The members of LAWyersClubIndia had a great opportunity of attending and organizing a live information webinar session with a multi-national panel of lawyers. In the webinar, they addressed various queries of the participants revolving around the topic of “Whether to pursue LLM (Master of Laws) or not?” All the learned lawyers hold an LLM degree from UC Berkley school of law which is one of the most prestigious law schools in the country. Their knowledge in the field and personal experiences of the LLM program helped the participants in a better understanding of the program and whether they should pursue it or not.
The panel of lawyers consists of Mr. Joerg Bartz, Ms. Eleni Anagnostopoulou, Mr.Sergio G. Nascimento, Ms.Sonakshi Kapoor, Mr. Gaurav Goyal and Prof. William Fernholz.
Joerg is a German-qualified lawyer who has earned his LLM degree from Berkley in 2017. He is currently working as an associate attorney at Gibson Dunn and Crutcher LLP which is a U.S. based law firm. Eleniis a Greek lawyer who is currently practicing Media law and Freedom of speech. Sergio is a member of the New York bar and is currently practicing litigation and arbitration as a partner in a Brazil-based law firm. Sonakshi is a litigator in the field of business and human rights, she graduated from a law school in India and gained her LLM degree from Berkley. Gauravis a partner in JKGA Law Chambers. He is also a member of the governing council, SCL India and works in the field of mediation. And lastly, William siris a faculty of UC Berkley Law School and has taught thousands of students over the years.
William sir opened the session by discussing various reasons for pursuing an LLM degree. According to sir, different people have different reasons for doing an LLM program but one must have at least one expressible reason to do so. He also expressed his views on the expense of an LLM program, ways to select the right program, and the criteria for admission. In the next segment, various queries of the participants were addressed by the panel. The queries revolved around different topics related to the LLM program, admission process, scholarship options, difference between JD and LLM program, post LLM job opportunities, etc. The panel addressed all the queries by referring to their personal experiences of the program and knowledge of the field.
Sir William opened the session by discussing the reasons for pursuing an LLM degree. He believes that any specific or expressible reason that one might have is enough.
Some of the reasons to pursue an LLM degree are as follows-
- To internationalize their preexisting practice or build an international presence.
- To build specific skills in the field like negotiations, trial court work, writing, etc.
- Pivot in new or different fields of law.
- An opportunity to learn law from a different or broadened perspective.
- Earning a credential for bringing in business.
- A learning vacation to straighten future plans.
Sir believes that different people have different reasons to do an LLM program and one must have an expressible reason to do so.
Following that, sir expressed his views on whether or not an LLM degree is worth the expense?
He says that an LLM program is very expensive in the United States. But most of the students take financial aid or earn scholarships from different sources. He also mentioned that the Berkley Law School offers financial aid but it is very scarce and the competition is extremely high.
He believes that an LLM degree has a lifetime value and it may or may not producean immediate return. But in thelonger run, itis worth the expense. The program helps you to gain international experience and provides various opportunities to grow outside the domestic boundaries. Also, the LLM program aims to expand student’s knowledge of the subject and provide a broader perspective of the field. Therefore, it is very important to learn from an experienced faculty and a reputed school.
Sir believes any expense bared on the LLM program is worth the cost.
He also mentioned a few ways to select the right program, some of which are as follows-
- Duration of the program– The program should not be very short as well as long. Short programs usually do not cover a few essential subjects and long programs cause boredom.
- Grading of school- More prestigiousschools providea better quality of education.
- Location of the school- The location of the school is another important factor for choosing the right program. Trade or banking law is better in a city like New York as it provides more opportunities.
William sir being a member of the admission committee at Berkleyhimself has sharedcriteriafor admission in the best schools.
The judgment for admission in school is based on the following information of the student-
- Home nation
- Recommendation letters
- Personal statement
The most important part of the admission process is the personal statement as it differentiates you from other students and gives you an edge over them. A personal statement should reflect who you are, your reason for pursuing an LLM program,and how you can be valuable to the school and vice-versa.
Sir also shared an example of a student who shared his clear interest in representing those individuals who are given a death sentence for committing the most heinous crime. The admission authorities had a better connectionwith the applicant as the reason stated was interesting, distinguished, and clear.
The grades and recommendation letters of an applicant matter a lot but only to an extent. Sir believes that admission of an applicant is directly linked with his reason to pursue the program and how well he describes it in his personal statement.
In the next segment, various queries from the participants were addressed. The following queries were raised by the participants-
1. The first question came fromAniket who wanted to know the requirements for an Indian lawyer to be able to practice in the US and Europe?
Sonakshiaddressed the query. She stated that for a lawyer to be able to practice in both US and Europe having a valid bar license is mandatory. Therefore, one will have to apply to attain a valid bar license in that country.
There are two different application routes to practice in these countries. First, if the person is already an attorney with a valid practicing license in some other country or second when one has just graduated law school. The application is a lot easier if one is already an attorney.
2. How do people secure a scholarship while coming to Berkley law or any other institution in the US?
Eleni took the opportunity to answer this query as she secured a scholarship for attending the LLM program in Berkley. Berkley law provides financial aid to students but the seats are very less and the competition is super intense. Therefore, she believes relying on Berkley’sfinancial aid is not advisable. The following are the three ways to gain scholarship-
- Scholarship grants from government
- Private institutions in their country offering scholarships to students.
- International institutions like Full-bright foundation.
Eleni took Full-bright foundation’s international scholarship to attend Berkley law for the LLM program.
3. Divyansh asks that if there will be a significant impact on the international job market because of COVID and how is it going to impact students like him who are looking for external funding to pursue expensive LLM programs.
Joergsays that international travel and visa situations may cause a great impact on students applying for LLM in 2020. He believes that in the future there will be more online degrees. The international job market is very unpredictable and major law firms throughout the world are laying off their employees. Summer internship opportunity for students has also declined significantly.
Adding to Joerg, William says the situation is very uncertain as of now. The duration of the impact cannot be predicted; it may last a couple of years or a decade. He also believes that there will be lesser people pursuing LLM because of the Coronavirus pandemic as there will be fewer employment opportunities for some time. The Berkley law school has also modified programs to accommodate regular classes online and introduced various hybrid programs.
4. Kriti asks what should an applicant keep in mind while getting an academic reference or recommendation letter from the employer? How much value does it hold for admission in the law school?
Sergei expresses that he doesn’t feel it carries any additional value as it is mandatory for LLM students to have one recommendation letter from the academician and employer. He believes that it should be written by someone who knows you personally. The letters should be very specific and mention special skills of yours as any formal recommendation letter doesn’t hold much of a value.
While you’re on a job hunt, personal recommendations play a very essential role and increase your chances of getting a job. So, professional connections are very important and open numerous doors for you.
William believes that details are the key to a recommendation letter. The person writing the recommendation letter must add a particular story or highlight specific skills of the person which will make the letter outstanding from others.
5. Kripa wants to know about the post LLM employment opportunities.
Gauravwas a practicing lawyer in India before going away to Berkley for an LLM program. While attending the LLM program, he missed arguing in the court. He declined several employment opportunities as he wasn’t ready to spend a considerable amount of time being a 2nd chair in the court. So, he came back to India and restarted his firm.
He believes that he has gained three basic things from the LLM program which have helped him now and then in his career as a lawyer-
- Vast knowledge of the subject.
- Enhanced researching skills
- A wide professional network throughout the world
These factors give you an edge over other competitors and immensely increase employment opportunities.
LLM program also helps one in building skills like elevator pitching. Elevator pitching enables you tocreate an impression which gives you an edge over other practitioners who have many more years of experience than you. He also observed that his friends have got an exponential increase in their pay and promotions after having done LLM from abroad.
He also gives credit to his master’s degree for being able to land a lot of big clients including some business of Reliance industries.
Sonakshibelieves that her approach of law was broadened immensely which has helped her in performing to her potential. It has also given her a competitive edge over others by enhancing her communication skills which lead to a better relationship with clients.
Eleni is certain that along with adding monetary value it has addeda good share of overall value to her profile. She feels that it opens doors for her even the companies that are very difficult to get into. Having a fancy LLM degree also makesan employer interested in taking you up for a job.
6. Purvi asks if one should go for an LLM or a JD program?
William thinks the choice between an LLM or a JD program depends on what you want to pursue in the future. JD is a three-year program and much more detailed than the LLM program whereas LLM is just a one-year masters’ degree. JD is more likely to get you a job in the US. So, the question arises is that are you ready to relocate to the US permanently?On the other hand, LLM is typically aimed for students who want to gain an understanding of the law and return to their home country to practice.
Both are equally valid but large firms in the US are going to give preference to JD program graduates for higher salary packages.
William highly recommends one to go for a JD program if he/she has the ability to relocate and have three years to invest.
7. Aarav is certain that LLM helps in corporate practice but how does it help in litigation and judiciary?
Sonakshi says that a major chunk of litigation is communication and by participating in an LLM program you get more understanding which helps you to better articulate and communicate in the court. LLM in the US also made it possible for her to litigate in the US courts also. The program helps in enhancing writing and research skills massively. It also enables you to handle a multinational diverse client base.
Gaurav believes that your thought process as a litigator changes drastically after an LLM program. Also, his cross-examination skills were brilliantly improved.
8. Is work experience considerable and important to apply for an LLM program or one can apply right after law school?
William shared his personal experience over the years as a faculty of Berkley law. Even his current batch of LLM program has a 60-year-old attorney and a fresh law graduate sitting in the same classroom. The admission is irrespective of the applicant’s work experience and only the ones who had an important story to tell and have succeeded in some way get admitted.
However, a different approach is taken for admitting a working professional with experience and a student with no experience. The application of an experienced lawyer is analyzed based on his/her professional career and how Berkley law can help them to grow further. In this case, grades acquired in high school becomes irrelevant. On the other hand, grades become most relevant in the case of a law graduate with no experience in the field.
9. The recruitment process of schools offering LLM in India in comparison to Berkley or other law schools abroad.
Gaurav talks about the stereotype of people in India who consider masters in law only for students interested in teaching and not for practicing. Also, he believes that law schools in India have a lot less practical functioning. The professors teaching practical subjects like drafting do not have experience of drafting themselves. They are unaware of how drafting works in real courts and only teach by following the bare act.
Sonakshi agrees with Gaurav on how Indian law schools lack a practical approach to LLM programs. Whereas, law schools like UC Berkley provide various opportunities and activities which help you in getting jobs and have practical knowledge of the field. The aim of the program is not to restrict students to theoretical knowledge only but provide a real-life approach to law.
10. Nishant wants to know whether or not international companies or US-based companies consider international students for employment?
There are some positions for which a JD program is a prerequisite. But that does not mean that international students or LLM students do not stand a chance. An LLM degree holds a lot of value and networking is the key to employment opportunities. While in law school one should always attend more and more social gatherings, conferences, and webinars to make contacts that are very helpful in opening doors in the future.
William suggests students not only attend school but to also create a network with fellow students. Establishing connections is the key to job opportunities after the program. Getting a job opportunity depends on how well you represent yourself and make an impression.
11. Garv asks if he should go for an LLM program right after law school or he should get hold of some experience?
Gaurav highly recommends having little experience in the field before going for a master’s degree. He shared his experience as to how he always used to think that he’s going to pursue masters from Harvard on criminology but his 4 years of practice changed his mind completely. He believes that experience is very important to make such decisions. Also,work experience always helps you get an advantage over other candidates for a job in the future.
12. What are the advantages of doing an LLM program from an Indian law school?
Gaurav believes doing an LLM program from an Indian law school is best if you are looking for short-term based program and doing LLM alongside your practice. It enables you to put your complete focus on your career and attend law school on weekends. It helps you to get an edge in judiciary exams and is most helpful if you’ve chosen the teaching profession for yourself.
William based on his personal experience of spending 6 months in India highly believes that the education provided by Indian law schools is excellent. The approach is a lot different from US-based law schools but excellent.
On the contrary, Sonakshiencourages students to attend an LLM program abroad to expand their knowledge on the subject and grow outside the boundaries of the nation.
13. Kishori holds 3 years’ experience in corporate, she asks if she should apply for an LLM program in the field of arbitration. Will it be wise for her to leave her current job behind?
Eleni says that leaving behind the practice is not recommended. You should find an amalgam of your practice and an LLM degree. You can elaborate on things that you already. Both the degree and practice should complement each other.
Gaurav says that one should do a masters that you have a base for. Your connection with the program also holds value. If you take up any random subject that doesn’t interest you, your master’s degree might not hold much value. A personal reason for an LLM program is most essential.
The panel provided an extensive overview of the LLM program and various factors related to it. They also helped us in a better understanding of the admission process in prestigious law schools like UC Berkley. It was an honor to have such an interaction with such a multi-national panel of lawyers and the members at LAWyersclubIndia thank them for their time and support.