First Person Accounts: Aradhya Sethia on an LLM from Yale, Inlaks, Fox Fellowship & more

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

In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Aradhya Sethia who recently completed an LLM from Yale Law School (Class of ’18). In this FPA, the NLSIU graduate (Class of ’17) shares his thoughts on studying at Yale, the Inlaks scholarship (of which he is an awardee), the Fox Fellowship, comparative constitutional studies, and a whole lot more.

Aradhya Sethia, LLM from Yale Law School

Aradhya Sethia

At what stage of your undergraduate studies did you consider enrolling for an LLM? 

I was undecided till the end, but it was in the fourth year that I seriously started thinking about it.

I am presuming it was Yale’s focus on academia that made you apply there? Did you look at any other law schools?

I always wanted to study constitutional philosophy. Yale Law School is widely recognized to be the best school to do that, and some of the best scholars whom I encountered in my undergraduate research were Yale professors.  Apart from Yale, I applied to Oxford and Cambridge. I received an offer from both the universities, but I decided to go to Yale.

The Yale LLM admissions requires fairly compact essays – how should future applicants approach the essay requirements? 

I’d recommend the students to read the questions very carefully. Your essay should make sure that you are answering each and every essay question. Yale also requires you to submit a  research agenda.

It took me a lot of research to get to a point where I could draft a convincing research agenda.  They want you to ask concise, relevant, and thought-provoking questions. Focus on that one big question you are interested in.

Your primary goal shouldn’t be to prove that you have researched a lot, but to ask the right question, show why that question matters, and how Yale could help you answer that question.

Your primary goal shouldn’t be to prove that you have researched a lot, but to ask the right question, show why that question matters, and how Yale could help you answer that question.

How was the LLM experience at Yale? What courses did you study, and what were some of the bigger changes in the teachings (and learnings) between your undergrad and post-grad days? 

 I really loved my time at Yale. First of all, it was for the first time that I was studying in a multi-disciplinary university. I got to live and interact with theoretical physicists, economists, computer scientists, etc. It was a superb learning experience.

It was for the first time that I was studying in a multi-disciplinary university. I got to live and interact with theoretical physicists, economists, computer scientists, etc. It was a superb learning experience.

I took courses on American Constitutional Law, comparative constitutional law, American legal thought, comparative administrative law, Law and AI, Law and Behavioral Economics, Data Protection, and International Trade  Law. I also took a clinical course on International Human Rights (IHR).

The clinic was my favorite experience at Yale. It taught me how IHR is really practiced beyond courtroom lawyering. I also took a course in political philosophy on the relationship between politics and economics.

Yale has a small LLM batch size – around 25, and all my batchmates were serious scholars of their own fields. I was the youngest member of the batch, and hence, relatively clueless. I did not go there with a set plan or goal, which helped me keep an open mind and explore courses I was not exposed to, instead of specializing in one field.

You studied at Yale as an Inlaks scholar – any advice on how to go about the scholarship process?

There’s no one way to go about it. I think the idea is to remain calm and honest during the interview process. The first round is stream-specific. My interview with the law-panel mostly dealt with my ability to debate legal issues and my knowledge about the areas of law I am interested in.

The questions in the second round were more general, mostly related to either character or how I situate the relevance of my academic interests in the larger scheme of affairs. I don’t think one can really prepare for the second interview.

Could you tell us a bit about the Fox Fellowship? What are the things to keep in mind while applying, and how has the fellowship experience been thus far?

Yale Fox Fellowship funds recent graduate students or current Ph.D. students at Yale to spend a year at one of their partner universities to do their own research. It’s a University-wide fellowship, not restricted to Yale Law School. The aim of the fellowship is to create “citizen-scholars”, who can contribute to society through their research. If you are a graduate student at their partner university, you can apply to spend your fellowship year at Yale.

To apply for Fox, you need to submit your research proposal along with a statement of interest. I wanted to work on the place of political parties in the constitutional order. I decided to research this question with its Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies at Melbourne, one of the leading comparative constitutional law research centres in the world. I have found some amazing mentors and friends here.

Given your experiences, what would you tell Indian law students who are interested in a career in academia and research?

I don’t think I have achieved anything significant in this field to recommend much. However, there’s a minefield of issues in Indian law, which have not yet received any scholarly attention. 

I’d recommend undergraduate students that instead of taking up “buzzing” issues, choose fundamental legal questions that are relatively unexplored.

I’d recommend undergraduate students that instead of taking up “buzzing” issues, choose fundamental legal questions that are relatively unexplored.

Last question – what are some of the teaching practices you have seen that ought to be replicated in Indian law schools? 

There are many things that could be replicated in Indian law schools. One thing that I would like to point out here because of my experiences in Indian and American clinics is clinical education. I wish there were more clinical facilities in Indian law schools. For those who may want to practice law, clinical legal education can teach you a lot. In India, the clinics are mostly seen as a part of ‘co-curricular activities’, operated by student committees with little to no support from faculty. I am not sure if any Indian law school has full-time clinical faculty and full-fledged clinical courses as part of academic curriculum. 

In India, the clinics are mostly seen as a part of ‘co-curricular activities’, operated by student committees with little to no support from faculty.

Finally, a cautionary note on ‘replication’ – I wish I were exposed to more Indian scholarship during my time at NLS Bangalore. For instance, my classes in jurisprudence and political theory in India were completely occupied by readings from British and American legal theorists. There’s no problem with that. I thoroughly enjoyed those readings.

However, I completed that course without having any sense of what those ideas meant for the law or politics in India. It didn’t help me make sense of my surroundings. It is only when I went to Yale, and I understood the deep contextual roots of these theories, that I was pushed to read literature on Indian constitutional and legal thought.

I was amazed that there are many scholars thinking deeply and writing profusely on what law or constitutionalism means, or ought to mean, in Indian or South Asian context, or even how to make sense of grand theories in local contexts.

 

End Notes

What: LLM at Yale Law School 

Tuition: USD 62,017 (Refer website for latest figures)

Apply by: December 1 (Refer website for latest deadlines)

First Person Accounts: Nehaa Chaudhari on an LLM from Harvard Law School, Berkman Klein Centre & more

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world. In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Nehaa Chaudhari who graduated with an LLM from Harvard Law School (Class of 2017).

Nehaa Chaudhari

Nehaa Chaudhari

In this FPA, the NALSAR (Class of 2013) graduate shares tips on how to go about writing the personal statement for the LLM, research assistantships at Harvard Law School, and a whole lot more.

You joined the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) after graduating in law. Was it during your time at CIS that you began considering an LLM, or was this the plan even during your undergrad days?

I always wanted to go for an LL.M., even as an undergrad at NALSAR. I learnt a lot during my time at CIS, which was instrumental in concretising my interest in technology law and policy.

Just over three years at CIS, and you enrolled for the LLM at Harvard. Did you look at any other schools, and if so why did you end up choosing HLS? 

I must have applied to ten schools — four in the UK, and the rest in the US. I was surprised, and delighted of course, when I got in everywhere I had applied. Then, it came down to choosing the best possible school based on the program that I wanted to study — which was technology law and policy, the faculty, and funding.

All of these things came together at HLS — it was offering me the most aid out of all schools, the technology law faculty is stellar, and it houses the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. I was familiar with the work of some of the faculty and staff at HLS and the Berkman Klein Center, and HLS offered me the opportunity to work closely with them.

So one of the major stumbling blocks in the admission process is the Personal Statement – given that HLS has a fairly challenging requirement, any thoughts on on how to go about writing the PS?

When we interacted with the admissions staff of the Graduate Program while at HLS, we learnt that the admissions committee looked to the personal statement to get a sense of the applicant as a person, and what they brought to the table, as well as to see how well (or poorly) they could write. Good writing does not mean complicated writing, or the use of flowery language — quite the contrary in fact. Personal statements should be clearly written, and easy to read.

Good writing does not mean complicated writing, or the use of flowery language — quite the contrary in fact. Personal statements should be clearly written, and easy to read.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice that I received about writing the personal statement generally, and which also holds true for HLS, was to (a) be authentic, and (b) be strategic about it.

By authentic I mean talk about your actual experiences, and not what you think the office of admissions wants to hear. By strategic I mean be thoughtful about which of your stories you want to share.

There is no need to talk about everything one has ever done in life. In fact, that might be counter-intuitive. Focus on those learnings and experiences that speak directly to your reason for doing the LL.M. at a particular law school. It’s crucial that personal statements be tailored to each school and each program. So, be sure to include school specific and program specific reasons for applying to a particular law school — this could be things like faculty, courses, other opportunities, funding, or anything else.

At HLS, you worked closely with the Berkman Klein Clinic (BKC) – how was this experience and how did you wind up as an RA? Any advice for Indian law grads who are looking at TA/RA’s during the relatively short LLM?

Over the year, I worked with the BKC in two capacities — first, as a part of the Cyberlaw Clinic, which works as a pro-bono law firm, and second, as an RA to Prof. Urs Gasser, who is the Executive Director at the center. I had to apply for both positions — I think I submitted a personal statement and a resume for both. Prof. Urs also interviewed all candidates.

There are lots of opportunities to be an RA at HLS. Most professors are almost always looking for research assistance. There is a job opportunities portal of sorts, so one thing to do is to just keep track of that. It’s also helpful to go speak to a faculty member directly, and ask if they are looking for RAs.

There are lots of opportunities to be an RA at HLS. Most professors are almost always looking for research assistance. There is a job opportunities portal of sorts, so one thing to do is to just keep track of that.

I had a fantastic experience at the BKC. All of the faculty and the staff at BKC were extremely knowledgeable, and at the same time extremely down to earth, and helpful. I received a lot of feedback on my work which is relevant and useful even today. Everyone that I worked with was very committed about their work, loved what they did,  and were very nice to each other — all of which contributed to an excellent work atmosphere.

You were also a recipient of a scholarship from the KC Mahindra Trust – how was the application process? Any other sources of funding that applicants ought to look at?

The application process was pretty standard. Application materials included an application form, proof of acceptance into a university, and your resume. This was followed by an interview.

Besides K.C. Mahindra, candidates can look at the Tata Trust, as well as the Inlaks scholarship. There’s also the Fulbright programme, but the application process for that begins almost a whole year in advance – you apply for the Fulbright before you apply to university, basically.

Looking back, was there anything about the LLM process that you wished you had known before joining the program? 

Well, it’s a nine-month program, and nine months go by fairly quickly. There’s a lot that one can do, and it can all get a bit overwhelming. Most of us struggled with “impostor syndrome”, a feeling that we didn’t really belong in the program — that HLS had somehow messed up.

It would have helped to know that practically everyone struggles with this, and that it’s completely okay! The uncertainty is all a part of the experience, so just try to not control everything, be open to completely new experiences, and go along for the ride.

The uncertainty is all a part of the experience, so just try to not control everything, be open to completely new experiences, and go along for the ride.

 

End Notes

  1. What: The LLM at Harvard Law School
  2. Tuition fees: $63,800 (Refer website for latest figures)
  3. Deadline: December 1 (Refer website)

#Admissions: Miki P Hamstra, Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Miki P Hamstra

Miki P Hamstra/McKinney School of Law

In this edition of the Admission Interviews, I get to speak with Miki Pike Hamstra who is the Director of Graduate Programs at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

I first came across McKinney while attending an online “fair” held in November last year. The fair allowed me to reach out to reps from more than a dozen US law schools, including Miki, and we have kept in touch since then.

In this interview, I get Miki to share her thoughts about the benefits of an LLM from a US law school, drafting a good personal statement, the US job market for international law graduates, and a whole lot more.

(Edited excerpts)

Why should international students opt for an LLM?

It is pretty clear that the legal practice is a global one; students around the world are continuing to find international LLM degrees to be useful in their careers. On the practical side, I know that a lot of students are interested in knowing what is the return on investment [on an LLM].

I think the answer has three parts.

One, you learn American law. [At McKinney] you are going to be in advanced JD courses with experts from around the world. And I do believe that our law professors are some of the best in the nation. We have a core group of “expert adjuncts” as we call them – they are working and also teaching.

Two, the work experiences that you are just not going to get while studying in your home country. We have a lot of MNCs here in Indianapolis so, it is not about just working in Indy but working in an American legal setting.

Three, the network. You build your network here at McKinney from your first semester. Students can do their internships or externships, and we also pair them with JD mentors.

How should one go about choosing a law school?

I think every student would benefit from putting together a spreadsheet, a kind of an old school “pros and cons” list.

I think sometimes students make the mistake of asking questions that they think the [law] schools want to hear. I would say, flip that. Be honest about what you want. If you want a large law school with top ranking, then you are going to want to apply to schools like that.

Really think about how you prefer to learn, not just what that [degree] is going to say at the end of the year. [Maybe] you don’t prefer to learn in a large environment and you prefer practical experiences. You prefer knowing your professors on a first-name basis, and knowing your supervisors, having a small cohort.

You need to be honest with yourself about what you are looking for.

As for the rankings you may find on say US News, that relates only to the JD program, [they have] nothing to do with how LLM students feel.

That is a pretty common mistake.

Yes. [Applicants] might see that some school has amazing rankings, high student satisfaction, job placements etc but that actually does not include LLM data. If you look at those large schools, often LLM students cannot compete for the externships which means that they have a tougher time finding a job.

However, I am also a realist. I know that employers globally recognize certain names. So, if the student’s end goal is to simply get the degree with the name, that is fine. And I am not discouraging that.

But I also feel badly for students who really want something more [but] go to schools because of the rankings and the name. And they leave feeling kind of like they spent a lot of money, a year of their life, and did not get what they wanted in the end.

But I also feel badly for students who really want something more [but] go to schools because of the rankings and the name. And they leave feeling kind of like they spent a lot of money, a year of their life, and did not get what they wanted in the end.

How early should one start with the research?

I think students would benefit from doing some research in advance but before even doing that, be honest about what they are looking for. There is a lot of good research out there, where they can read about what they should be considering.

And I am always happy to speak with students even if they don’t end up joining my program. Like I said, I hope that they do. I believe firmly in my program and I am definitely biased towards it but I am happy to answer questions, look at their personal statement etc.

You mentioned the personal statement. That is one of the bigger challenges in the admissions process.

I think culturally, for my students around the world it is a very strange thing to sell yourself.  In America, you should know we are trained at a very young age on how to sell ourselves. We are very loud, we are very confident. This is bred into us at a very young age.

I think a lot of my students from India in particular think, “I am top of the class, I don’t need to sell myself” Oh no. You still need to do that.

Pretend that you are in a competition with a lot of other people – what makes you different? What makes you unique? Your [grades], and your letters of recommendation will obviously be part of your file but the personal statement – I should be able to close my eyes and know you.

I should be able to know what is interesting to you. Why did you start the study of law, what do you want to do with the legal degree? How does my degree at my particular university help you accomplish those goals?

I would say that the number one mistake that I see is that they just reiterate their CV or their resume without really inspiring me to think why my school is a good fit for them. What are they going to bring to my school, and in return what is my school going to do for them?

The number one mistake that I see is that they just reiterate their CV or their resume without really inspiring me to think why my school is a good fit for them. What are they going to bring to my school, and in return what is my school going to do for them?

I have also seen students who write one personal statement and then they mass produce it. I do not recommend that. What I would say is that if you are applying to multiple schools, you can develop a common template. But make sure you have two or three paragraphs that are specific to that particular school.

You can talk about what kind of program you are interested in, what professor you are interested in, what they can give to you and what you bring to the table. And make sure you carefully edit.

I get personal statements all the time that are supposed to go to other law schools. I know people are busy, and I am quite friendly about it. I usually write back saying, “Oh I think you may have sent me the wrong draft.”

A lot of students join the LLM to sit for the US Bar.

You can do Bar planning even before you even apply for an LLM. For instance, New York offers a credentialing service for free that allows students to get their transcripts reviewed to make sure that they would be eligible to sit for the NY Bar.

Do you see a lot of students making the switch to a JD after they complete the LLM?

I do see some of my students take that course, particularly those who have not gotten jobs after graduation. They want to maximize their job prospects. In such cases I would highly recommend a JD because a JD degree allows them to sit for the Bar exam in any US state.

Choose an LLM at an institution that can also offer you the JD, like we have here. You can earn a maximum of 30 credits for the JD so that would be practically be a whole year off your JD program. So instead of a 3-year program you have now reduced it to two years.

In addition, you don’t have to submit an LSAT score. So, the barrier to entry for the JD program is much lower if you have an LLM from a US institution.

One of the big factors in LLM applications is employment. But the US market is saturated.

That is exactly what I tell students. The legal market in the US as a whole, is saturated. So, you want to look for pockets in the country where you have opportunities, and in my opinion, you should study in those areas because you can build your network when you are there.

There are a lot of students who come in thinking, “All I have to do to get a job is just get an LLM.” That is completely false. That is not even true for the JD degree. Just studying is not good enough and has never been.

There are a lot of students who come in thinking, “All I have to do to get a job is just get an LLM.” That is completely false. That is not even true for the JD degree. Just studying is not good enough and has never been.

From the first day that students come here I say, “Please make time for internships or clinics because your mind may change. After you have been here for two semesters, you might want to work in the US for a while.”

Does asking for aid affect the chances of getting admission?

In my opinion, [asking for aid] is never a bad thing. But I am also a school that has a lot of funding for international students. I can’t speak for all universities but [financial aid] is something you would want to know from the very beginning. If you don’t ask the questions, then you won’t know and then your whole plan can fall apart.

Some students may want to pursue a doctorate degree after the LLM. Any advice?

Look for an LLM program that has a thesis option. At my law school we have started limiting enrolment to our SJD program to people who have written a thesis before. We [also] give preferential treatment to our LLM students thesis. And I am going to tell you why.

When you work with a faculty member as an LLM student, you are probably working on an idea that is going to turn into your dissertation. You have developed a work relationship with a faculty member, you have learnt how to research. So, when you apply for the SJD program, you already have someone in your court.

A lot of times, the student will have the advisor write the letter of recommendation for the SJD program. In my program you have to submit a writing sample – that is already ready. And you already have an advisor, so for the admissions committee it is very easy.

I think the SJD market is also starting to get a little saturated. So again, be honest. When you write to the LLM admissions office, ask if there is a pathway to the SJD program, and what should one do to prepare for that.

Ask all the questions that are important to you, and you will find the right LLM program.

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