Once we decide upon pursuing a higher degree, we all dream of getting into a top-tier institution. However, we are often faced by dilemmas such as securing an admission, end result of pursuing the degree, it’s long term benefits and more. So, how to prepare yourself for such kind of pressure?
Addressing your dilemma:
Being an LL.M graduate from Harvard Law School, she obtained her LLB degree from Government Law College, Mumbai from where she graduated with a gold medal and was awarded Ranganath Rao Trophy for ‘Best Student’.
She has various published articles in journals like Mumbai Mid-Day, Huffington Post India and GLC Law Review. After graduation she worked in the chambers of Senior Counsel Zal Andhyarujina.
She was the LLM Representative for the Law and International Development Society and represented Harvard in an international moot. She is an International Disputes Lawyer; dual qualified in India and New York, and has previously worked in Dubai. Her passion project, called Her Forum, is a community for women in law.
Consider: Before deciding to pursue an LL.M
1. A huge investment
An LL.M. is a very expensive program (even applying to law schools is expensive) and there is also the fact that you are switching gears from the job you leave to pursue it for. Opportunity costs are high, essentially. So, there should definitely be a lot of thinking going into that decision. It is a big decision and a valuable one.
2. Determining Factors
The determining factors can change from person to person. But I think it is important to remind yourself again and again that it is tremendous commitment.
The perks are, however, equally rewarding. Some people do LLMs between fields of law, some to deepen their understanding in a particular field of law, and some others to specialize if they are practicing in a generally broad field. Some people do LLMs to also get into academics or move abroad. But it is important to remember that job opportunities also depend on the visa situation of the country.
An LLM from a prestigious law school can definitely get you through the door of a job interview but can do nothing about the visa situation. Some fields of law are typically tougher to obtain jobs in abroad. Apart from this, there can be a lot of other motivating factors as mentioned above.
Building your profile
Dreaming about getting into a top tier institution in one thing but to actually make it come true requires a whole different level of hard work and patience.
1. Making the most of your law school days
Being a law student means you can try your hand at different things without any pressure. It is a vibrant time.
I really enjoyed being a law student because it allowed me time to discover different fields of law, take on various extra-curricular activities (like mooting and writing), and attend different events and network. Being a part of college organizations, and the years I was Chief Student Editor of the college magazine and President of the GLC Teach for India Society was definitely a highlight. As far as the gold medal is concerned— I didn't expect it or strategize for it at all. I always took time to prepare for exams because in the hustle and bustle of everything else people tend to ignore that. But, I would meticulously put in those long hours into preparation, make my own notes, and go through previous exam questions.
In short: I think there is no real substitute for hard work as far as doing well in academics is concerned. Studying smart and efficiently can of course help too, but only to some extent.
2. Being a successful applicant
As far as building your profile is concerned, I want to clarify one myth that people generally tend to believe that there is a type of person a law school wants or single mould everyone needs to fit into. That is not true—most LLM programs pride themselves on their diversity. They want lawyers from different fields of law, different countries, different backgrounds, and with different end goals. There is no one ideal profile or ideal candidate. Law schools look at your commitment to law or to a field of law. They look at your passion, clarity, goals and purpose; because they want driven lawyers who are genuinely interested in the field and passionate to study more.
And mind you, LL.M is also a very academically intense program. So I think that needs to be kept in mind. As far as I was concerned, I took on opportunities (internships, writing, mooting) around the area of law I was passionate about, i.e. dispute resolution. I eventually built an honest narrative (which is important because law schools can sniff out dishonesty very easily, they do it day in and day out), and that worked out for me. Showing clarity, purpose and focus in your career path makes a compelling narrative.
After Securing an Admission
Now that a student has built a tremendous profile and successfully secured an admission into Harvard or any other top tier institution for that matter, what follows next?
1. The Experience, the Adrenaline, and the hard work
Harvard was the greatest—most challenging yet rewarding experience of my life. It was a place to make leaps and bounds of professional and academic growth, but also a place to make friends and actually learn different laws and legal skills from some of the best professors/lawyers.
One would imagine Harvard to be a very academic experience, and it was. But it was also so much more. I got to have so many different experiences, I attended a Woman's Law Association trip to Washington DC, as a part of which I got to visit the Supreme Court of the US (and even meet Justice Kagan!), meet the two women who have argued the most number of cases at the Supreme Court of the United States, and meet Barack Obama's Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco; worked on a project with a think tank in China and drafted an environmental policy for the Chinese government; organized a filming of the documentary "India's Daughter" for a completely international audience; and represented Harvard in a moot arbitration competition.
Apart from this of course, I got to have some stereotypical American experiences such as Thanksgiving dinners, NBA basketball and college football games, and Spring Break! I tried to take in everything that HLS offered both inside and outside of the classrooms, but also took every opportunity to unwind with my friends.
Once an individual has successfully completed two most thrilling experiences i.e. securing an admission and graduating from a top tier institute, you might find yourself wondering what effect it had on them and on their career opportunities.
1. Transformation both personally and professionally
Professionally, it definitely changed the way I approach a draft submission or brief or whatever the assignment may be. I think it has taught me to think more critically, question everything, pay attention to the minutest details (which in chaos we tend to overlook) and think creatively. I'd be remiss if I forget to mention that being part of such an incredible cohort of classmates pushes me constantly to do better, scale higher, and dream big. It has also given me access to a wealth of resources like alumni and academic resources. This is all in addition to, obviously, the substantive law exposure and theoretical learning you have while doing a masters degree.
Personally, it made me more confident, helped me build new perspectives and contributed in an all-round development. I also realized that knowing particularities about other fields can help me service my clients better and think more creatively as a lawyer and I actually took a Computer Science 50 class (for lawyers!) to learn more about the influences of technology and its complex relationship with law given the way the world is moving. Besides that, I think LL.M helped me groom my time management and organization skills
All-in-all, it was a wonderful experience, and I think it leaves a lasting impact. I couldn't recommend LL.M more, especially from Harvard (of course, I'm very biased so don't let me cloud you).
2. Aspiring to settle abroad?
LL.M from an international institution is very helpful because it also ends up being a platform to get bar admission/license to practice in the particular country. Having said that, there are certain restrictions on bar admission, so, you have to be mindful of these and do thorough research. And it is important to also caveat the visa situation and the particular field of practice plays a key role in that regard as mentioned earlier.
Aspiring students, this is for you!
My parting advice to young law students is that there is no single path, or single mould you have to fit into, to succeed. Do not fall for the rat race or the checklist people will have you believe is important.
You can follow a different path and still have success. There is no checklist. Do things to learn, not to simply add to your resume; do things to gain mentors; do things to build a network. The people you meet or work for/with will shape your career and personal growth, and will be far more important than just a line on your resume.