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

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

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

Aradhya Sethia, LLM from Yale Law School

Aradhya Sethia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

End Notes

What: LLM at Yale Law School 

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

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

First Person Accounts: Himanshi Gupta on a specialised LLM from QMUL

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world. In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Himanshi Gupta who is currently pursuing an LLM in Comparative and International Dispute Resolution from Queen Mary University of London.

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Himanshi Gupta

Himanshi graduated in law from Amity Law School, Noida (Class of ’17) and worked for a year before embarking on her master’s education.

In this FPA, she discusses how she went about choosing a law school, her time at QMUL, and a lot more.

(Edited excerpts)

 

When did you decide to pursue a masters? Was this the plan during your undergraduate days, or only something you decided to do after working?

During law school, I developed a taste for the subject Alternative Dispute Resolution. I was fascinated with the procedure and the convenience with which arbitral proceedings were held in general, and I got the privilege to witness the same during a stint internship with my mentor, Dr. Amit George, an independent practitioner in Delhi.

I moved on to work with an AoR in the Supreme Court –  that was the time I actually worked on ad hoc construction dispute cases and realized I wanted to to specialize in this field. I would also like to acknowledge my family for understanding my interest and encouraging me to seek further education in this domain. Prior experience in this area worked out in my favour which consecutively helped me to take a decision in a prompt manner.   

How did you narrow down on QMUL? 

I searched for the best colleges and the professors, and QMUL was amongst the best colleges. I applied only for two courses: one, the specialised LLM at QMUL, and the MIDS course. I consulted few people for the same including my mentor, co-worker at the office (alumni in IPR from QMUL) and other LLM graduates.

There was also the chance of opportunities coming my way being while staying in London; it is the most favoured venue for arbitral proceedings. Moreover, coming from a common law background, it served my purpose more. Lastly, the professors – Prof. Loukas Mistelis and Prof. Stavros Brekoulakis of QMUL.

Any advice for how to go about writing a Statement of Purpose?

My advice to other aspiring LLM students would be first, to stay calm (jokes apart).

Second, to write just above half a page incorporating what specialization you want to pursue your LLM in, why do you want to pursue it from that University/College particularly including the choice of city and how would you be able to achieve the set goals, in crisp and simple language.

Third, good grammar. Students can go online for this – there are different apps and dictionaries available.

How has the LLM experience been so far? Anything that you wished you had known about the LLM experience before you applied?

I had nothing pre-planned before leaving India and I think it worked well for me. No expectations, no disappointments. Just embracing whatever is coming my way whether be it the challenge of pre-reading pages, successful participation in class discussions, over-night parties, exploring London while also learning my chosen subjects. Had I known things, it would not have that surreal while rejoicing the fruits out of seeds sown.

Lastly, any advice for Indian law grads looking to pursue a LLM?

One should be absolutely sure to pursue an LLM and in what field. Secondly, apply for scholarships timely. Being vigilant about everything is the key to success and that is what I have learnt. Lastly, having a minimum work experience of a year before the LLM acts as a catalyst in fetching good clientele, work and friends.

Lastly, having a minimum work experience of a year before the LLM acts as a catalyst in fetching good clientele, work and friends.

End Notes

What: LLM in Comparative and International Dispute Resolution from QMUL

Tuition Fees: GPB 22,150/- (Please refer website for latest fees)

Applications: Open in September (Please refer website for latest deadlines)

#Scholarship alert: Fulbright scholarships for 2020-21

USIEF Fulbright Scholarships

The United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF),  recently released a detailed brochure for applicants interested in the Fulbright scholarships for the academic year 2020-21.

The scholarships that could be relevant for Indian law graduates include:

  • Fulbright-Nehru Master’s Fellowship
  • Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Fellowship
  • Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program

Here is an excerpt from the opening notes by Adam J. Grotsky, USIEF’s Managing Director:

“This e-brochure describes the fellowships, eligibility criteria, and procedures for applying. Once you find a fellowship of interest, I suggest that you visit the “Current Fellows” page on USIEF’s website to learn about recent proposals that have been successful. Please view the videos Indian Fulbrighters: Ambassadors of Change on YouTube where alumni share their Fulbright-Nehru experiences. Visit USIEF Facebook and Twitter pages for regular updates and success stories of Fulbright scholars and alumni.”

The USIEF brochure can be downloaded here [pdf].

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

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

Nehaa Chaudhari

Nehaa Chaudhari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

End Notes

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

Through the looking glass: The Indian law graduate and a foreign LLM

A bit of the new. A lot of the old.

A bit of the new. A lot of the old.

It is soon going to be twelve months since Amicus Partners hit the ground, reason enough to do a reflective, “this is what we have learnt” piece. After all, learnings have been made, a whole bunch of them. But perhaps they can be written about at a later point in time; a quiet reminiscence that may be better placed in a journal rather than in a highly social medium.

Instead, this post is about the future, the future of legal education and how the Indian law graduate is being viewed by universities and law schools across the world. As you can imagine, there is a lot that can be said about such a broad topic; I have chosen to narrow down the focus to a few words. Four words in fact.

One: Awareness

If you were to ask me what is the biggest change I have seen in the space of legal education, it would be awareness. Not only are more Indian law graduates considering a foreign education, but they are more certain of where and what they want to study. Most significantly, the what is not necessarily strictly law, as this interview with Ameen shows.This holds as true for current students of law, as it does for the 2-5 year PQE group.

Furthermore, it is the diversity of options exercised that ought to be taken note of; you can find Indian law graduates attending graduate courses in Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia – the range is fairly impressive. And this is apart from the traditional favourites: the UK and the US.

This awareness is definitely reflected in how foreign law schools are viewing Indian law graduates. The admission officers that I have spoken to, from institutions across the world, consider India as a growing feeder source for international applicants. And why not? Here is a large group of English-speaking lawyers seeking, for a host of reasons, an international education.

The cynic would add “with money to spare” somewhere in the last sentence. I won’t. Not yet.

Two: Ambition

Closely linked to awareness is ambition though I must admit that I largely interact with law graduates who are looking to play at the global level. These graduates are not restricting themselves to domestic employment alone. Far from it. Be it policy development, human rights advocacy, commercial law, academy – the Indian law graduate harbours ambitions of a global nature.

And I think universities across the world are responding to this ambition, be it through offering specialised courses, offering generous funding, and establishing networks with Indian law schools.

What will be interesting to see is how domestic and global structures respond to this ambition, if and how new spaces will be created where such ambitions can be met. And, if they are not met, then what signals will that send to the future generation of Indian law graduates. Of course, this falls in the larger, global debate over the legal profession and what being a lawyer means in the 22nd century.

Three: Rankings

Ranking. Ranking. Ranking. If there was one question that dominates nearly every client conversation, it is the one on rankings. “What is the best law school for corporate law” or “Which is the best school for sports law?” – they are valid questions no doubt; I certainly understand the reasoning behind them.

But, I also think they are incomplete questions, missing the words “for me” at the end.

A lot of LLM applications are driven by rankings rather than anything else. And I don’t think this will change. Law universities are inherently competitive in nature, creating strict, nearly unavoidable hierarchies about what is desirable and what is not. And lawyers like to think in black and white. What could be more black and white than rankings?

What indeed.

Perhaps the first step would be to acknowledge the import of rankings while also understanding their inherent flaws, some of which are quite fundamental in nature. I often find myself telling clients that some rankings do not reflect the graduate level courses (US News I am looking at you) – an important, yet overlooked, fact.

As an aside, I am quite interested to see how Indian law schools react to rankings, more so with the entrance of the public NIRF framework, as well as the private QS group (and their I-Gauge service) in the field of Indian legal education.

Four: Finance.

This is a big word. A very, very big one. After all, graduate programs in law are fairly expensive in nature, especially at the high-prestige American law schools. Add in high costs of living, and you are looking at a significant financial investment. Which can also become a stumbling block at the admissions stage.

I would say approximately 40% of our clients would not take up a course if they do not receive adequate funding. I have little doubt that financial aid, ease of educational loans etc are going to play a crucial role in the years to come.

In some ways, there is hope. You have newer players like Prodigy Finance, MPower etc who offer online loans with no collateral requirements, but a loan is a loan at the end of the day. And with this current trend in exchange rates, some astute financial planning is definitely the order of the day.

But this also means that the Indian law graduate is now considering non-traditional, and less expensive, options for her graduate education.

Conclusion

Even if you set aside the obvious bias that someone invested in legal education will have, there is little doubt that the Indian law graduate finds herself in interesting times. Especially when it comes to her choices on higher education. How Indian law schools, and universities across the world, react to these changes (and the four words) will be what I will be watching with more than a little interest.

First Person Accounts: Ameen Jauhar on an MSc from University College London

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. Understandably, the majority of Indian law graduates choose to pursue an LLM. However, this does not mean that an LLM is the only post-graduate option for today’s law students. In fact, a non-law focused master’s may be of greater value.

Ameen Jauhar

Ameen Jauhar

In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Ameen Jauhar, a graduate of NUJS (Class of ’12) who recently completed an MSc  in Systematic Reviews for Social Policy and Practice from the University College London.

Ameen has made a few interesting moves since he graduated – from working at a national law firm, to joining Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy before embarking on a non-LLM master’s course.

(Edited excerpts)

Even before your master’s, you made a couple of interesting career decision- what was the thinking behind making the jump?

The idea behind moving from a law firm to Vidhi was quite fortuitous. I had a conversation with a friend who had interned in a policy firm in the United States. She  told me how that internship had translated into a second internship at the Ministry of External Affairs.

Honestly, that was the turning point for me – I found policy advocacy as this novel space which had the advocacy element from litigation, research, and policy impact – it was an exciting combination. That drove me into investigating this space more over the next few months, and eventually I decided to move out of the firm.

What prompted you to look at UCL in general, and the MSc in particular?

When I moved to Vidhi, I was no longer contemplating an LL.M. I had this conversation with a senior partner at my law firm before leaving, and he articulated a relevant question – If you want to venture into the policy space, away from conventional legal practice, why do you want to go back and read things they taught you to some extent in law school?

If you want to venture into the policy space, away from conventional legal practice, why do you want to go back and read things they taught you to some extent in law school?

The question stuck and between 2015-16, through my work at Vidhi, I realised that my work required research and solutions based on interdisciplinary approaches, and not just the legal perspective.

It made a lot of sense to pursue something like a Masters in Public Policy, to better understand evidence-based policy in theory and in practice.

What were some of the bigger learnings during the one-year course? 

Inside the classroom, my biggest learning has been the use of research designs in conducting proper empirical research, a skillset law school does not impart.

Outside of class, my big takeaway was how people with a legal background, and an understanding of policy processes, can have ample employment opportunities – in research think tanks, government orgs, international bodies, or even as university academics and researchers. Policy, like law, is all pervasive, and its understanding facilitates a unique entrepreneurial sense.

Policy, like law, is all pervasive, and its understanding facilitates a unique entrepreneurial sense.

Did you apply for any sort of financial aid?

I did qualify for the Chevening interview but had to drop out for some personal reasons. However, eventually, Vidhi funded a substantial chunk of my tuition fee. I want to clarify that this was not a bond I signed. My return to Vidhi was mutually agreed and premeditated (much before they decided to sponsor me).

What were the more challenging aspects of the MSc? Was it the dissertation?

The dissertation was definitely a rigorous process. Writing 12,000 words (after extensive research is tedious). For me, I think it was quite tough in the winter term (between January and March) because I had ongoing submissions from my last term, while attending lectures, and finishing readings/assignments for the ongoing term.

I think between January 8 – May 30, I wrote one essay per week (roughly 2,500-3,500 words). By the end of that phase, I felt quite exhausted, and desperately needed a break – Edinburgh sounded (and was) fantastic!

Now that you are back to work at VCLP, what are the ways in which your MSc is shaping your own research and writings?

I think coming back to Vidhi, I am seeing our endeavours at evidence-based policy in a whole new light. I feel (especially in Judicial Reforms) there is a great scope to talk about this, introduce this approach in the prevailing discourse, and conduct some meaningful research and advocacy work in the process.

How do you think Indian legal education could encourage interdisciplinary research and scholarship?

Honestly, I think legal education can’t be extremely interdisciplinary. I mean the whole B.A./B.Sc./B.B.A. LL.B. programmes are duplicitous – they don’t really teach you arts subjects, or sciences, or business administration.

I do feel, it is an interesting combination for law students to consider pursuing at the Master’s level. However, as some law schools are now introducing public policy programmes (like NLSIU and Jindal), I hope they do realise that legality of policies is not the only relevant question.

Policy decisions (be it public, social, or even judicial) are political, based in societal contexts and subjectivities, and therefore, need understanding of social perspectives. The use of evidence cannot only be limited to constitutionality and legality. So a holistic, interdisciplinary approach is imperative. That said, I don’t believe law programmes will deliver it. Hopefully policy programmes will, or else, one could go for a more diverse master’s programme

Policy decisions (be it public, social, or even judicial) are political, based in societal contexts and subjectivities, and therefore, need understanding of social perspectives. The use of evidence cannot only be limited to constitutionality and legality.

First Person Accounts: Sapna Reheem Shaila on an LLM from SOAS, academic careers & more

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. One of the purposes of the FPA is to also provide greater insights into the world of academia, and how Indian law graduates who are interested in this field can use a master’s program to achieve their goals.

Law graduates who are academically inclined, and who have pursued higher education outside the country, are also interesting to speak to since they provide perspective on the state of Indian legal education, and Indian law schools.

Which is why I am particularly excited about this edition of the FPA.

Sapna Reheem Shaila

Sapna Reheem Shaila

Sapna Reheem Shaila completed her LLM at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Class of ’15), two years after finishing the BA LLB course from NALSAR University. Sapna also happens to be PhD candidate at Kings College London (KCL), as well as a Teaching Fellow at UCL, as well as a Visiting Lecturer at KCL.

At what point in time did you decide to do an LLM? Was it always the plan while you were an undergrad student at NALSAR, or was this something you decided to do after the stint at CCG?

I always planned to do an LLM as I thought it could help me to specialise in an area that fascinated me. This goal was reaffirmed after my exchange semester at Griffith University in the third year of my undergraduate degree.

The only doubts were about what would be my specialisation, which university and when?

How did you go about selecting your graduate school, and why did you narrow down on SOAS?

This is an interesting question, and I don’t think I have a straightforward answer for this. In my fifth year, NALSAR gave us the opportunity to pick courses that were interdisciplinary. I did Law and Anthropology; and Law and Subaltern studies. This opened up a  range of scholarly works I wasn’t familiar with until then. I remember discussing with my Constitutional Law professor about interdisciplinary LLM degrees.

She suggested I look into LSE’s MSc in Law, Society and Anthropology course or SOAS’s LLMs. I applied to both programmes and was accepted, but I couldn’t decide as to which college to pick.  That year I didn’t manage to get any full funding- which made the decision process easier, so I decided to wait it out and figure out what I wanted to do in the future.

That year in July, I started working at the Centre for Good Governance as a Legal Researcher. It was an exciting time to be based at the Centre in Hyderabad as the state of Andhra Pradesh was planning to bifurcate into Telangana and State of AP within a year. The Centre received a couple of exciting projects from the World Bank on land rights and public governance. I was involved with the teams working on these issues. Throughout that year, I remember looking at the governmental policies and development agendas and wondering what role law plays in all of this. After that experience, it made perfect sense to pursue SOAS’s LLM specialisation on Law, Development, and Governance.

I remember looking at the governmental policies and development agendas and wondering what role law plays in all of this. After that experience, it made perfect sense to pursue SOAS’s LLM specialisation on Law, Development, and Governance.

SOAS’s LLM provided various modules to study how international organisations assist countries in the Global South to undergo legislative reforms with promises of development or as part of rule of law reforms. Luckily that year it all worked out with the funding  as well from  SOAS.

How early did you start the application process, and was it difficult to do so while also balancing your work?

As I mentioned earlier, it was a reflective process over a year that helped me to develop a coherent statement of purpose for the LLM at  SOAS. 

Definitely having a clear plan and reasons as to why I was pursuing the specialised LLM made it easier to work on the application and convince the admission and funding committees.

Did you view the LLM as a step towards a doctorate degree? Or was this something you decided to do well into the LLM course?

Yes, I did see my LLM as the step towards a doctorate. Again, the topic for my doctorate became more evident after I finished writing my Master’s dissertation.

During my LLM I worked very hard to make sure that I had a Distinction for my degree so when I applied for a doctorate, I could get accepted by the supervisor I had in mind.

What were some of the most enjoyable moments of the LLM at SOAS?

SOAS was an amazing experience – if I could relive my Master’s again, I will do it all over- including the coursework! At SOAS  you meet students from across the globe. I made friends from  Fiji, Madagascar, East Timor, and so many other countries that were never on my radar!

It was also a humbling experience to realise how little I knew about the legal cultures, society, and politics of countries other than the UK, US, Canada or Australia. SOAS used to have regional music concerts every week in the common room – this was fun! Also, the student protests (on cleaners’ rights/green investments) made it a fascinating learning space.

Trying to understand how one works towards the PhD – any advice you would have for those looking to do something similar? How does one go about setting up RA’s and internships?

Yes. The most important advice I want to give for an aspiring Ph.D. candidate is to read widely around the area of your interest and ask yourself as to whether you would have the energy and excitement to work on that topic for the next three years or so. 

Research assistantships/internships could give you a practical edge over your thesis proposal. For me, the RA I had at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law helped me to consolidate my thoughts for the final thesis proposal. But make sure the RA/internship is in the area of your research interest, or you are pursuing it for specific skill development.

The most important advice I want to give for an aspiring Ph.D. candidate is to read widely around the area of your interest and ask yourself as to whether you would have the energy and excitement to work on that topic for the next three years or so.

Since last year, you also got a Visiting Lecturer post at KCL – how has the teaching experience been? Any practices at KCL that you think Indian law schools can or should adopt?

The teaching experience has been excellent so far! In the beginning, I was a bit nervous, but King’s provide extensive training for young lecturers and teaching fellows on evidence-based teaching methods. The training was useful in evaluating how I could improve and help my students to engage critically with their course materials. I  handle seminars and tutorials – they are mostly discussion based. For me, teaching reminds me of how learning is a continuous process – as I am always picking up on a new idea or a thought-provoking question from my students.

I definitely believe that Indian law schools should think about adopting different teaching methods beyond lectures and seminars- for example, court visits or familiarising students with sample affidavits could assist those who retain information especially through experiential learning. I also think it is crucial to encourage students to engage with their course materials critically. Therefore the faculty members should try to evaluate how their teaching practices are supporting students and how to help them to be more proactive.

I also think it is crucial to encourage students to engage with their course materials critically. Therefore the faculty members should try to evaluate how their teaching practices are supporting students and how to help them to be more proactive.

Last question – would you consider moving back to India as an academic? I suppose what I am asking you is what would Indian law schools have to do to encourage academics like you to come back to the country.

To be honest, this is a difficult question to answer. After my Ph.D I want to look for a position that helps me to pursue my research interests in socio-legal studies, comparative law or transnational law. During my undergraduate years,  I noticed there was limited enthusiasm for interdisciplinary approaches to law within the Indian law schools. 

The majority of Indian law schools seemed to predominantly follow narrow notions of law as a ‘black-lettered’ normative institution and the role of lawyers  to be limited within courts or private firms. So in a way, I do feel my research interests might not be appreciated within the current educational structure. Another factor is the limited exposure of research and publications to a broader global audience. This is a sad aspect for the academics in the Global South ( for no fault of theirs!).

There are very few reputed academic national law journals/mediums through which young scholars can engage with a wider academic community. I think Indian law schools need to think about how to make academic research valuable for policy decisions in the country. This needs lobbying from the universities, and a change of mindset regarding academic legal research from the wider society itself.

I think Indian law schools need to think about how to make academic research valuable for policy decisions in the country. This needs lobbying from the universities, and a change of mindset regarding academic legal research from the wider society itself.

 

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

Miki P Hamstra

Miki P Hamstra/McKinney School of Law

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

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

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

(Edited excerpts)

Why should international students opt for an LLM?

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

I think the answer has three parts.

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

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

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

How should one go about choosing a law school?

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

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

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

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

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

That is a pretty common mistake.

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

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

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

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

How early should one start with the research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does asking for aid affect the chances of getting admission?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Person Accounts: Ayushi Agarwal on the BCL, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued a post-graduate course from different schools across the world. In this edition of the FPA, we get talking with Ayushi Agarwal who is currently reading for the BCL at Oxford University.

Ayushi also happens to be a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar at Oxford, something that she talks about in the course of the interview. 

Ayushi Agarwal

Ayushi Agarwal

At what point in time during your undergrad did you decide to pursue a post-graduate degree? 

I finalised my decision to pursue a post-graduate degree midway through my fourth year, when it became clear to me that I would like to specialise in human rights law, and did not want to take up any of the corporate law jobs on offer.

How did you go about selecting law schools? 

Once I decided that I wanted to pursue a post-graduate degree straight out of law school, I knew that I only wanted to study at Oxford because of several reasons: first, its’ tutorial system gives the kind of learning that seminars simply cannot match; second, it had two modules that I was particularly keen on taking up: comparative human rights law, and comparative equality law; third, the chances of securing admission were much higher in comparison to Harvard which is known to prefer students with work experience. Therefore, I applied only to Oxford University.

The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship – any advice on how to go about the application process, in particular the scholarship statement?

The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholarship only processes the applications of students who have already gained admission to Oxford University–which means the academic credentials are already taken care of.

The scholarship’s application therefore focuses on demonstrated leadership potential and commitment to a make a change. My application, for instance, drew heavily on my experience of starting my University’s feminist alliance and my vision of a gender-just India.

It would be a good idea to visit their website and look at the scholar profiles to get a better sense of the diverse backgrounds and motivations that scholars have.

How has the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar experience been thus far? 

I have to say that the being a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar has been the most enriching experience of my life so far. First and foremost, the community is like no other I have been in–there are 28 scholars from 23 different countries, all in different fields and at different stages of their lives.

First and foremost, the community is like no other I have been in–there are 28 scholars from 23 different countries, all in different fields and at different stages of their lives.

There are scholars with several years of experience (to name a few) in the NGO sector, in the government, as a whistleblower, as a journalist, as an environmental conservationist, as a water management specialist, as a human rights attorney, as a social entrepreneur, as an economist, and as a doctor.

Since I’m the youngest in this year’s cohort, I have had the honour of learning from the vast experience my fellow scholars have. Their ideas, passion and commitment are very motivating.

The scholarship events are designed to help us grow individually, form a more informed world-view and build strong bonds with the fellow scholars. Before the term began at Oxford, the scholars attended the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy seminar organised by the scholarship. We had round table discussions on important scholarly writings on human rights, justice, leadership, liberty etc. Through the term, we have been getting several workshops and trainings on entrepreneurship, since the scholarship wants us to think of innovative ways of making a change.

At the end of the first term, we were taken to Windsor, where we received training on interview skills, career building, pitching ideas etc. We have also several casual lunches which gives the scholars the opportunity to touch base despite our busy term, and ‘collections’ where we can share our progress and concerns with a senior member of the scholarship. And this just the end of one third of the journey! I’m very excited for everything else that is yet to come.

Early days yet, but what were some of the bigger changes that you have observed in the learning experience at Oxford as compared to NLSIU?

I think the most important change has been that the period at hand is a lot shorter than what I had at NLSIU, while the opportunities available are a lot more. Therefore, a lot of choices have to be made everyday about how to make the most of this year.

There is no doubt that the academic rigour is leaps and bounds ahead of NLSIU, the peers are all extremely hard-working and driven, and the professors are amongst the top in their respective fields. This can be intimidating at first but as long as you try your best to keep pace, it is manageable.

It also depends on your specific goals for the year– some students come here only for academic learning, while others come here hoping for a mix of different opportunities. I’ve joined the fencing club, which is a new and exciting sport for me, and I also attend many talks outside of my field (for example in philosophy, literature etc) because Oxford always has something or the other going on, and it would be foolish to miss it while one is here.

Looking back, anything that you wished you had known before enrolling for the BCL?

I can’t think of anything specifically, because I remember nagging a lot of my seniors with lots of silly questions before I enrolled in the BCL. One thing that I could have researched on more perhaps is colleges. Each college at Oxford has a very different character, history, and facilities.

This is important especially because most colleges don’t give accommodation to graduate students on site, so it’s important to look at where exactly the college you are applying to would give you accommodation.

Lastly, any advice for Indian law grads who are looking to pursue post-graduate degrees outside the country? 

I would say that it’s crucial that you don’t view a post-graduate degree simply as a way of deferring the moment that you join the workforce because you’re not sure of what you want to do.

It is crucial that you don’t view a post-graduate degree simply as a way of deferring the moment that you join the workforce because you’re not sure of what you want to do.

The BCL, as well as LLMs, are only one year (or even shorter) and are specialised in the sense that you have to pick your own modules, which means who should have a good idea about the direction you are going in.

It’s going to be a huge investment, if not in money then at least in time, and it’s important that you take it up when you are actually ready for it.

Studying the post-graduate preferences (LLM or otherwise) of Indian law graduates

With LLM application deadlines fast approaching, Amicus Partners has largely been kept busy with the counselling side of things. Which is unfortunate because one of the goals of Amicus Partners is to conduct research on the career trajectories of this country’s law graduates. More specifically, on where they choose to pursue higher education, if at all, where this takes them, and how do they view the Indian and non-Indian learning and working experiences.

Lofty (unattainable?) goals perhaps, and I don’t think we have come even close to capturing enough data to make accurate predictions. But, you have to start somewhere.

And that somewhere is here.

Thus far, we have managed to compile partial data on just under two hundred (one hundred and ninety-six to be exact) Indian law graduates who completed their Indian study of law in between 1998 and 2017.

And based on this data, there are four questions that we can answer. It goes without saying that there are strong elements of bias in this data set, a flaw most glaringly exposed with question number one.

Question No. 1: Where do they complete their Indian law degree?

Nearly one-third of the individuals hail from my alma mater (NUJS), something that is statistically at odds with the sheer number of graduates that older law schools (NLU or otherwise) have churned out.

After NUJS, you get NLSIU (27) then NALSAR (24) and then both, GLC Mumbai and NLU Jodhpur (11). Some of the other graduates that were tracked graduated from ILS, NLU Delhi, and Delhi University.

UniversityNumber of graduates
NUJS56
NLSIU27
NALSAR24
NLU Jodhpur11
GLC Mumbai11
Delhi University8
ILS Pune8
NLU Delhi6
GNLU5
SLS Pune4
KIIT Law School3
Ambedkar University3
Allahabad University3
HNLU3
NLIU 2

Question No. 2: Where do they go for a master’s course?

In terms of geographies, the United Kingdom is the most popular destination by a fair margin. And when I say “fair” I mean a big, big margin.

Just to give you some perspective on this, as per official LSAC figures, around 470 applications were made by Indian students for an LLM in the US between June 2017 and June 2018. Even if you presume that half of all American schools accept non-LSAC applications, that would mean about 1,000 applications were made.

On the other hand, according to official figures released by Cambridge University, there were 177 applications from India for the LLM program for the academic year 2017-2018. In other words, Cambridge University’s LLM course received more than one-tenth the number of applications received by US Law schools in total!

That is a staggering statistic.

Institution-wise, Oxbridge remains the strong favourite with forty-five Indian law grads choosing either the universities of Oxford (32) or Cambridge (13). Then you have the big guns from the US like Harvard Law School (18), Columbia Law School (16) and New York University (15) being the most popular choices.

University/Law SchoolNo. of Indian graduates
Oxford University32
Harvard Law School18
Columbia Law School16
New York University15
Cambridge University13
LSE7
Geneva Centre for International Dispute Settlement6
National University of Singapore5
Queen Mary University of London5
Berkeley4
Duke University3
University of Chicago3
Yale Law School3
Stanford Law School3
Edinburgh University2
UCL2
Univ. of Miami2
UPenn2
Univ. of Missouri Columbia2

Question No. 3: When do they go for their post-graduate degrees?

This was a particularly interesting question for more than one reason. After all, the “when” question is one the most commonly asked at Amicus Partners, and also one that has no “one size fits all” answer. Two, this opens up the door to better understanding the motivations behind the master’s program, and is a great pathway to understand the career trajectories of Indian law graduates.

At what point in time do they decide to do a post-graduate course, and are there any trends that we can spot along the way?

Now, out of the one hundred and ninety-six law graduates in the study, I have PQE data on only one-hundred and nine of them.

PQENumber of law grads
0 years26
1 year19
2 years20
3 years17
4 years10
5 years4
6 years4
7 years5
More than 7 years3

Based on this, one could argue that interest in a master’s course peaks within the first three years following the Indian law degree. After that, interest of the actionable kind declines until. At the cost of repetition though, it needs to be said that this is a rather small data set to play with. And perhaps, with more data, you could actually come down to a more accurate representation of just when Indian law graduates opt for higher education.

Question No.4: Is it only an LLM?

Like some others, I believe that a law degree can be a great liberal arts degree to possess and not one which is only meant to serve the needs of the legal profession. However, I don’t really have the statistical data to back this assertion at least as far as higher education choices are concerned.

The majority of those studied for a postgraduate course in law, but there are some notable exceptions. One of those is an MPP degree, another would be the MBA. As this study expands in scope, I am sure there will be a few other popular non-LLM options that will be churned out. I also think that today’s law graduates

Question No.5: What do they after the foreign degree?

Well, I have not really gotten around to figuring out just what sector of the legal profession, if at all, do Indian law graduates end up at after their master’s course.

Broadly speaking, of the data that has been collected, 82 have returned to India while 67 are working outside the country. For the remaining, I still haven’t been able to collect enough data.

Conclusion

Like I mentioned at the start of the piece, this is very much a work in progress and I think I will only get a more accurate picture with greater data. More specifically, data on what prompted them to pursue a master’s course, did they end up paying for the entire course, and how satisfied were they at the end of the program.

Those, to be honest, are the more important questions.

Far more important.

 

Always happy to hear your thoughts, please feel free to write in at: 

contact[at]amicuspartners[dot]co[dot]in

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