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

Soumya Shekhar.jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS: I received the Faculty Graduate Scholarship from NUS.

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

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

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

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

The Admission Interviews: Andrew Horsfall, Syracuse University College of Law

 

 

Andrew Horsfall

Andrew Horsfall

Andrew Horsfall is the Assistant Dean of International Programs at Syracuse University College of Law. A lawyer by training, Andrew spent a few years as a legal profession before working for his alma mater. In this podcast, he tells me how admission officers view applications, how scholarships can be negotiated, and what are the best ways to identify the law school (and post-graduate course) that will offer you the most value.

 

Amicus Partners: We often get asked about the pros and cons of a specialized LLM versus a general LLM. Thoughts?

Andrew Horsfall: It really depends on the goals of the student and what they are looking to get out of the program. In a general LLM setting, you are getting more exposure to a variety of different subjects, perspectives and professors.

That can be very valuable to you.

If you wanted to take an IP class, human rights class or a general business law course, you can position yourself later in job interview as someone who is a generalist and has had broad exposure to a number of different subjects. That can be valuable to certain employers.

On the other hand, a specialized degree provides more comprehensive exposure, a deeper knowledge to a subject, and you can carve yourself out as an expert in some field.

This needs to be something that is really researched. If a school is offering a specialization in IP or in human rights, go further than that and take a look at the curriculum.  Take a look at the requirements that are needed and see if it is truly a specialization.

Is the school just sort of cobbling together all of its human rights courses and saying, “Now we have a specialization”? Or have they actually created new classes or new academic opportunities for students specifically in this track or in this program to pursue?

Another common query is when one should apply for an LLM – right after the undergraduate course or with a few years of work experience?

I get this question all the time!

I have to say that here at Syracuse, and I think with most admission professionals I have worked with, there is no preferred pathway to an LLM program. I think having come directly from an undergraduate program, it is an easier transition into an academic setting.

But also, there is value in taking some time away from your studies, getting some practical experience, and then coming back into an academic setting maybe with a more focused goal.

So those are sort of the personal factors to think about.

From an admissions perspective, we don’t prioritize either. What we look at is how you have spent your time. So, if you are just coming from a bachelor’s program, we are focusing specifically on your time [as an undergraduate]. Have you volunteered? Have you taken leadership roles in certain organizations? Have you done internships?

Likewise, with your practice – have there been gaps in your professional experience that we might need to talk about? Have you had an upwardly mobile progression in your career pathway? Have you been promoted year after year?

How are admissions applications vetted?

 Every admissions officer has their own formula that they have developed along the way. Let me just walk you through mine.

When I get an application, the first thing I do is skim through the resume. That gives me a basic chronology of what the student has accomplished either in law school or in their profession.

So, while the resume is not the most important piece, it is that first look into what that application will reveal later. I will say that for me, a resume has never made or broken a decision.

The next thing I read is the personal statement because I am most interested in hearing, in your own words, what you have accomplished, what you have done in the past and why the LLM program is that next, natural step for you.

That opens a window into your motivation, and what you are looking to accomplish. From there I go into the more technical details – so I will look through your transcripts, not only looking at the final CGPA but also taking a look at the courses you are taking, semester by semester.

And lastly, I will take a look at the recommendation letters either to confirm [what you have written] or reveal something new about you that I had not picked up yet.

Any suggestions on how to go about writing the personal statements?

In terms of the personal statement, I wouldn’t over think it and I wouldn’t make it too long. I have read personal statements that are one and a half pages (double spaced) – you can say a lot with very little space. I would not exceed two pages, just as a general matter.

I would advise the student to really take the space to tell her story. So, walk me through a little bit of your past. Talk to me about what got you motivated to study law [as an undergraduate]. Maybe talk about some of the things you have done during your time as a law student.

And then, end it with a paragraph or two about why this LLM program is the next thing for you. I am looking for information about what is motivating you to apply.

AP: You mention that you should engage with the schools. Do you think professors are also open to the idea of being contacted?

AH: Yes, definitely. Any law school’s website will also have information on professors and the courses that they teach. And if they have a specialization in a subject that you are interested in, you should absolutely feel free to reach out to the faculty members. The admissions office can help make those introductions for you.

I think most foreign students coming to the United States will find that, and this is not to denigrate any other country, our professors tend to be a bit more accessible, a bit more approachable. They really want to know who our students are, they want to know if you have concerns, and just to make sure that everything is going well for you.

AP: By and large, LLMs can be quite expensive. Oftentimes it is a question of whether one should make that kind of financial investment.

AH: Without a doubt. The first or usually the second thing that students are concerned about is the cost. And that is completely reasonable; LLM programs are expensive. I know that, I live in this world, and I talk to students all the time.

I wish they were more affordable, I wish they were more accessible and I know that my colleagues as well share that sentiment.

With that said, I also consider LLMs to be highly valuable in terms of the credentials that they give. There is a way of looking at LLM programs as expensive or valuable, and I think those are two different things.

The reason I look at them as valuable is for what they can unlock in terms of opportunities.

For example, in the US, if you are foreign educated and you come to do an LLM here, you can unlock the ability to write the NY Bar exam or the DC Bar exam. So, having that LLM on its own is certainly great – it is a master’s credential, gives you more exposure, more expertise.

I think it is important to mention when we talk about scholarships, it is very rare for students to pay the full price [of the LLM] as published on the website.

It is quite common, and quite acceptable, to open a conversation with the school and ask for scholarships, and also ask about appealing scholarships. So, if you are offered maybe ten or twenty thousand dollars at the first pass, may be a month or two later, you evaluate and say that you really need or deserve more scholarship funding.

AP: This is common across US schools?

AH: I would say, yes. I think that the trend for scholarships in the US are that schools are giving more and more scholarships. It is becoming increasingly competitive for schools to attract quality candidates. Scholarships are just part of what it is to do business in this field right now.

[Awarding scholarships] is something that schools are willing to do, because they are willing to make that investment in their students.

AP: So, you would encourage applicants to have that conversation on scholarships?

AH: Absolutely.

It is a very fair question to ask. As part of my admission process, I have a Skype conversation with every applicant and it is usually during that conversation that I ask about scholarships, about funding process. And that opens a conversation for students to talk about what their level of need is.

I think most admission professionals will welcome that conversation.

AP: Any final piece of advice?

AH: I touched upon this earlier, but I can’t understate the value of connecting with the school.

So, beyond just going to the website, filling out the application and then waiting for a decision, I really think [applicants] should engage with the school. And that’s not just e-mailing them back and forth. Look for them on their social media channel, start following them, engage.

Ask them if you could speak with current students, with alumni, not only from your own country or your own city, but also in the practice area that you may want to work in later.

I think the best thing you could do is to be informed. So, take your time, enjoy the process, and really make sure you are engaged with the school.

Introducing the Amicus Podcast: Episode 01

At Amicus Partners, we are always trying to make the LLM application process that much easier. And in order to provide as much information as we can, we have recently launched the Amicus Podcast.
In the first episode, Priyadarshini and I discuss the broad aspects of the application process, the things one should keep in mind, and just a little bit more.
As always, we welcome your thoughts, comments and suggestions.

Four web resources every #LLM applicant should utilise

As we have mentioned in our first post, researching on which law school to apply to can be a decidedly exhausting process.  Right from deciding which course to study, to law school identification to scholarships, the LLM aspirant can often feel overburdened by these tasks.
However, there is help at hand. What with the advent of technology, a lot of information that may have been difficult to access is now (comparably) easily available.
Given below are four web-resources that all LLM aspirants are advised to take advantage of.
Yes, we have mentioned it in our first post, but I just want to underline the usefulness of this particular site. Not only does LLM Guide have a comprehensive database on LLM’s from across the world, but most of the information is up to date.
A definite plus are the Discussion Boards that act as an effective medium to reach out to those in a similar boat as the one you find yourself in.
Much like LLM-Guide, this website’s most useful feature is the database of LLM courses that are on offer across the world. You can also register for the newsletters for updates on open days, and scholarship applications.
Run by law graduates and law students, SuperLawyer is a fantastic resource for those seeking first-hand accounts of Indian lawyers who have pursued post-graduate degrees outside the country.
There is even a University-wise breakup of interviews conducted.
Conducted by law graduate Bharatendu Agarwal, the #ProjectLLM interviews will provide some extremely useful information to potential LLM aspirants.
Even if the interviews do not cover institutes that you are interested in, the advice and insights are really applicable to the LLM application process in general.
A little bit of planning always helps

Three questions you need to ask if you are thinking about a master’s degree after law

It is not always an easy decision to make, of this I have little doubt. In all probability, this is the first educational choice you are making after your decision to study law. And, if you decided to study in the five-year program, that decision was made a while back.
So here you are, scoping out LLM-guide or LLMStudy, speaking with peers and seniors, and (probably) wondering whether it is going to be worth all the effort in the first place. Like I said, this can be a difficult decision to make.
Fear not, there are some ways in which the decision making process can be made easier. There are a few questions you can ask that may just help you in reaching the final goal.
Of course, these questions only work if you are being honest with yourself. Which is not particularly easy (insert “lawyer liar” joke here). But is it worth it if you don’t have to try hard?
Anyway, here are three questions I think you need to ask yourself before thinking about an LL.M. (or any other master’s degree) outside the country.
Question One: Why?
The first one, and often the hardest one to answer, is “why”.  Why do you want to do a master’s course? What value do you see in the course, how does the degree fit into your career goals? How do you foresee the course helping you?
Those italicizations above are no coincidence.
No matter what people tell you, and there are more than a few people who will want to selflessly share their thoughts, the final choice is yours to make.
At Amicus Partners, some of the more common answers we receive to the “why” question are gaining specialist knowledge, a career in academia, or a desire to practice in non-Indian jurisdictions. Then there are the less common, but equally valid, ones such as a desire to take a break after a few years of the grind. Which is fair.
Lawyers are human after all. Well, sort of.
The point that I am trying to make is that you need to be honest with yourself here. And as long as you do that, you will be fine. Trust me.
Question Two: Where?
If you are reasonably sure of your answer to the question above, you can then start narrowing down on the “where”. Or maybe you don’t have the answer right now, and you want to think of something else. Perhaps take a peek at the “where” question?
So, one of the more common ways of going about the selection process is relying on rankings. A few of the more popular ones are USNews, QS World Rankings, the THE rankings – all three of these have rankings for the study of law. Given our love (hate?) of rankings, this is a particularly easy way out.
Without going into the problems associated with rankings, and I think there are many, the only rider I would add here is that you should use rankings as a starting point for your research at best.
Another way of identifying your graduate school is by focusing on the faculty profiles. Often, experts within a particular field of study will be part of the faculty. Or you may have practitioners offering courses – both of which can make for deeply fulfilling learning experiences.
A third way of going about the selection is to list the criteria that are important to you. Say, you want to study closer to home. Or you want to study in a cosmopolitan city, or perhaps a truly remote location.
As long as you can identify what matters to you, you have a starting point.
Question three: Who will pay?
This is a factor whose importance should simply not be underestimated. And yet, it very often is. The costs of the LL.M./master’s course will, or rather should, play an important role in your eventual decision.
The reasons for this are many, the one that is often overlooked is that the fees will determine your financial health at the end of the course. This in turn will play a pivotal role in your career choices after you graduate.
On average, an LL.M. at a top tier US law school will cost more than seventy lacs, while one in the UK will set you back by about half that. These are no small figures, more so if you are planning to take a loan.
There are a number of ways and means to reduce your financial liabilities, the most popular one being scholarships and/or bursaries. These range from course-specific, to university-specific, to general scholarships. Information on the first two are quite easy to locate – you will find them on the websites of the educational institution. The third category requires a bit more research, but that should not dissuade you.
In addition to this, there are philanthropic organizations which offer interest-free loans with a generous repayment schedule.
And if you will need to apply for a loan, apart from the banks, there are a couple of online lenders in the education market. For instance, both Prodigy Finance and MPower Financing claim to have a simplified application process (with no collateral requirement), and competitive interest rates.
But, like any good lawyer, make sure you read the fine print before entering into any agreement.
Final thoughts
The questions listed above are just suggestions. They may work for you, they may not. Nine times out of ten, you are not going to arrive at this answer immediately.
Nor is it going to be a completely linear process where one answer leads to the next and so on and so forth.
Which is just fine.
Trust us.