By Avani Bansal
Growing up in a small town, I often thought of the best schools – Doon, Welhams, Mayo – thinking to myself – how would students be different at these schools from me?
When I went to the Daly College, Indore (school) and won debates at all three of the above, I knew what it felt like to be at one of these schools.
And then I went to HNLU, Raipur and thought how would the world’s best law schools look like and that took me to Oxford and Harvard.
Now I know what it feels like! This is what I say to you :
1. Nothing’s beyond your reach if you can come to believe that you can do it and do your homework!
2. Just take the first step – the way will take care of itself!
3. And finally – we all know that’s it’s the same everywhere but seeing and feeling a person, a place or an institution from close opens up doors in our own being that we didn’t know existed.
So here are some of the questions that I am often asked about pursuing LL.M. from abroad and my brief responses to them
1. Will it help me get a job?
This is usually one of the first questions I am asked on LL.M.
Please don’t see a LL.M. degree as a road leading to a job. Though this road may lead you to a dream job, you will be disappointed if you see it purely or even primarily as a means to that end.
The LL.M. year, if utilized well could significantly further a person on his/her intellectual journey and widen the canvass of thought and imagination as regards one’s potential, interests, and opportunities.
The year can be seen as a time for reflection to identify what one is really interested in or to develop an edge in a chosen area of specialization or both.
All of this will definitely impact the career you choose and may even open up doors that you didn’t imagine before but given the global legal market, one cannot see the LL.M. as a certificate that can lend you a job.
Having said this, it is a fact that effective networking plays a crucial role in finding a job and the LL.M. year could be seen as a great opportunity in meeting the right set of people.
The brand of a school definitely does not hurt!
2. Does it help if I want to do litigation?
The breadths and depths of experience gained when you engage in critical and analytical dialogues with some of the best brains from around the world, can act as a strong stimulus for sharpening your own opinions and deepening your quest for the pursuit of ‘truth’ or ‘knowledge’ or ‘the art of argument both verbal and written’.
The amount of resources at some of the best schools can be unparalleled. It can be a year that can help you push your own limits and set a high threshold of your own expectations from your own self, whether personal or professional. All this will help you become a better lawyer, irrespective of which aspect of law you choose to pursue including litigation or corporate practice or policy making to name a few.
3. Should I get some work experience first?
There is no one right answer to this question.
This decision has to be based on a couple of factors combined together. Some of the factors are
a) availability of funding
b) clarity on what you seek from your LL.M. year
c) do you feel confident of making the most of your LL.M. year
d) the kind of opportunities you are looking for after the LL.M. year etc.
Pursue the LL.M. when you feel ready for it.
4. Where should I do it from?
Try do it from the best place if you can but then remember that there is no one best place for everyone.
The general tip would be to draw upon a list of colleges where you want to apply and keep it a mixed list, including some of the top, middle, and low ranked colleges so that you kill neither your chances nor your choices beforehand.
The subject areas and professors that you are interested in should be another criteria for selection of a college. Funding plays an important role too. There is much that can be said about the jurisdiction but the decision has to be a combination of the rank of college, your interest in a particular course, professors and long term opportunities. I say this all the time – make as many applications as you can as it’s better to have a choice than none at all.
5. Should I do a general or a specialized LL.M.?
This depends on what you have done at law school during your first degree and how specific ideas you have about your future.
University of Oxford lets you choose 4 out of 30 subjects that you study for nine months and they don’t have to be under one broader concentration area.
Harvard Law School lets you choose courses upto 27 credits (so could be anywhere around 10 subjects) out of 400 subjects but you study a subject only for a term (there are total three terms).
If you are looking at landing a particular job then a concentration makes sense such as human rights law, corporate law, taxation law etc. but if you are looking at an overall enriching year, then it may be advisable to take different subjects, including some that are out of your comfort zone.
6. What’s the application procedure?
Please do your homework!
It’s all available on the college websites.
Once you have looked at the ranking of colleges and shortlisted a few based on the factors mentioned above, check the websites of these colleges thoroughly and make a note of deadlines, the length of statement of purpose (SOP), the number and type of recommendations etc.
Also assemble all your documents, transcripts, certificates and make sure that you have an updated CV.
The general application requires filling an online form along with submitting a statement of purpose, 1000 words answering –
a) who you are or your story b) why you are interested c) why are you interested in that specific college d) what would you do later.
Usually the deadline is November 15th of your final year and the results come out around March of your final semester.
Applications are available from late August in the preceding year (so for the course starting in August 2016, the application will open in August 2015) so my suggestion would be to start early and make as many people as you can go through your application for suggestions and feedback.
I had one person looking at my SOP when I was first applying to Oxford and he didn’t like it at all.
But I decided to go ahead with it because it felt honest so if you don’t have anyone guiding you, be your own guide!
But do your homework.
7. What’s the funding procedure?
Different colleges have different scholarship programmes and all information is available on the college’s website. Some colleges like Oxford have a merit based scholarship whereas others like Harvard have a need based scholarship. There are a few scholarships that cover your funding in full including Rhodes scholarship, Commonwealth scholarship, Inlaks, Felix etc. There are also some interest free loans available through organisations.
The key is researching and applying to as many scholarships as possible.
8. When should I start thinking about LL.M.? (research is the key)
As soon as you can! It is pretty competitive if you want to get into a top school and so don’t wait till your final year to start preparing for LL.M.
During your internships, it may be useful to think about developing meaningful relationship with your mentors and keeping them updated as you progress through the law school. This way, you can request them to write a recommendation letter that’s based not on just one or two months of knowing you but based on a long interaction.
If you are already working for a few years, and didn’t think of pursuing LL.M. while at law school, there is no reason why you cannot think of it now. The average age of the LL.M. class is above 29 years and some of my classmates at Harvard are in their 40s!
There is no age for learning, really!
9. What do I do once I get there?
This is a question I rarely get asked but I make sure to include it in my suggestions whenever I am speaking with someone on LL.M.
A lot of students only focus on getting to their dream law school but do not think of what they will do once they reach there. There is a lot of preparation that needs to be done before you go for LL.M. to be able to make the most of your year. There can be so many opportunities that it can be mind-boggling and no amount of emphasis on preparing in advance will be enough.
Thinking of the kind of courses one would want to take, to the student led activities one would want to participate to, to the kind of people one would want to network with – the possibilities are endless!
10. Can I write to you if I have more questions?
I have increasingly had people write to me from different parts of the country and in some instances from the world, seeking advice on applying to top law schools.
Perhaps my own journey of doing LL.M. from Oxford (called BCL) and Harvard gives me some authority to write and advise on this subject.
But I have not forgotten the most useful advice I got in my first year of law school when I approached one of my seniors with a question in the library – he said go look a, b, c, d up and then come back to me. Well, I thought –“why would I come to you if I read a, b, c, d, all by myself!”
But as the years have gone by no single advice as helped me as much as that one did – so do your homework first!
Avani Bansal is a graduate of HNLU, Raipur. She did her BCL from the University of Oxford. She’s presently doing her LLM from Harvard Law School.