.

Admittedly, the survey has been a tad rudimentary, though I hope to change this as time goes by. Ideally, I would like the surveys to be taken offline, and also include a descriptive section where one can really understand the motivations behind wanting to pursue a master’s degree.

Anyway, this is what we have managed to find out so far.

1. Where do Indian law students want to do an LLM? 

In a lot of ways, this was largely unsurprising. The US and the UK have traditionally been the favoured destinations when it comes to an LLM, and I don’t see this changing in the near future. And even within these regions, the commonly sought after law degrees were the ones offered by Harvard Law School, Oxford University, Columbia Law School, LSE, and Cambridge University.

We did see something similar in the EU region, with a number of students expressing interest in the MIDS programme in Geneva. What I did find surprising is how close Canada and Australia were in terms of percentages; I also expected “Asia” to be more popular given the cost benefits, as well as the fact that both Singapore and Hong Kong have some highly-ranked law programmes.

2. How do they go about choosing the law school?

This is where things get a little interesting, with expertise in a particular course or faculty are the most compelling reasons for choosing a law school. This factor pips both employment prospects, and tuition costs although not by much. Why I found this particularly interesting is that it leads to questions on how students judge domain expertise, and faculty quality.

3. How will the LLM be paid for?

Tuition costs are an inevitable part of any consultation on LLM applications, and a very, very important one. Nearly half of all respondents say they would opt for some sort of financial aid, while the remaining are equally split between self-funded and student loans. One of the things I would like to do here would be to map the responses to this particular question over the next 5-10 years and see whether there is any change in proportions.

4. What do they intend on doing post the LLM? 

And finally, what is the post-LLM plan of the Indian LLM student. The leader here, again not by much, was working outside the country as a transactional lawyer. In other words, using the foreign LLM to land a job outside the country. The only other finding I would like to highlight is that 30% of the respondents were looking at joining academia, be it in India or abroad. This, to me, is reflective of a trend that will become more noticeable over the next decade or so.

The Amicus Podcast: Ep 04 with Tara Ollapally (CAMP Mediation)

Tara Ollapally talks about her own experiences as a law student, first at ULC Bangalore and then at Columbia Law School. She also discusses the urgent need to push mediation, especially in commercial disputes. And lastly, she talks about how lawyers can make good mediators, and whether our legal education equips today’s lawyers with the skills required for effective mediation.


You can also read edited excerpts from the podcast here and here.

Tara Ollapally, CAMP Mediation

The Amicus Interviews: Tara Ollapally, CAMP Mediation (Part 2)

In the second part of the interview, Tara focuses on the benefits of mediation, whether lawyers would become good mediators, and why one needs to invest time and effort to become a successful mediator.


Amicus Partners: A lot of what you said, cost effectiveness, high speed- these were some of the benefits of arbitration. So how is mediation better?

Tara Ollapally: I would not use the word “better” but “different”. Arbitration is still an adversarial process and by that I mean there is a winner and a loser. And there is a third person who is going to decide who the winner is, who the loser is.

Now that is a huge responsibility that is placed on that third person. And that third party, the neutral, has to go through volumes of information, has to be confident and convinced enough to be able to make that award in favour of one and not the other.

As a result of which, it takes the time that it takes.

In mediation, the whole concept is different. It is not about right or wrong. It is about differing perspectives, and helping the parties understand each other’s perspectives, and getting them to decide on what the solutions are. As a result of which, it is not about convincing the third person, it is about convincing each other.

AP: Do you think lawyers make good mediators?

TO: If a lawyer is able to switch hats from adversarial to collaborative, a lawyer is fantastically placed to be a mediator. Because the lawyer knows the law better than any other neutral would.

The law plays a very important part in the mediation because a large aspect of the negotiation hinges on what your alternative is. The way the process works is that you must first understand why this mediated settlement makes much more sense that the alternatives.

What is the alternative? Typically, it would be arbitration or litigation. Now how is this going to play out in arbitration or litigation? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case?

So a lawyer is very well positioned to be able to help parties go through the alternatives, the reality test.

AP: But aren’t lawyers trained in an adversarial system? 

TO: I have met so many lawyers who love the law, but hate the adversarial aspect of the law. Ten years ago you really didn’t have so many options if you graduated from law school, you had to litigate. But litigating does not come naturally to them, they do not truly believe that that is the only way to resolve a dispute.

They want to be part of the dispute resolution process but they don’t like the way the dispute resolution process has been managed. Now these people make fantastic mediators, right?

They are part of the dispute resolution process, they have the logical way of thinking, they understand the law, they have the ability to structure and facilitate mediation in a very effective way.

AP: Are we in India working to create a more open environment for mediation?

TO: It is not like we have a choice. If lawyers want to keep up with the way lawyers are practicing law in several parts of the world – this is an aspect that you just cannot look away for very much longer.

Italy had a similar issue of pendency which is what motivated them to pass mandatory mediation legislation – essentially mandating the parties to sit, with their lawyers, with a neutral third party mediator. That is the mandatory aspect of it; you can opt out after that and go back to courts. Just one session.

AP: One session?

TO: That is all it took. And in that one session, I don’t remember the statistics, but a large number of those went for mediation and a large percentage ended in settlements.

You are not really giving up on anything. Just one session, which through the Italian experience has shown, leads to a large number of settlements.

AP: Why aren’t we doing this?

TO: We will. So if you look at the laws – the commercial laws are going that way, the consumer protection bill is also looking at mandatory mediation. The NCLT does not mandate mediation, but does give NCLT members the power to refer matters to mediation.

Where we slip is in the administration of it.

AP: So, it makes logical sense for businesses to seek mediation, and there is money to be made in mediation. Yet?

TO: Well businesses in India are still not buying into mediation. They still have not understood the value of mediation. They are still using arbitration because that is what is familiar.

And that’s where we are trying to break the cycle. Of helping businesses understand that there is another way to do it, and to get them to start endorsing the process.

Our purpose right now is to make businesses include mediation in their dispute resolution clause. Today’s dispute resolution clause is we will sit and negotiate, if negotiations fail, we will arbitrate. And that has to change.

It has to be, “we will sit, negotiate. If negotiation fails, we will do a facilitated negotiation and if that fails we go into arbitration.”

AP: If a law student or a lawyer is interested in mediation as a profession, what kind of advice would you give her?

TO: For a young lawyer to enter into the field as a mediator would be challenging. My advice is go out, join a law firm, litigate, go in-house and start pushing disputes into mediation.

Through this, you start exposing yourself to the mediation process, you start understanding the mediation process differently. Build the skills to be an effective advocate in mediation.

AP: Skills such as?

TO: Such as [being able to identify]  the real interest of your client. What does your client really want? Drop the posturing. Prioritise options. Start listening to your client.

These are the skills that a mediator builds – listening to understand. Bringing down the emotional aspect of it by reframing, by summarising, by connecting to your client. Be an empathic lawyer in mediation.

To be an empathic lawyer is a huge skill that we have to build.

AP: But nobody teaches you this as a law student.

TO: Not at all. These are skills that you have to learn. So when I am listening, how am I listening? Am I listening to fully understand what you are communicating to me, or am I listening from a perspective to figure out what my response to you is.

And then of course to be able to weed out the emotion from what my client really wants. What part is driven by what the emotions my client is feeling, how do I address those emotions.

AP: That seems like quite a time intensive practice.

TO: Absolutely. You cannot practice from a perspective of, “I will do a 10 minute meeting, I will get a simple understanding of what the case is about, what the law is about,  and then go defend in court.”

That is not how it works. It is about investing time. About understanding who my client is, why my client feels this way, what has motivated my client to be in the position that he is in.

We, as lawyers, deal with people in conflict. But we have no concept or idea of what a human being is when in conflict. How is that person responding, how is her brain functioning when in a conflict situation? Neuroscience will tell you that when you are in conflict, your brain is working differently.

These are concepts that we have not even thought about as professionals in this conflict space.

AP: It is not even a topic of discussion.

TO: No, never. In my twenty years as a legal professional, I did not even think of it until I entered the mediation practice.

What is the mental framework, what is the emotional framework of a person in a conflict situation? If I can understand that then perhaps I would be able to find solutions that better addresses who he is in that situation, and then go into the details of that dispute.

But we don’t even take that into consideration.

We approach it from such a specific aspect of what is the law on this particular situation, and that law will have some three hundred interpretations. So that is the framework within which we operate – this is an aspect but just one aspect of the conflict as whole.

And you are right, there is no way you can engage in a conflict without being ready to invest a good amount of time.

AP: Final question: what is a good legal education? Or have you just answered that?

TO: I think I may have. We are dispute resolvers. We are here to able to find appropriate resolution to clients who come to us in a distress situation. They have come to us because they are in a situation where they are unable to sit across the table with other side and find a solution. They are frustrated, they are angry, they are helpless. They want a way out.

But the only thing that they know is to strike. And we, as lawyers, are trained to help them strike harder. One blow becomes ten blows. We just take them up this conflict path but we do not realise that our objective should be how do I get this person out of this mess in the quickest, safest most respectful kind of way. We don’t even think of it that way.

It is critical that our law students are exposed to this way of dispute resolution. The mark of a civilised society is in our ability to manage conflict. Conflict is inevitable, it is a result of progress. It is because there are interactions, relationships, business that there is a conflict.

We cannot stop conflict but we have to find better ways to manage conflict so that conflict is opportunity.

Amicus Podcast Ep02: Sidharth Chauhan, NALSAR University

Sidharth Chauhan of NALASR University

Sidharth Chauhan

Earlier this year, NALSAR University released a report on possible reforms at our country’s national law universities.The report (accessible here) made a number of suggestions, and also included a fairly comprehensive survey of students across more than a dozen national law universities.

The report’s co-investigator, and Assistant Professor at NALSAR, Sidharth Chauhan spoke with me on the report, and the way forward for Indian legal education.
(Edited excerpts)
Amicus Partners: Let’s get started with the report itself. In terms of scale, it is quite impressive – more than 800 students, 150 faculty members. How early did you start?
Sidharth Chauhan: As we have documented in the report, we did the surveys in August and September of 2016. The planning started around March 2016, about six months before we went for the visits.
We initially thought it would be a simple exercise in self-assessment, just confined to NALSAR. But since all the NLUs have a similar structure, and attract a similar profile of students, we thought we would expand our scope. In fact, while writing our report, we consciously chose to exclude the responses collected from within our own institution.
I’ll touch upon this later as well, but the report mentions that the administration of only 3 out of 15 NLU’s actually took the time out to answer your questions. Were you expecting this?
We actually thought that it would be slightly better because we had sent out questionnaires from the [NALSAR] Vice Chancellor’s office to his counterparts. Since the NLU V-Cs have working relations with each other, we thought most of them would respond.
But what we gathered from them was that apparently our questionnaire was either too complex or was demanding too much information. A lot of people who initially promised to fill in the questionnaire just didn’t do it.
The three institutions that did respond, were headed by V-C’s who had visited us in the recent past. So maybe they felt obliged that since they were visiting NALSAR, they should cooperate with us. But I personally thought that more of them would respond.
In hindsight, we could have kept it simpler – we were asking for data on recruitments, on spending, on previous faculty appointments.
Of course, the other route would be to file RTIs. But given that we are also embedded in a comparable institution, confrontation may not have been ideal. So, we tried to do it the polite way. It did not work (laughs).
AP: The surveys themselves throw up some interesting data. You asked students what made them choose a particular institution, and one of the factors marked “most important” was faculty.
SC: We were asking students to compare several different factors which we thought were normally important while choosing law schools. The idea behind the question was that as a matter of general perception, which factors are more important.
So, we were not really asking students to judge the quality of faculty at the institution, but we were asking them for a generic opinion.
AP: Were you surprised at this particular result?
SC: To be honest, no. Because, as insiders, this was also our hunch. Students, in the long run, value the quality of teaching that is being offered to them.
I would like to explain that we were not asking students to evaluate the faculty in that institution. We were asking them to compare across other factors which normally play a role in such choices.
Another factor marked “most important” in school selection was placements. But were there more discussions on what makes for “good” placements?
It is very clear that the top commercial law firms which give well-paid jobs are usually looking at around seven law schools –  NLSIU Bangalore, NALSAR Hyderabad, WBNUJS Kolkata, NLU Jodhpur, NLU Delhi, and to a limited extent NLIU Bhopal and GNLU Gandhinagar.
At least in the year that we did the survey, they were not really looking past those schools. So, the normative understanding of placements in these schools was to get a job in the best known law firms.
But since we covered 15 institutions, a large number of respondents told us that we should take a broader view of placements.
That it was not just about getting recruited through the student placement cells and securing lucrative jobs, but the discussion should include recruitment to lawyer’s chambers, government jobs, NGOs and the like.
This is a criticism that I agree with.
If you look at graduation outcomes in the long term, you can’t just look at student organized recruitment processes held in the 4th and 5th year. By design, people who come with a lesser degree of social or reputational capital will lose out in that process. And in the long run, when you judge the success of an institution, you have to account for public employment also.
Students who may not have gotten a commercial law firm job in the initial stages of their career, may actually end up making a far greater social contribution if they end up joining the judiciary, civil services or academic positions. Some of them are clearly opting for other careers that can be very productive.
AP: And do you see this debate taking place in different schools?
SC: Absolutely! In fact, I think there is a growing [awareness] even in first movers like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Calcutta who were, in a sense, the early beneficiaries of economic liberalization.
Even in these schools, there is a growing awareness that the pie is not growing as quickly as they would want.
There are more graduates coming from the NLU system, competing for the same jobs. And with time, newer institutions will become more competitive.
Even in the so called ‘top’ schools, there is a growing perception that recruitment committees need to diversify their outreach to potential recruiters.
AP: Last bit on the student survey. More than half the students surveyed believed that there were no institutional mechanisms to fight sexual harassment, and caste-based discrimination. That is a bit worrying, no?
SC: Yes. A large number of students we surveyed were largely unaware of mechanisms existing in their own institutions. In fact, we were hoping to corroborate this by comparing it with what the institutions told us.
I think it is a dual problem – there is a lack of awareness, and even for the ones who are aware, they think that the existing mechanism are insufficient or ineffective.
Our institutions can do more to not only have robust mechanisms in place, but to also make sure that they are known about in the first place.
A complaint about sexual harassment involves many complexities. It is not just a question of eve-teasing or harassment by strangers. At what point should the institution interfere when one partner in a relationship turns abusive towards the other partner? How is harassment to be understood when the persons involved are adolescents from different cultural backgrounds?
These are complicated social issues, so it is quite difficult to address them in the context of small residential campuses where both grievances and reactions get amplified in no time.
AP: And do you think administrations are discussing this?
SC: To our knowledge, all the NLUs are obligated to constitute internal complaints committees under the 2013 law, namely the The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act.
This law provides for a structure and rigour to act on complaints of this nature.
Having said that, I think a lot depends on the sensitivity of the people who serve on these committees. If you get people on the committee who are uncritically reflecting patriarchal norms, then the complainants themselves may feel hesitant or embarrassed to approach them in the first place.
And there is always the countervailing problem – if there has been a complaint of ragging, sexual harassment, physical violence or substance abuse, how far should the institution go? What is the threshold for expelling a student found guilty of misconduct? At what point, do you order academic suspensions? What is the proper threshold for escalating the matter to the criminal justice system?
These are all difficult choices because you are dealing with young people, some of whom may not adequately understand the long-term implications of their actions.
AP: Moving on, one of the interesting proposals made in the report was introducing M.A. courses which could attract faculty from different disciplines.
SC: There are two big reasons for what we wrote – one, as you have said, is to attract faculty. For faculty members who come with primary training in other disciplines like history, politics, economics, sociology or even management studies – they would actually have a stronger reason to stay invested in the institution if they could get to curate and design a distinctive curriculum. At one level, if law schools have to emerge as truly academic institutions, then the linkages with other disciplines can’t simply be first and second-year minor subjects. We have to evolve beyond that.
Another reason is that we find it very hard to get Ph.D. students in law. Law is a professional degree so if people already have a LL.B. or a LL.M., what is their incentive to do a full time Ph.D. with us? What could be a more interesting academic experiment would be M.A. programs which are geared for people who want to do inter-disciplinary research.
I am quite hopeful that if we experiment with an M.A., say an M.A. in Law and Philosophy, we may get a student who may be a serious masters student with us, and may then proceed to do a Ph.D. and then produce scholarship which is possibly of a much higher standard.
There are some private universities that have already shown the way. For instance, at the O.P. Jindal Global University (Sonipat, Haryana) a substantial number of students come for their law programs, but they are running taught programmes in other fields such as International Relations, Business, Public Policy and the like.
The Azim Premji University in Bangalore has a School for Policy and Governance which started an interdisciplinary M.A. programme a few years ago. The Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS) campuses in Mumbai and Hyderabad have also started M.A. programmes in Regulation and Governance.
This is a space that the NLUs can easily compete with. NLSIU Bangalore has already succeeded in attracting motivated students to its M.A. Programme in Public Policy.
AP: A lot of what you are saying goes back to the debates in the latter half of the last century. There was a focus on the interdisciplinary approach towards the study of law.
SC: In fact, that is where our inspiration came from. When the early discussions about setting up a ‘national law school’ took place, for instance in the Gajendragadkar report in the 1960s, they were thinking of locating it within a larger university system.
For the longest time, the intent was that it would be created at Delhi University. But many senior academics such as Prof. P.K. Tripathy were skeptical about the proposal to teach law as an undergraduate degree.
But if you go back to the original intention behind the national law school project, it was supposed to be embedded within a larger university system. Now that we have gone down a certain path of setting up isolated campuses, why can’t we at least bring back some elements of the original vision?
AP: When it comes to faculty, the report estimates around 30-40% of all faculty are ad-hoc. But were you able to find out how long they had been ad-hoc?
SC: Actually, these are the questions we had asked in the administration questionnaire. We had asked them to not only disclose the strength of their faculty, but also how long their ad-hoc faculty had been there. But nobody really gave us a consolidated answer.
For even the three institutions that gave us an answer, they have only told us the number of serving faculty members, not how long they had been there. The 30-40% estimate is a conservative number because there are some institutions such as NLU Jodhpur and GNLU  Gandhinagar which have largely functioned with ad-hoc faculty since their beginning.
On the other hand, there are some schools like NLU Delhi and RMLNLU Lucknow that have regularized most of their teachers.
But from what we have gathered, even in the schools where regularization happens frequently, the usual expectation is that you will serve in an ad-hoc position for a minimum of 2-3 years before being appointed at the Assistant Professor level. We have heard of horror stories where the waiting period has been seven or eight years in some cases.
AP: In a few years, a PhD will be mandatory for the Assistant Professor level. But, won’t this force people into PhDs?
SC: That I think is one level of the problem – namely that those who are presently working as ad-hoc teachers after completing a master’s degree will have a compelling reason to quickly finish their Ph.D.s. This may sacrifice quality.
The other issue is that we may actually lose out on potential candidates who may have half a mind to join academia after acquiring some experience with legal practice. But you are effectively pushing them aside by saying, “A PhD is going to be a norm in three years”
But in the long run, this is an overdue measure. If you look at recruitments for teaching positions in other disciplines, holding a Ph.D. is the norm for being appointed. But since  law is a professional discipline, there has been a relative scarcity of qualified people applying for teaching positions.
Which is why many people have been able to get regular positions after completing a LL.M. programme and clearing the NET, which is the existing threshold for appointment as an Assistant Professor.
AP: Sticking with the UGC, there seems to be a gap between what the UGC wants and reality. For instance, the one-year LLM was supposed to make Indian universities globally competitive.
SC: The UGC Committee that framed the one-year LLM program was thinking of aligning it with Western practices. They made the program more intensive with three compulsory courses, six optional papers and a masters dissertation to be completed within one academic year.
To be honest this is a fair amount of work – it is a taught LL.M. and a research LL.M. combined. Whereas in most parts of the Western world, you can opt to do one.
In practice, the applicant pool has increased which led to the hope that the quality of students would also improve.  But, at least in my limited experience, I have found that a lot of applicants are writing the PG CLAT because it is also a prerequisite to apply for jobs in several Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs).
Unfortunately, the students with the best ranks in the PG CLAT are not joining the LL.M. programmes at the NLUs.
I think the real problem with the LL.M. programme is that we haven’t got the entrance process right. For a master’s program, does it even make sense to have a common exam that consists of multiple-choice questions? How can that be a suitable gauge for an applicant’s aptitude for research and writing?
Another problem is the dearth of faculty expertise for research supervision. For instance, each institution is a better judge of whether it has the requisite faculty resources to offer specialized courses or to meaningfully supervise dissertation writing.
AP: So, you do think an LLM is geared for academic research?
SC: Absolutely. In fact, the main reason for moving to the 1-year LL.M. was to make it clear to applicants that this is a degree that helps you transition towards a Ph.D. Or, if you are thinking about teaching, it helps you transition into a feeder teaching position.
But somehow, most of the people who write the PG CLAT don’t seem to have that information reaching them.
The other problem which we found is that some schools have started using the LL.M. as a means of financial compensation.
They admit a large number of LL.M. students, say 100, whereas they only have 40 teachers. Now, if you are going to guide LL.M. dissertations, each teacher has to guide 2-3 people. And in the pool of 40 teachers, nearly 20 or so may be very young teachers who have recently done their own LL.M.s.
I personally feel that if enough time and attention is given to it, our LL.M. programmes can become globally competitive. There is no reason why they can’t.
AP: One of the terms that kept coming up in the report was “complacency”, especially in context of the older law schools.
SC: This is a problem that is a bit difficult to document unless you have been an insider. The reason I say that is because these institutions have benefited from earning reputational capital because they chose a more intensive model when compared with law colleges or departments that are part of larger State Universities.
And their output, or rather their graduates’ output, also came at a time when the Indian economy wanted transactional lawyers. So, it was also a historical accident.
A lot of insiders have not truly understood that they are beneficiaries of this historical accident.  People just assume that because they have gotten into a ‘top ranked’ school it is a ticket to a comfortable job, or a ticket to good professional reputation. That is where the element of complacency is most visible.
Whereas it never works like that in the long-run – what constitutes reputational capital changes completely a few years into practice.
Unfortunately, many stakeholders in these institutions don’t seem to understand this. They seem to be taking their positions for granted. Whether it is in terms of finding jobs for their students, or publicity, or even in terms of claims they make about themselves.
We have this expression that is used very often for NLSIU Bangalore (which also happens to be my alma mater)– “Harvard of the East” – I think this is a complete travesty. In fact, it is an obscenity.
AP: Looking towards the future – one of the recommendations made in the report was to have alumni representation in the governing bodies of the NLUs.
SC: It is as simple as making amendments to their respective State level statutes where you can easily add the alumni association as one more stakeholder that is represented, in say the Executive Council of the concerned NLU.
So far, Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon seems to be the only senior law professor who has publicly backed this proposal.  I think the idea will only gain traction if one school takes the initiative and invites its alumni into its governing bodies. Then other NLUs will quickly replicate this model.
Having alumni on your governing board proves to be beneficial in the long run. As the experience with many Western universities shows, as they get older, alumni are able to contribute financially and intellectually.
And, sometimes, they are able to help when the institution faces bottlenecks with the government, or in litigation involving the institution. All it requires is incumbent Vice-Chancellors and Registrars who are polite enough to ask for help.


Episode 02: Sidharth Chauhan, NALSAR University

Sidharth Chauhan of NALASR University

Sidharth Chauhan

In Episode 02 of the Amicus Podcast, Asst. Prof. Sidharth Chauhan shares his thoughts on the recent report on legal education, how the report was prepared, and a lot more on the future of legal education in the country.