First Person Accounts: Mitisha Chheda on an LLM in IP from George Washington Law

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued a masters course from schools across the world. In this FPA interview, Amicus Partners speaks to Mitisha Chheda, who recently completed an LLM in Intellectual Property from George Washington University Law School (Class of ’17).

In this FPA, Mitisha talks about the reasons behind choosing a specialised LLM (hint: Conde Nast), how she went about the application process, Research Assistant positions, and a whole lot more.

Mitisha M Cheddha

Mitisha Chheda

At what point in time did you decide to do an LL.M? Was this something you had planned to do even as an undergraduate or was this only something you opted for after working for some time?

It was during the fourth year of law school that I decided to purse an LL.M. This decision was largely influenced by my brother’s experience; he has earned his LL.M from a U.S law school. His LL.M experiences were an inspiration for me and a starting point for my own LL.M. pursuit.

Many students who pursue an LL.M. tend to have prior work experience before taking up the course. Prior work experience helps in choosing your Masters’ specialization and allows one to refine their skills in the desired concentration of law.

How did you go about the process of narrowing down on George Washington University Law School? What were the other schools that you applied to (if any), and how early did you start the application process?

I have always been very passionate about Intellectual Property (IP) law and Entertainment law. It dates back to my interest in travel photography coupled with the practical insights I gained during my internship at Conde Nast Traveller. It was this internship which led me to pursue law with a focus in IP.

Post my internship at Conde Nast Traveller I have been crafting my experiences only in IP. So, pursuing my Masters in Law in IP was a natural progression.

I started preparing for my LL.M application process six to seven months in advance. I had very few law schools in mind for the IP course – George Washington University, NYU, UCLA, Berkeley, and Georgetown. I narrowed down on George Washington University because of its robust IP Program, esteemed professors, and its proximity to the U.S Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S Copyright Office.

A lot of applicants struggle when it comes to writing the Statement of Purpose – any pointers on how applicants should approach this?

Indeed, the Statement of Purpose takes up a lot of time and like many other students I grappled as well. My advice is – be a good story teller. Apart from this, you should spend at least (I stress on “at least”) three to four weeks in writing the SOP.

My advice is – be a good story teller. Apart from this, you should spend at least (I stress on “at least”) three to four weeks in writing the SOP. One should also discuss their line of thought for the SOP with their friends who are not from the legal background. This helps in bringing a new perspective and in simplifying the SOP’s language.

One should also discuss their line of thought for the SOP with their friends who are not from the legal background. This helps in bringing a new perspective and in simplifying the SOP’s language. Unlike India, the U.S. prefers the written material to be reader-friendly and easy to understand even for a lay person.

What were the biggest changes that you observed when it came to the learning experience between your undergrad and post-grad days?

The biggest difference was the classroom experience. In the U.S., professors assign class readings before-hand and they expect you to come prepared for classes. During the class, you are expected to engage in classroom discussion rather than be lectured by the Professor alone. This method is known as the Socrates method.

I personally believe that the Socratic method was very helpful because every class introduced a new and novel thought process. We were encouraged to participate in healthy classroom discussions and submit various practical assignments as opposed to my under graduate program, where we would just appear for a final written test.

Was it easy to get a RA post while an LLM student? Any advice for those who may be interested in doing something similar?

It was not easy to receive a Research Assistant position. I found out about this position through a friend who was already a Research Assistant to the Professor I eventually assisted. One has to be aware and attentive and check out listings for these positions on the law school portal or notice boards.

Interested students can also reach out to the Professors well before their course starts, even before arriving in the United States. If not as a full-time RA, Professors also hire students on a part-time basis on a project-basis.

What is your reading of the job market in the U.S? Are you planning to write the NY Bar as well?

As foreign attorneys its slightly tougher to break into the U.S. job market, especially when your first degree in law is not from the U.S. So it is certainly an uphill task but it can be done.

The best way to go about your job hunt is to network and build new connections. You can do this by asking for coffee meetings, attending relevant events, and becoming members of relevant organizations.

For this process to work, it’s very important to stay in touch with your new connections and keep them updated with your progress. Persistence and patience are the most important attributes when looking for a job in the U.S. You have to keep trying and not give up. For most people who land a job, it is an organic process. It’s very rare for someone to land a job over-night, on the basis of a cold email.

You have to keep trying and not give up. For most people who land a job, it is an organic process. It’s very rare for someone to land a job over-night, on the basis of a cold email.

As for the New York Bar, it is definitely worthwhile to have it on your resume as it increases your marketability for the U.S. job market. But again, there are jobs in the U.S which do not require you to be enrolled with the Bar. So while it’s a great asset, it may not necessarily be indispensable. I do plan to take the New York Bar in July of 2019.

Looking back, any advice for law grads who are interested in an LL.M? And would you have done anything differently?

In addition to doing well academically, being involved in extra-curricular activities is equally important. One should strive to hold at least one leadership position or be a member of a committee during their LL.M. program.

For instance, be a part of the editorial board of a law journal, or the law school’s moot court association, help organize cultural events, etc. A clerkship with a judge or an internship with the legal team of a government office would also greatly help your resume.

First Person Accounts: Shantanu Kanade on an LLM at the Leiden Law School

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued a masters course from schools across the world. In this FPA interview, Amicus Partners speaks to Shantanu Kanade, who is currently pursuing an advanced LLM in International Dispute Settlement and Arbitration at Leiden Law School.

Digital Picture for IDSA Leiden

Shantanu Kanade

A graduate of HNLU, Shantanu also has a masters degree in global studies from the Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA). In this FPA, Shantanu shares his reasons for choosing Leiden Law School, his advice for those looking to pursue an LLM, and what life in a European law school is like.

When did you decide to pursue an LLM? Was it during your days as an undergraduate student, or only after you started working?

I was deeply interested in public international law (PIL) as a subject while in law school. I was able to secure really good grades in the mandatory course on PIL. Further, three out of the four moot courts in which I represented HNLU (Manfred Lachs, Frankfurt Investment Arbitration and Jessup) were based on PIL or related subjects. Having said that, I had never considered the possibility of charting out a career in this field.

It is only whilst pursuing my first Master’s degree at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA) that this thought struck me. I had the honour of reading courses on International Criminal Courts and Law of the Sea from Professor Gudmundur Eiriksson, a titan of international law. Thanks to him, I had the chance to interact with HE Judge Abdul Gadire Koroma, former judge of the International Court of Justice, who impressed upon me the power of international law to create a more just and equitable international order. These priceless interactions made me rediscover my love for the subject and inspired me to apply for a specialised LLM in the field.

In fact, this is the second post-graduate course that you are pursuing. What prompted you to take up a Master’s in Global Studies at Jindal University? 

To be honest, there was not much planning or thought that went into this decision. I had started working as a transactional lawyer right out of law school but after about two and a half years of doing so, I decided to quit because I felt that my true calling lay somewhere else.

I was a little unclear about what that “somewhere else” truly was, though I had a few vague ideas. I therefore decided to take a short break to figure out what it was that I really wanted to do. A few months in, I had all but decided to join the chamber of a senior advocate in the Bombay High Court and pursue litigation.

However, a few days before this, I came across the MA(DLB) program offered by JSIA while I was randomly surfing the internet. I have always had a keen interest in international affairs and a voice within me said that this was something that I would want to pursue. I called up the school and they informed me that I would have to take an entrance test. I took the entrance test without much preparation and got an admission offer.

It wasn’t the easiest decision to make because: one, it was entirely unfamiliar territory and two, it involved a significant investment of time. However, I decided to trust my instinct (as I almost always do) and went ahead. As I look back, it was a decision that changed my life for the better.

How did you narrow down on Leiden and the specialised LLM? Were there any other courses/universities that you considered?

As I mentioned before, I found an excellent mentor in Prof. Eiriksson. He was of the opinion that Leiden Law School is a great place to pursue an LLM in PIL. He also emphasised (and I think that is something that future applicants may want to consider) that while the Ivy League schools in the US may have a better brand name, Leiden Law School is a better bet if one is looking to pursue a specialised LLM in PIL. This is primarily because PIL as a branch of law has its roots in Europe.

While the Ivy League schools in the US may have a better brand name, Leiden Law School is a better bet if one is looking to pursue a specialised LLM in PIL.

In fact, Hugo De Groot, widely regarded as the father of international law, is known to have read at Leiden University.

I think it is important to mention here that I had originally applied and been admitted to the Advanced LLM in Public International Law. Until last year, international dispute settlement was a specialised track within the Advanced LLM in PIL program but starting this year (2018-19), Leiden has decided to offer a new program altogether that focusses solely on international dispute settlement and arbitration.

Leiden University

From 2018-19, Leiden has decided to offer a new program altogether that focusses solely on international dispute settlement and arbitration (Source)

Once admitted, I was given the option to move to this program and I chose to do it because I was particularly interested in this field. The new program, the Advanced LLM in International Dispute Settlement and Arbitration (IDSA), while maintaining a PIL focussed approach, also incorporates a private law element by way of courses on international commercial arbitration, advocate and writing and negotiation and mediation.

The IDSA program is, in a way, Leiden’s answer to the MIDS program and seeks to be more connected to practice than the Advanced LLM in PIL program, which takes a relatively more philosophical and academic approach. The practical approach of the IDSA program is reflected in the fact that several of our classes are taught by practicing lawyers. So far, we have had law firm partners, barristers from the UK and associate legal officers from the ICJ [take classes].    

Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?

Unfortunately, I missed the deadline to apply for financial aid. However, I must share that Leiden University has the Leiden University Excellence Scholarship for international students who have been admitted to a Master’s program.

I am, however, fortunate enough to have supportive parents who offered to loan me the money required to pursue this degree. Having said that, I must say that the overall cost (tuition fee + living expenses) of pursuing an Advanced LLM at Leiden is considerably lower as compared with comparable schools in the UK and certainly those in the US.

The overall cost (tuition fee+ living expenses) of pursuing an Advanced LLM at Leiden is considerably lower as compared with that comparable schools in the UK and certainly than those in the US.

At the same time, the academic standards of Leiden are at par with most law schools in the world when it comes to PIL (Leiden is consistently ranked in the top 10 for PIL across different rankings). This makes it quite an attractive option.

I know it is early days but what are some of the big changes that you have seen when comparing Indian law schools and international ones?

In the limited time I have spent at Leiden Law School, I have witnessed certain notable differences between law schools in India and the ones here in their approach to education.

First and foremost, there is much greater emphasis on the Socratic method of learning, essentially meaning that each class is more of a conversation between the teacher and the students as opposed to a situation where the teacher does most of the talking. As a student, one is constantly encouraged to come up with new ideas and challenge existing notions, which is intellectually stimulating.

Second, the relationship between teachers and the students is a lot less formal, especially when it comes to a Master’s program. The professors respect the fact that most, if not all, students have had some work experience before joining the program and accordingly bring a perspective to the table. They are always happy to have a chat over a cup of coffee to discuss any queries or concerns that one may have.

Second, the relationship between teachers and the students is a lot less formal, especially when it comes to that in a Master’s program. The professors respect the fact that most, if not all, students have had some work experience before joining the program and accordingly bring a perspective to the table.

Last but not the least, the method of assessment is a lot more holistic. For each course that one studies, assessment is usually broken down into sit down examinations, essays and take home examinations (in which one may refer to whatever material they wish). Further, the method of assessment is also tailored to suit the nature and content of each course.

For instance, in the course on ‘Negotiation and Mediation’, our assessment shall be based on a simulated negotiation exercise in which the class will be divided into different groups and each group will be given a specific mandate to negotiate.

Any advice for Indian law graduates who are looking to pursue a master’s course outside the country? 

I am afraid there is not a “one formula fits all” advice that I may be able to offer in this regard. Every prospective applicant is different in terms of a number of things, including whether one desires to pursue a general LLM or a specialised LLM, the area of law in which one desires to specialise in, whether one plans to pursue it straight out of law school or after working for a few years, one’s financial situation and so on.

Assuming that one has limited financial means at the time of applying, one must be clear in their mind about why one wishes to pursue an LLM and what one expects to get out of it. Do keep an eye out of scholarships (offered by the concerned university and otherwise) and ensure that you apply in time!

Quite a few Indian students set out for an overseas LLM with the idea of being able to get a job. Such students must bear in mind that merely earning an LLM degree will not by itself be enough to land them a job. The LLM year merely gives one a networking platform and how well one uses this platform is up to each individual.

Merely earning an LLM degree will not by itself be enough to land them a job. The LLM year merely gives one a networking platform and how well one uses this platform is up to each individual.

Further, while pursuing an LLM from a university in a particular country does increase one’s chances of finding a job there, most countries would require one to qualify the local bar examination if one intends to work in a law firm. On a slightly sceptical note, I think one would also do well to appreciate that there seems to be a progressive increase in protectionist and anti-immigrant sentiment in several western countries and that may sometimes, not always, work to the disadvantage of Indians.

Please note that these are just words of caution meant to provide a realistic perspective and are not, by any means, an attempt to dissuade anyone from pursing an LLM abroad. In fact, I would day that if one has the means, one must definitely consider pursuing an overseas LLM for the immense potential it has to broaden your horizon.

I am three months into my program as I write this and I am enjoying every bit of it. I can vouch for the fact the sheer experience of living in a different country and studying in a class with people belonging to several different nationalities and legal traditions is, in itself, an enriching experience. I have always believed in enjoying the journey as much as the feeling of reaching the destination. In line with this philosophy, I am treating this as an opportunity to, besides earning a Master’s degree, immerse myself in the Dutch culture and explore Europe (the added advantage of pursing an LLM from a university in continental Europe is that your residence permit allows you to travel freely to all countries within the Schengen area).  I also hope to acquire at least basic proficiency in a new language, preferably French.

Speaking of which, proficiency in a foreign language, especially French or Spanish, is a great asset for students desirous of pursuing a career in international dispute settlement since the ICJ and some arbitration institutions would require one to have at least a working knowledge of one of these languages. Further, quite a few law firms working in this field have teams working on international disputes based out of Paris. Accordingly, if one has the chance to learn a foreign language while in law school, I would strongly recommend it. I regret not having done it myself.

I can go on and on about this but I think I will choose to stop here as I think I have broadly covered the major points. I would conclude with this last bit of (really important) advice for all the prospective students: Don’t let the dishes and the laundry pile up, everything else will take care of itself!