The Amicus Interviews: Dhvani Mehta, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (Part 1)

Dhvani Mehta has been on the list of people-I-must-speak-to for a while now. For many reasons. One, she is a Rhodes scholar. Two, she is one of the founding members of the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, a think-tank that has really pushed policy work as a viable career option for Indian law grads.

Three, it is high time that academy and research is given more attention, and information on academic careers be made more accessible.

In the first part of the interview, I get Dhvani to discuss her own experiences at Oxford University as a BCL student, an MPhil and then a DPhil. She also talks about, what I consider, the lesser known facts of research.

Without further digression, the first part of the two-part interview:

So, I know you always wanted to study outside the country. Why?

Primarily just for the experience of living in another country and also, perhaps, having the chance to be tested intellectually in a way that I wasn’t at [Government Law College Mumbai]. I am not saying that I had a bad legal education – there were several things that were very interesting and informative about [GLC]. It gave me a lot of opportunities to do other kinds of non-academic activities that I may not have had the chance to do if I was in a fully residential 5-year law school.

Having said that, I did not have the chance to do any proper legal research in college or do any serious legal writing. So, one of the reasons why I wanted to do an LLM abroad was to see if I would match up to that kind of environment.

I wanted to see what it meant to really think in a rigorous way and be taught by people who weren’t really interested in seeing what the right answer to a multiple-choice question was.

[I wanted] to see what it meant to really think in a rigorous way and be taught by people who weren’t really interested in seeing what the right answer to a multiple-choice question was. [People] who make you think more about what the law should be and not what it was. I had a vague idea that’s what an LLM abroad would equip me with.

Do you think you were right?

Yes, I would think so. In going to Oxford, my expectations from the BCL were definitely matched and then some. It was one of the most exciting courses that I did. It was unlike any style of teaching or examination taking that I had ever been used to.

When you mean teaching style, are you talking about seminars?

Yes. The seminar style of teaching meant you had to do a lot of reading before class. I was taken aback in the first few weeks to know that my classmates had detailed notes on everything they had read [before they came to class]

Oxford also has this tutorial system where you write an essay and discuss that one on one or in a group of three: you, a fellow student and the professor. You have the chance to critique the other person’s work, hear critique of your own work, defend it, conceive some points and get some very detailed feedback on your writing and thinking.

You stuck around at Oxford for quite a while. Any surprises along the way?

After the BCL, I was in for a general shock as far as coping with what writing a thesis or doing a research degree meant. I did not have a very clear idea of what that would entail at all.

I would say that perhaps Oxford does not do the best job of orienting its research students about what it is really going to be like doing an MPhil or a DPhil.

And what is it really going to be like?

It is going to be lonely. It is going to involve a lot of self-motivation. Your experience is going to vary depending on the kind of supervisor you have. You are going to enjoy it only if you are really passionate about the subject you are researching. I think it is a lot about finding your own way.

How do you do that?

I suppose trial and error. Perhaps I was unduly harsh on Oxford [earlier]. Of course, we had a legal research methods course, and we had support groups for DPhil students – it helps but ultimately it is something that you have to figure out on your own. I had a very supportive supervisor, and I also had a good college advisor.

It always helped to generally talk about your woes with other DPhil students, so we would go discussion groups, everybody would moan about the stage in which their thesis was. Everyone would learn not to ask each other how their thesis was going.

We would go discussion groups, everybody would moan about the stage in which their thesis was. Everyone would learn not to ask each other how their thesis was going.

The mental health of PhD scholars is a serious issue.

I would say that there was a time when I was doing the DPhil that I was definitely depressed. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the DPhil or I was just generally fed up of spending a miserable winter in Oxford yet again.

Again, there is support from the university, there is counselling that you can go to. You can take a sabbatical. There are a lot of systems in place that allow you to find your own pace, but it is still hard.

Apart from your research, you also worked with Oxford Pro Bono Publico (OPBP)

OPBP provides legal research assistance to other NGOs who are pursuing human rights cases across the world or made submissions to parliamentary standing committees or other governmental bodies. We would help draft amicus briefs for lawyers, again, fighting human rights cases.

I won’t say I saw it as an escape from my thesis, but yes it helped having something different to do and something that had a more tangible outcome. You know with the DPhil, you can’t really see the end in sight and it is very frustrating to go to the library every day, sit there for eight hours, and have a hundred words to show for it. Which you will probably erase the next day.

What is a day in the life of a DPhil scholar?

It depends on what kind of thesis you are writing. If your thesis has empirical research or a fieldwork component, then you are not in Oxford for some time, and you are out there doing interviews or gathering data from archives or whatever.

But most legal theses are not like that, so you are just usually sitting in the library, making notes, substantiating your footnotes etc.

What drove you?

Getting the “Dr” prefix before your name. I couldn’t be a real doctor, so this seemed to be the best way to do that (smiles). No, but I suppose what drives you is that [a PhD] is the highest academic qualification that you can get. And to anyone who is somewhat nerdy, that is a good goal to have.

And like I said, for people who are really passionate about the subject matter that they are pursuing or have a real interest in an academic career, a PhD is basically sine qua non– you can’t advance without a PhD.

I suppose what drives you is that a PhD is the highest academic qualification that you can get. And to anyone who is somewhat nerdy, that is a good goal to have.

Three Executive LLMs that mid-career lawyers can look at

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Ever feel like life is too slow?

So far, clients at Amicus Partners have largely been of two kinds: one, law students in their final or penultimate year of law and two, law grads with a few years of work experience. So naturally, our focus has been on the LLM (and other masters courses) that are tailored for these two segments; I would say that 95% of our clientele is not really looking for anything else.

However, over the last few weeks, I have become aware of a small section of lawyers who are also considering “executive” programs – courses with a reduced residency requirement, tailored to fit into a working professional’s schedule.

Essentially, these programs provide some of the big draws of a full-time LLM: specialist knowledge, brand, and networking without having to give up the entire year (or ten months) that the full-time course would take. And of course, the associated costs that a year out of the country would carry.

To be honest, I am not quite sure if Indian lawyers see executive LLMs as a value proposition, but I do come across lawyers who are considering it. Typically, these are lawyers who are firmly on the Partner track (or close to it), and looking to up skill. At the same time, they are also wary of a year-long departure from the office.

The question is though, will they bite?

Institutions like Columbia Law School certainly think so. They have recently launched their Executive LLM program, and they are not the first major law school to do so. Given below are the details of two other US law schools that offer executive LLM’s.

Of course, you would be well-advised to read through each program’s fine print to see if they satisfy your requirements such as Bar eligibility, qualifying for OPT etc.

Columbia Law School’s Executive LLM in Global Business Law

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Columbia Law Schools Exec LLM/ Columbia Law School 

 

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The newest entrant, as far as I know, to the “e-LLM” club, the Executive LLM from Columbia Law brings a whole lot to the table: online courses and assessments, a three-month residency requirement in New York City, and some stellar faculty. The website mentions that they prefer applicants with a minimum of five years of work experience.

Tuition: $72,560 (More info)

Application Deadline: January 18, 2019 (Preferred deadline is Dec 18, 2018) (More Info)

Contact: ExecLLM@law.columbia.edu

Pros: Faculty, Career Services, Brand, Location

Cons: Does not qualify you for NY Bar, Expensive, First year of operations

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Executive LLM Chicago

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The Northwestern ELLMC/Northwestern University

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Born out of the accelerated summer LLM program, Northwestern’s Executive LLM Chicago (ELLMC) course was formally launched in 2016.  With a curriculum that “will focus on the way lawyers interact across the world with business clients and enterprises”, the ELLMC is not really for someone looking to make that switch to the US. In fact, this is one of the facts that are clearly stated on the website itself (see below)

Tuition: $67,066 (See more)

Application Deadline: Rolling admission

Pros: Qualifies you for California Bar (but read the fine print), scholarships (partial) available, entire course is class-based

Cons: Not tailored for US employment, Expensive

London School of Economics and Political Science Executive LLM

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LSE’s Executive LLM/LSE 

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With an LLM that is quite popular amongst Indian law graduates, LSE does enjoy a certain amount of brand recognition in India.  In addition, the ELLM at LSE also comes with a set of specialisations, and can be completed over the course of four years. Applicants with at least 3 years PQE are preferred.

Tuition: £3,250 per module, 8 modules for completion (£26,000)

Application Deadline: Rolling admission

Pros: Can be covered over 4 years, Location, “Exit points” for those who don’t complete course

Cons: No scholarships, Fairly intensive teaching schedule [pdf]

In addition to the three listed above, one can also look at IE Law School’s Executive LLM that is jointly offered with Northwestern University. And lastly, thanks to LinkedIn, I found the Master of Advanced Corporation Law (MACL) course from the University of Michigan’s Law School.

LSE will be visiting India (Sign up)

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In case you are thinking about enrolling for the LLM (or any other degree) at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), here is a good opportunity to find out more. LSE’s Will Breare-Hall, the school’s Student Recruitment and Study Abroad Manager, will be in India and hosting sessions throughout the country.

This is the e-mail I received recently, links for the registration are available below:

Mr. Will Breare-Hall, LSE’s Student Recruitment and Study Abroad Manager, will be in India in November and December 2018, visiting Mumbai; Bengaluru; Chennai; Kolkata, and Delhi. He will be meeting prospective students and delivering presentations on applying to and studying atLSE.

 

These will be followed by question and answer sessions and the opportunity to speak with Will on an individual basis.

 

If you have questions about undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate or study abroad programmes at LSE, please reserve a place at one of Will’s presentations using the relevant online booking form. Attendance is free of charge and does not form part of the School’s selection process.

The dates are as follows:

Mumbai (28 Nov, 2018)

Event Page &  Register here

Bengaluru (3 Dec, 2018)

Event Page & Register here

Chennai (6 Dec, 2018)

Event Page & Register here

Kolkata (7 Dec, 2018)

Event Page & Register here

New Delhi  (11 Dec, 2018) 7.00-9.00pm

Event Page & Register here

 

(Lead image courtesy LSE)

First Person Accounts: Anubhav Tiwari (LLM in International Human Rights from Essex University)

Anubhav Dutt Tiwari on his LLM from Essex University

Anubhav Dutt Tiwari

Anubhav Dutt Tiwari graduated from NUJS in 2013, and worked for about a year  before enrolling for the LLM in International Human Rights Law from Essex University (Class of ’15). He is currently a Senior Research Associate a Jindal Global Law School (JGLS).

In this edition of First Person Accounts, Anubhav discusses the reasons behind his decision to study at Essex University, the state of Indian legal academy, and his advice for Indian law students interested in an LLM abroad.

(Edited excerpts)

At what point of time did you realise you wanted to do an LLM? Was it as an undergrad, or only after working?

Anubhav Tiwari: All my internships had been at corporate firms, and I got a PPO in my fifth year. So, I sort of stumbled into a law firm for a year. It was during this time that I realised I wanted to do an LLM primarily because I did not feel I was being challenged intellectually. I also thought that the LLM was a good way to change my field of practice.

How did you use or explain the Clasis work experience while applying for a degree in human rights? 

Anubhav Tiwari: I did explain the good aspects of working in a demanding corporate law firm environment and the takeaways of professionalism, in my motivation letter.

How did you go about course/university selection? Essex is known for its HR faculty, but were there any other courses that you looked at?

Anubhav Tiwari: I was sure I wanted to study further human rights, humanitarian law within PIL. Essex was a natural choice due to its reputed faculty and Human Rights Centre. Moreover, [former NUJS Registrar] Sarfaraz sir from NUJS had also done his LLM from there and he gave very good reviews of the faculty.

I had also applied and got through Leiden, though eventually the faculty profiles at Essex convinced me to go there. In fact, I had also gained admission at Queens Mary but decided against it because living in London would have been too expensive.

Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?

Anubhav Tiwari: I did not mainly due to the fact that I was late. I took a student loan.

At Essex, what were some of the big changes in the learning experience as, say, compared to your undergrad days? 

Anubhav Tiwari: Essex was quite different from NUJS – the entire orientation of lecturing and discussion was very different. We did not have examinations, instead we were expected to write publishable papers for ever subject taken. In the eight months I was there, my research style completely changed.

Moreover, the environment is conducive to studying more than in any university I have seen. I have been to Christ for a year, then NUJS and now Jindal and I have to say, UK universities have an environment which compels you to study!

The accessibility of professors and the empathy they have with the students was also very nice. Further, the faculty were actively using their professional experience from the field to give us perspectives. At the same time they were not forcing us to take a view, but instead forcing us to not take sides!

Looking back, anything you would have done differently? For example, would you have gone fresh after NUJS or do you think work experience is important?

In hindsight, I feel a bit of experience in human rights would have been better before taking up the LLM. Work experience, according to me, is definitely important before an LLM.

What was your cohort like (age, experience, regions)?

Essex is known for its diversity in terms of the students. My class had representation from almost all the continents, and was the perfect mix of diverse backgrounds and experience – extremely necessary for the study of human rights.

What got you to JGLS, and what are you working on at JGLS?

I am trying to find my space in academia as a field-based researcher bringing his experience to the classroom while teaching. My focus is on refugee rights, citizenship issues, etc. My style of researching is going to the field and collecting data before analyzing and bringing out the main themes.

JGLS gave me the space and freedom to do these and also encouraged me to take on ‘controversial’ and sensitive research – something I believe very few universities in India do. Right now I am the lead researcher with the Centre for Human Rights Studies at JGLS, I also teach Legal Methods to first-year students, and have other research projects with colleagues at Jindal Global University.

A PhD must be on the cards?

Yes, a PhD is the next step. I am in talks with UNSW Australia where I have found supervisors. The next step would to be finalise the scholarship.

Having studied in India and abroad, what do you think are some of the differences in law schools in the two regions? Also, how do you think Indian law schools can attract younger faculty and/or researchers like yourself? 

The difference is faculty! Even at NUJS, we remember the good faculty very well because they were few! And most of them were young.

I feel in order to attract young faculty – you need to give them freedom to research. And also incentives. Younger faculties want to research, teaching comes secondary, and law schools in India should recognize this. I also think that if NLU’s did away with the UGC NET requirement, you would have a lot more younger faculty applying.

Last question – any advice for Indian law graduates or law students looking to pursue a post-graduate degree? 

Be sure that you want to do this and also be mindful that a post-graduate is actually more relevant if you intend to get into academia.

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

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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.

First Person Accounts: Saraswathy Vaidyanathan (University of Edinburgh)

Saraswathy Vaidyanathan

Saraswathy Vaidyanathan

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.

In the first post under the First Person Account series, Saraswathy Vaidyanathan (HNLU, Class of 2016) shares some insights into an LLM degree from the University of Edinburgh.

Graduating from Edinburgh with a specialisation in intellectual property law, Saraswathy discusses the differences in legal education between India and the UK, how to select the ideal law school for you, and much more.

 

Amicus Partners: At what point in time did you decide to apply for an LLM?

Saraswathy Vaidyanathan: I was sure I wanted to do a LLM towards the end of my 4th year. However, I was conscious of my LLM plans at the start of my 4th year as I was making the choice of honours papers. Just to [explain] the honours bit, HNLU gives you an option of two honours papers for the 4th and 5th year which becomes the subject of specialization. Since I wanted to do a LLM in Intellectual Property (IP), I chose IP as my first honours and Constitutional Law as my second honours paper.

AP: Could you tell me how you went about the university selection? What were the parameters that you kept in mind while going through this process?

SV: For the University selection, first I decided the countries I want to apply to. I picked three countries: the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. After deciding the countries, I chalked out the Universities I wanted to apply to. Singapore and Hong Kong were easy as NUS and HKU are the best options, in general. For the UK, it was difficult as there are many Universities. So, I decided the parameters for myself and then narrowed down. Following are the factors I kept in mind in no particular order

  • Location of the University
  • Finances (Tuition + Cost of living)
  • Worldwide Ranking
  • Professors/Teachers in the subject applying for
  • General Course structure
  • Subjects offered
  • The University branding

AP: Why did you narrow down on Edinburgh University? And did you apply for any sort of financial aid? 

SV: I made it to HKU, QMUL and Edinburgh. I chose Edinburgh for the course structure and subjects offered. I was sure that I do not want to take any paper which has written examination as a mode of assessment. QMUL has that. Also, cost of living was a factor. London was seeming way heavier on my pockets than Edinburgh. HKU I dropped as it was offering me IP + IT Law LLM whereas I wanted to do pure IP.

I did not apply for any scholarships.

AP: What were some of the changes you observed, in terms of the learning experience, between your undergrad and your post-graduate studies? Was the the dissertation the most difficult part of the course?

SV: So, learning experience in India and UK cannot be compared on the same pedestal for obvious reasons. In my personal opinion, in India you can do really well provided you are determined. You have to find your own motivation and keep going with it. In the UK, the teaching happens in such a manner that the professor pushes your thinking and in turn your learning limits.

The professors there are experienced, absolutely well-versed and have practical [knowledge] of the law along with the theoretical knowledge. There is a reading list for every lecture, if you don’t read it, it is your loss. Further, the fact that the teachers there form interpersonal relationships makes a lot of difference.

For example, my professor after a class joined us for a pint of beer in a pub. In the pub, we managed to discuss IP and other things in general. In another activity, we were at the contemporary art museum discussing IP issues. So, after that every museum I visited, I tried to find the issues on my own. So, learning was never restricted to classrooms.

For me, the most difficult part was getting adjusted to the amount of reading, the method of teaching, and writing the assignments. The dissertation was difficult but not the most difficult part.

The feedback after the assignments was the most helpful bit in making the dissertation process easy. I knew where I was lacking, so I had to only improve that. At the end of the day, it is all about following a discipline and wanting to learn.

AP: How would you rate your LLM experience? Any thing that you would have done differently? 

SV: I finished the course in September 2017. It was a really enriching experience both for learning and living in a new country.

The one thing I would have done differently is to concentrate more on my writing skills. Even though I scored well in my assignments, I think I could have done better if I had improved my writing.

AP: How easy or difficult are recruitments in the UK now? 

SV: My idea of doing an LLM was to further my plans of getting into academics back in India. So, I did not really look for jobs there. As I understood and I am hearing now, recruitment is not the best in UK now due to Brexit.

However, a few of my friends managed to utilize the period post completion of course and before expiry of the visa by getting internships at law firms in London which is a good option to consider.

AP:  Lastly, any advice for students who are considering an LLM?

SV: Oh, I have loads of them.

  • Be very sure that you want to do a LLM from abroad for the right reasons. It takes a lot of effort to get through the course.
  • Choose the University carefully. You are associated with it for the rest of your life. Be aware of the deadlines and keep enough time at hand.
  • Don’t just go by the ranking and brand of the University. It is more important to check about the course you are applying for. For example, an IP course might be better in a lower ranked University than, say LSE.  Do your research well.
  • Have all your documents in place well in advance. There are no second chances if the deadline has passed.
  • It takes quite some time to write Statements of Purpose and scholarship statements. In my personal experience, you also end up writing your own recommendation letters which is even more difficult. Get your SoPs and similar statements checked from someone who has gotten through the process of a LLM abroad. Every University specifies the pointers for SoPs, personal and scholarship statements. So, again, do your preliminary research well.
  • Give TOEFL/IELTS as soon as possible. The slots gets filled quite in advance.
  • If you are not self-funded and plan to apply for scholarships, then start planning your LLM by the start or middle of your 4th year. All the scholarships are very competitive and applications close well in advance. Sometimes, even before the applications for LLM are closed. Plus there are chances that because you are searching at the last minute, you are not aware of certain scholarships.
  • Many foreign Universities have a good alumni network. Find the alumni of the course you are applying for and try reaching out. It will help you in the longer run.
  • Lastly, before you apply to a University know your worth. Many in my knowledge apply to Oxford and Cambridge for the heck of it and obviously do not make it. Spare yourself the disappointment and save your resources.