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.

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

Margareth Etienne - professor of law

Prof. Margareth Etienne / Illinois College

The Admission Interviews (AI) are meant to provide prospective LLM applicants with first-hand information on the LLM application process. In this edition of AI, Amicus Partners speaks to Professor Margareth Etienne, the associate dean for graduate and international programs at the Illinois College of Law.

In this interview, Prof. Etienne discusses several aspects of the LLM application process – right from how one should go about choosing a law school, what should one write in the Statement of Purpose, the JSD option, and a whole lot more.

So, let’s start from the start – how early should applicants begin the LLM application process?

Students should start investigating and doing their research into different law schools probably in the Spring (March-June) before they want to apply.

And as for the applications themselves, they should begin that process by September because there is a lot to prepare. They have to, in some instances, take an English proficiency exam, arrange finances or apply for funding, obtain letters of recommendation from faculty members or employers, and so on.

Each school’s application may be slightly different. It is important to find out what the law school requires for the application process, and you should give yourself about 3-4 months for this.

How do you think LLM applicants should choose a law school?

There are several factors applicants should consider. I would focus on the faculty and the curriculum. Too many international students rely on rankings. Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students. These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

Not only are rankings imperfect proxies for quality, but the reality is that rankings are largely based on the JD program and not the international programs. They consider factors such as the LSAT and GPA of the incoming class ore the job placements figures for JD students.  These often have little to do with the LLM or JSD program.

There are a lot of programs that focus on the JD course and do not really have a good program for LLM students. So, you might have a good experience, but it does not necessarily mean you will.

Take seriously instead the areas of expertise or subject matter concentrations that the law school is known for. I would also look at the faculty to student ratio. It is easy to get lost in a large school.

And I would finally look at the location. This is important for many reasons – for example, the costs of living – do you want an American campus experience or a large city experience? Most international students don’t have cars, so they should know how close they have to live to the school, how is the public transportation etc.

Location is also important because you may want to go to a part of the country that you would not otherwise see. After all, [an LLM] is also a chance to experience a different culture.

What do you look for in an applicant’s personal statement?

I look for the student’s motivation. Why do they want to come to Illinois? Are they familiar with our faculty and our strengths in technology or constitutional law or corporate law? Do they know anything specific about the law school? Or are they writing one generic statement simply because they want to spend a year aboard?

I am much more interested in the student who can connect their decision to seek an LLM to something in their background, or their work experience.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

And the last thing I look for is whether this is someone I am going to be proud one day to call a law school alum. The short-term view is what kind of students they will be, but the long-term view is what kind of alum will they be.

Is this someone who will go out and do different things? Will she think about new ways of approaching a legal problem? What is her future trajectory? A personal statement that can demonstrate these elements is a strong statement.

How do you think applicants should plan for their finances?

I would say first look for schools that have an application fee waiver. Second, when you are considering the total cost of the experience including the full cost of living and not just the tuition. When you are applying for the visa, you have to show you possess the finances that cover the full cost.

Therefore, students should be wise consumers.

Also, look for a school that has significant scholarships and also what is your likelihood of getting this scholarship. As an administrator I may have to choose between allocating 5 full scholarships or 10 half scholarships. So, you want to look at both the amount and number of scholarships.

At Illinois, over 80% of our student receive scholarships, and many of our scholarships are about 50% but not all of them. We are known for being a great bargain for a great education because we invest in top international students.

Illinois College of Law has an option for students to complete the LLM in three semesters instead of two. How does that work?

One of the things we pride ourselves is the flexibility of our LLM program. Students can begin in fall or begin in January. They can complete the LLM in two semesters or choose to finish in three semesters.

Now, some students apply for the three-semester option at the outset while others come here and then choose to extend their coursework in order to study for the bar or improve their practice or language skills. It really depends on the student.

What do you think are the benefits of an LLM from the point of view of an international student?

First of all, getting an international LLM really opens up opportunities, be it academic or career-wise. The LLM allows students to take the Bar exams in the United States, and in some cases gain employment here.

But whether a student choses to sit for the Bar or not, the LLM degree distinguishes them when they go back home. The American system of legal education is unparalleled and students think differently after they leave here.

The LLM broadens your perspectives. Students learn to think about the different ways in which things can be done about various approaches to solving legal problems.

The LLM also provides important global networking opportunities. One of the reasons I mentioned that students should look at the student faculty ratio is that many students come to the US and study for a year, but after that year, they know no one. You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career.

You want to go to a school where the faculty member will know who you are, and be able to support you in your career. And the same holds true for your classmates.

And the same holds true for your classmates. The Illinois LLM is diverse and so students have colleagues from South America, Europe, Africa, and different parts of Asia. In 5-10 years into their practice, it may be helpful for them to know people practicing law in different regions.

And you can’t do this by continuing your education at home.

A lot of our clients are looking at joining academia as a profession. Any advice for those considering the JSD or other doctorate degree?

I would highly recommend the JSD for someone who wants to teach or be in academia.

In many countries, you really need a doctoral degree to join the highest ranks of academia. But the JSD admissions are also very competitive, most schools take 5-10 JSD students a year. So, if we have an LLM class of 70 students, even if they all want a JSD we can’t take them all. It is very, very competitive.

My advice for LLM students who are looking at the JSD is that they should apply to several schools because admission is so competitive.

Any final words of advice for those interested in an LLM in the US?

Do your homework and start early. All law schools have detailed websites, so do your homework and really try to understand the program as much as you can.

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 

 

(Homepage)

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 

(Home page)

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.

The Amicus Interviews: Professor Kellye Testy, President of LSAC

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Professor Kellye Testy [Source]

Professor Kellye Testy, the President and CEO of LSAC was in India recently, and I am glad that I got the chance to speak with her on the sidelines of a conference on the future of legal education.

I was particularly interested in two aspects of Prof. Kellye’s career thus far: one, her ability to increase faculty and student diversity at the University of Washington’s College of Law, and two, she was Dean of UW Law when the university raised more than $500 million from private contributions.

Both of these factors are, in my view, going to become increasingly relevant for Indian law schools, and I think there is a fair bit that we can learn from the likes Prof. Kellye. And of course, as head of the LSAC (which oversees the LSAT India entrance examination), I was quite curious to know her views on gauging one’s aptitude for a legal education.

(Edited excerpts from our conversation)

How do you think the LSAT is better than, say the Common Law Admission Test?

I think there are a number of advantages to the LSAT. The first one is that it is a very reliable test. It has been around for 70 years and we continually improve it. So, we have the advantage of making sure that every question has been tested before it is released, that all the questions are well designed etc.

I think the most significant thing about the LSAT is that it tests aptitude and basic skills. It looks at things like reading comprehension, reasoning etc. So, it is not asking a young person to already know the law, because that is going to be learnt in law school. [The LSAT] is about making sure that you have that fundamental core of skill to make sure you really thrive once you are in law school.

The other thing I would say is that it is administered by an independent organization. We are non-profit, we are not associated with any institution – there is just a very high degree of transparency and fairness.

Are you in favour of the three-year model or the five-year model of studying law in India?

Well, I actually am in favour of both models in the sense that there is nothing wrong with the ability to take an undergraduate degree that is focused on law. [This degree] can help people decide if they want to study law more thoroughly. It is also good for the world generally if more people understand law, because law is so important to democracy and the rule of law.

But law is complex. And the ability for someone to have a 3-year degree is also really appropriate because then the student might be a little more mature, and have the ability to think about what the [law degree] might mean for their career. I am not someone who thinks there is only one model; there can be multiple ways to study law.

At the University of Washington’s College of Law, you managed to increase diversity in students and faculty.

[Educational equality] is a serious problem, and it is one that I have spent my life trying to figure out. Really starting from the youngest of ages, there is inequality based on race, economics, gender and all kinds of things that don’t let everyone have a level playing field. What that means if when you start admitting students to law school, you are going to see that inequality.

And unless you really address it, you are going to have everyone be the same in your law school class. I have always believed that diversity of all kinds makes the educational experience a lot stronger.

The way we encourage [diversity] is that, first of all, we really reach out broadly. We try and hold forums so that people who may not have lawyers in their family hear about law, and we explain the process of applying to law school.

We also do scholarship programs so that there is more of a level playing field [with respect to] economic class.

And then the other thing that is so important is that when you are conducting admissions, you look at the whole person. So, you use the test scores as part of the file, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. You also ought to look at what the personal statement says, what does the person want to do, what are their leadership capabilities. I think you can admit a diverse class when you take more factors into account.

So, you use the test scores as part of the file, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. You also ought to look at what the personal statement says, what does the person want to do, what are their leadership capabilities.

The other interesting bit during your previous tenure is the funding that UW managed to raise. 

We talked a lot about costs in the conference, and it is a good subject because good education is expensive. You are paying people – faculty and staff. These payments have to come from either the state or [federal] government or student fees. And you don’t want to have students bear the whole burden.

I have found that looking at alumni, at the friends of the law school can really help. It is a very reciprocal relationship. Because once an alum graduates, his or her reputation is linked with that of the law school. So, [alumni] have every interest in wanting the law school to thrive.

Once an alum graduates, his or her reputation is linked with that of the law school. So, [alumni] have every interest in wanting the law school to thrive.

But how do you build this reciprocal relationship?

It needs to start when the person is a student – you make sure that the students know that as alums, they are going to be asked to give back. That they are going to be privileged by having that law degree and that once they are out, they should help students.

So, early on you start to help your students understand that this is not just a transaction – it is not that they are there and gone. It is their law school for a lifetime. And that is what I help them understand – once you are with me as a law student, then we are together. The fate of the law school, and your reputation are interwoven. So, you can help future generations by going out and being successful, and then giving back to the law school.

We are involved with the alumni from day one. We do continuing legal education for alumni, we keep them informed about what is happening. We invite them to come back and be judges in moot court competitions. We cheer them on when they are doing well in their careers. We help them when they are not doing so well.

It really is about helping the alumni understand that they may be students for three years, but they are part of the law school family their whole life.

It really is about helping the alumni understand that they may be students for three years, but they are part of the law school family their whole life.

I know US law schools are facing their own troubles of increasing costs and lower number of applicants.

Law schools did have a decline in applications after the great recession. The good news is that it has recently started going the other way – there has been an 8% increase in the number of students applying in the US, and some people think it is because what they call “Trump Bump” – people are mad about what the government is doing and thinking, “I have got to be a lawyer to help push back on the government, and make sure that the world is fair”

Now when it comes to international LLM students, the US law schools have seen a decline in numbers because of [US] immigration policy. And I think some of what motivated the JD students to apply is making the LLM students reticent to come.

Final question – what got you into law, and would you recommend it to others?

I had a bit of of a non-traditional way into law. I am a first-generation college graduate in my family. I grew up in a really small town, and I didn’t know any lawyers. But I happened to grow up in a town that happened to have a university in it – Indiana University.

And even though I was very disconnected with that, I used to sneak into the gymnasium to play basketball. That is what motivated me to first go to college – sports. And I became a journalist because I was a sports writer. I went to Indiana University to play basketball, and then I realized that I actually like academics.

I was studying journalism, and one day in communications class, a professor told us to go to the law library, find the “New York Times v Sullivan” case – it is a very famous libel case. So, I went to the library, found the case, read it, and fell in love. I realized that I would have to go to law school someday.

But because my family could not help me economically, I worked for almost five years. And then I went back  to law school, applied to only one law school (Indiana) because I was so fond of it!

I have never been sorry I went. I think students should study law because it helps you be a better citizen, it helps you be a better person. I also think that there is just so many things you can do with a law degree. You might want to be a traditional lawyer, you might want to be in business, you might want to be a journalist who writes about law or what have you.

I have never been sorry I went. I think students should study law because it helps you be a better citizen, it helps you be a better person. I also think that there is just so many things you can do with a law degree.

#Alert: LLM online fair with 14 US Law Schools

In case you are thinking about an LLM from the US, here is some good news. Fourteen US law schools including the likes of Brooklyn Law School, and Case Western University will be participating in an online fair on November 27, 2018.

Prospective applicants can register here, and get in touch directly with the admission offices of the participating universities.

The list of participating law schools for an LLM includes:

“Demystifying the New York State Bar” by Brooklyn Law School

One of the more common reasons that Indian law graduates, or rather law graduates from around the world, choose an LLM in an American law school is to be eligible to write the Bar examinations in the United States of America.

Brooklyn Law School

And of these examinations, the New York State Bar examination is one of the most popular among LLM students. There are multiple reasons for this, including eligibility norms, but that is not relevant for this post.

A few days ago, Julie Sculli from Brooklyn Law School, gave a short presentation on the NY Bar examination that I thought was quite insightful.  She has been kind enough to share the presentation, which I have uploaded below.

 

Image from Brooklyn Law School

The Admission Interviews: Elizabeth H. Woyczynski, School of Law at CWRU (Part II)

 

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski

You may remember Elizabeth H. Woyczynski from her previous interview here at Amicus Partners. In the second part of the interview, we go a little deeper into the LLM programme, the Bar exam, and what can students interested in academia look out for.

What do you look for in LLM applicants?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We start with just getting the completed application on time, everything that we ask for is important, as are the deadlines. At CWRU, we do not look at TOEFL or IELTS scores from our Indian students so our main focus, and the most important one, are the marks that students get in their undergraduate law degrees. I think that where the student studies law as an undergraduate is not that important to us.

When you mention marks, is there a range of marks that you are looking at?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We are looking for students who are in the top 30-35% scoring bracket. Sometimes we get questions from students who think they need to have graduated with their bachelor’s degree [before applying]. But, as it works with our JD applicants, we are really just looking for all but the last year of marks.

Apart from the grades, how important are things like moot courts, publications etc?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: I think where extracurriculars really help is when the grades are not strong enough. Especially where they show that the student is really motivated and focused on a career in law. So, moot courts and internships would be helpful. Also, activities that show they are interested in activities beyond their own country, and are open to [different] perspectives – these would be helpful especially if the grades are not the best.

Publications, I think, are a little too much to expect from students completing their bachelor’s degree but certainly if a student did have that, that would be outstanding.

What do you think is the value of the LLM experience?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: It is great to see students coming from another country, and just figuring out how to get things set up here. It seems like a small thing, but it is, in a way, one of the most endearing values of a LLM degree – to come to another country and set up your life here. That is a great experience in and of itself.

In the classrooms it is great to see, what is very often, a different way of teaching. Our professors use the Socratic method, and class discussions are important.

And of course, students should definitely take advantage of meeting people from all over the world. This is your chance to discuss culture, politics, law and make the enduring friendships that often last a lifetime.

In terms of jobs, we have an advisory board of lawyers who work in regional and national law firms, and MNCs based in Cleveland where they try to offer opportunities specifically to international students in the LLM program. They are not easy to get, our best students (the top 10-15%) are most likely to get those jobs. So, that is a great experience to get before the students head home.

We have had Indian graduates, with their LLM here, start careers here in Cleveland. One of them is now a Partner at a national law firm, another one does immigration law here in Cleveland. But I would say most our Indian graduates return back to India and they find the LLM degree to be very helpful in finding jobs back in India.

How does Case Western help students prepare for the Bar Exam?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We advise our students on how to take either the Ohio Bar or the New York Bar. The New York Bar is the most popular for LLMs all over the country.

We tell students what classes these exams require during the LLM; you have to be careful to choose the correct classes. Usually, we advise students to take the general LLM which is the most flexible, and take as many Bar tested subjects as possible. But some students are trying to balance – they may really be interested in subjects that are not on the exam. So, you have to decide what is important for you.

And then we definitely help students with our Bar prep class. It is one thing to take the right classes to qualify, but then of course you have to do the right things to pass the exam.

How long does exam prep take?

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: It is most common to start in the Fall, although we have students in January too. If you start in the Fall, you can take the July Bar exam. I do let the students know that if they are interested in the exam, they have to get all their paperwork in order by the first of October. This can be hard to do if you are just arriving in August.

So, either you take the July exam, or with the OPT, get some internship time and then study for the exam that is offered in February. I think if the student has the ability to stay that extra time to prepare, that helps. Especially on subjects that they haven’t had time to take while as a LLM student.

A lot of Indian law students are now thinking of a career in academia. 

Elizabeth H. Woyczynski: We have a larger LLM program than the SJD program. Honestly, we do favor our own LLM graduates, so it will be harder for those with a LLM degree from another university. We do accept LLM degrees from common law countries, but I think we prefer an LLM from the US, and from the Case Western in particular.

Students interested in the SJD, don’t really have to indicate their interest until the second semester of their LLM degree. And by then we also have a sense of their marks in the LLM degree, and this helps us advise them whether the SJD is the right choice for them.

 

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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.

Four great resources for writing a good Personal Statement

Personal statements are never the easiest things to draft. Nor, for that matter, are statements of purpose. In fact, when it comes to LLM admissions in particular, I have found that apart from actually selecting where to apply, it is these documents that can often take the most amount of effort.

But, not to worry. Help (via Google) is at hand. Well, sort of. Before going into the list below, there are two riders I would like to add here. One, all of these cater to individuals  who are, typically, US graduates interested in the JD degree. Cultural, educational and other differences will certainly exist.

Two,  if you listen to too many experts, you may find yourself more confused than when you started off. Like most types of advice, the one on LLM applications is often given away for free. The difficulty is in knowing which pieces of advice are  worth your time.

Anyway, enough of that. Here are four great resources you can use if you are applying struggling with the personal statements and/or statements of purpose.

1. Chicago Law School for some inspiration

Chicago Law School has a page dedicated to the SoP’s of some of their JD students. Admittedly, these are American students who have already completed an undergraduate degree. But you could pick a few pointers from the site.

Some of my favourite lines are from the application written by Osama Sandy (Class of ’13) who writes,

Osama, my name is Osama. I went from having a unique name that served as a conversation starter to having the same name as the most wanted man in America. The stares and the comments were just the beginning.

2. Spivey Consulting for some (useful) pointers

Spivey Consulting, an educational consultancy that has been in business for, well forever, also has an interesting blog that provides plenty of useful advice.

The one post I liked best was this one that has a list of ten words that are “most overly, wrongly, and (at times) annoyingly” used in applications.

A sample:

Unique. The singularly most overused word in law school admissions. Things are rarely, truly one of a kind across law schools. “I am applying to your school because of your unique international law program” is about as painful as it gets. Actually, there is a higher level of pain. If you qualify unique such as “my extremely unique background.” Nothing anyone has ever done is more unique than just unique.


3. Yale Law School for some great guidance

They may be a decade old, and addressed to the JD crowd (once again), but these blog posts by Asha Rangappa, former Associate Dean at Yale Law School contain some wonderful advice. Search out the “P.S. Boot Camp” ones where she explains into what works (and what does not) while writing a great personal statement.

My personal favourite is this one where she writes,

You want to reveal as many facets as you can about what makes you who you are. And let me be clear: I don’t mean that you should show that you are superficially “well-rounded” by listing a bunch of activities that you aren’t really involved in. You can be completely immersed in one particular idea or activity—you just don’t want that one thing to define you as a person. Presumably, you do spend some time in your day thinking of or doing other things, and you need to let those come through in your application as well.

4. Berkeley Law and UCLA for some tough love (and a PDF too!)

This page on Berkeley Law School’s website has some great words. The advice may seem slightly harsh words here but I still consider this to be mighty helpful.

For instance,

“The statement should avoid simply summarizing what is in the resume. It should avoid simply asserting how able, accomplished, and well suited for law school the applicant is. It should avoid uninformed attempts to ingratiate oneself through exaggerated claims of one’s interest in Berkeley. For instance, more than a few applicants stressed how much they want to work with named individuals who are at best passingly related to a Center or the like and aren’t even members of the faculty; these claims make one doubt the applicant’s due diligence.

Oh and here is a PDF from UCLA on understanding the differences between a personal statement, and a statement of purpose, and a whole lot more.

First Person Accounts: Bhavya Mahajan (Pepperdine University)

Bhavya Mahajan

Bhavya Mahajan

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.

Bhavya Mahajan recently completed an LL.M from the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University.

In this FPA with Amicus Partners, the Panjab University graduate (Class of ’16) talks about choosing the ideal LLM, internships at law school, and a whole lot more.

Amicus Partners: At what point in time did you decide to pursue a master’s degree? What did you want to get out of the LLM program? 

Bhavya Mahajan: I wanted to pursue a master’s degree from the very beginning of my law school. Initially, there were no expectations, and I just wanted a master’s just for the sake of it. It was during the 4th and 5th year of my law school when I started giving it a serious thought.

I then wanted to get a specialization in an area of my interest which, I was clear by that time, was not litigation or corporate law. I also hoped to getting more exposure and experience in a different and better academic setting.

AP: How did you go about university selection? 

BM: My application process was very haphazard. I was not looking to apply to the States or any other country rather I was preparing for my CLAT entrance. One thing that I was clear about was that I wanted to specialize in a field that had other prospects than litigation.

It was a complete coincidence that I found out about Pepperdine University and their ADR programs, and it interested me a lot. So, I went ahead and applied.

However, I still was not sure about going abroad, and did not apply to any other university. Besides, I was a little late with my applications and some universities had stopped accepting applications by then.

AP: Also, was it your internship at the State LSA that prompted your decision to study dispute resolution? 

BM: Partially, yes. I briefly interned at the State LSA and had some exposure to mediation. When I was considering various specializations, dispute resolution was on my mind. There were other factors at play too.

AP: Did you apply for any sort of financial aid/scholarships?

BM: Yes, I did. So, all the applications submitted to Pepperdine University are, by default, considered for partial scholarships. The amount awarded by the university generally varies but can go up to 50% waiver in the tuition fee.

I also applied for the JAMS scholarship which sponsors the education of one student. Unfortunately, I could not get the JAMS scholarship but I received a 50% waiver as the Straus Merit Award.

AP: What were some of the biggest learnings during the LLM? How demanding was the course?

BM: The course itself was very fulfilling and challenging. The biggest difference there was the focus on research and analytical learning which, sadly, I missed out on during my LLB. I had never realized my strengths at legal and academic research before this. Simultaneously, I had a chance to get hands on experience in mediation as well as arbitration.

The course load can be very demanding as we are required to balance our academic requirements whilst doing our mandatory internship(s). But the best thing about the course structure is that it is flexible. As an international student, you also have an option to complete your degree in more than one year or two semesters.

AP: You also managed to secure a few internships, as well as a Research Assistant  (RA) position. Any advice for how one can go about this process?

BM: The procedure for hiring an RA varies from university to university. I had applied for the position in the very beginning of the program but got appointed after one semester. Pepperdine’s School of Law generally tries to evaluate the new students before offering them research positions.

The best approach here would be to stay in contact with your professors, and before applying for research positions figure out what would be the area of your interest. Also, RA positions can be demanding too. So, to start working as an RA and then be unable to focus on academics is a bad idea.

As far as the internships were concerned, the key was networking. Most of the universities in the States have a culture for promoting communication. Pepperdine especially, was very proactive in organizing meet-ups with professionals from the field, host guest lectures or interactive sessions and seminars.

The first internship that I secured during my masters was with a guest lecturer who was a family law attorney and mediator. I liked her lecture and ended up talking to her after the class. I expressed my interest in interning with her and she was kind enough to offer me a position.

AP: How did the United Nations Funds and Programmes internship happen? What is the kind of work that you did there?

BM: I stumbled upon the opening a few days after my graduation and decided to apply. The position requirements were specific and they wanted someone with an academic background in mediation. I thought I was a good match for the position. Their selection procedure included a review of academic writing samples and course transcripts. The final decision was then based on a Skype interview.

The work, initially, focused on office’s outreach and mediation advocacy. The Office catered to five different UN agencies and conducted various training programs and conflict management seminars on a regular basis. I was actively involved with this and simultaneously assisted the Ombudsman with the cases.

This included communicating with the visitors, follow-ups, participating in intake and mediation sessions. Most importantly, I was given the responsibility to research and draft articles for the Office’s annual report. I was also actively involved in the editing of the report, which came out during the last week of my internship.

AP: Looking back, anything that you would have done differently with respect to your LLM applications?

BM: Yes, definitely. I would have planned things more thoroughly and researched more about different universities and the programs that they offer. Also, I would have researched the scholarship programs better. I did not know about the Fulbright program until after I started my LLM. Had I known about it earlier, I would have definitely given it a shot.

AP: Any advice for law students considering a master’s course?

BM: I would say that plan ahead of time. Keep exploring different options. Choose a field based on your interest or experience, and not because it will pay well in future or someone else said it was good.

AP: Last question, what do you think a good legal education should provide?

BM: I strongly believe that a good legal education should focus on analytical learning. The legal education system in India is designed to ask the students ‘What the law is’ rather than ‘How to apply this law’. Experiential learning is important too and requires equal emphasis but the former can help the students prepare better for the latter.