LLM from overseas
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This article is written by Niharika Salar with inputs from Nikunj Kulshreshtha.

An LLM from overseas has become a fast growing trend amongst Indian students who tend to have varying opinions and expectations out of the same. For many students, a foreign LLM is the fancier approach to education while for others it is their gateway to the picture perfect job overseas. And then there are others who choose to go abroad for masters purely out of personal satisfaction.

Are you certain about doing an LLM from overseas? If yes, then read on (Even if not, do read on anyway, might help you with some perspective. Or so I hope.)

In my limited time of counselling students on Linkedin about foreign education, I have come across many students who want to do their Masters in Law from abroad, but don’t quite know about the subject they would like to read further. This approach can be worrisome. One thing every potential applicant is expected to keep in mind is that the course is called a Masters for a particular reason. An LLM is expected to add on your base of your knowledge due to which adding which area of law you would want to work on is of utmost importance.

While some candidates are aware of the subjects they would like to do their LLM in, others aren’t (which is very normal). To curb the same, I see many confused candidates making hasty decisions about specializations. I understand that it is very easy to get carried away when so many of your LinkedIn connections are doing a Masters abroad right after their undergrad. But always keep in mind that an LLM is not a race. It is for your personal profile and only you should decide the right time for an LLM. It is always a good idea to invest some time in figuring out your field of interest or just any subject you feel passionate about. I acknowledge the fact that an LLM from overseas is a privilege to have considering the finances it requires, due to which understanding the core idea and what you want out of your degree becomes very important.

What are the purposes of pursuing a foreign LLM?

Because an LLM can be demanding mentally, physically and financially, knowing the reason behind your LLM is very crucial.

Personal satisfaction?

There is a reason why I write about personal satisfaction first. In my humble opinion and experience, Indian education system does not teach you how to study and approach readings, let alone do good research. With my first semester at NUS completed and a dissertation due in a few months, I can say this with confidence. I have spoken about this to various Indian LLM candidates abroad and the concern is mutual. Indian education system was designed to produce good lawyers, but eventually with time and mushrooming of law schools, the quality of critical analysis has touched a new low. We are not taught how to approach readings (most of the Schools do not even have the concept of readings before coming to class) or to critically analyse the law. India is also constantly struggling with a lack of good faculty members and professors. In such a case scenario, desire for better legal education becomes an important reason for an LLM abroad.

Additionally, exposure and studying in a global environment play a key role in your personality development as a whole.

Furthermore, contrary to popular opinion foreign LLM is not about living a fancy and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle in a foreign country. It is about independent living, managing your expenses, cooking your own meals, doing your own dishes, living amongst various other nationalities, attending classes and dealing with immense academic pressure (if you have decided to take your masters seriously). This process will only make you a tougher and more independent person, once you are done with your course (which is a life-long asset, in my personal opinion). 

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Job?

Most of the potential applicants hope to get absorbed in the jurisdiction they go to study. That is not always realistically true. With an abundance of Indians working in major countries and markets getting saturated faster these days, getting a job abroad requires persistent efforts. Having said that, it is also essential to understand that a job scenario is dependent on various factors. Someone with experience may find it relatively easier to find a job as an in house counsel in Singapore than a law firm. On the other hand, someone with an IP & Technology law background may find relatively more job opportunities in Singapore due to various upcoming tech startups and their increasing desire for tech legal professionals. 

Yet, law firms and organizations are not impossible to achieve. Many candidates who are determined to work overseas choose to complete a majority of their modular credits requirements in the first semester itself. This leaves them with an academically lighter second semester and more time to work part time, improving their chances to secure a job. If a job is your first priority, researching into what kind of employment is allowed by the student visa, conditions for conversion to a long term visa/employment pass, how open the said market is for foreign nationals and number of permitted hours of part time work during ongoing session can help you take a better call. 

With respect to job prospects in the UK, it depends on three factors-residency rules, previous work experience and qualification as per that jurisdiction. In the UK whether one is a foreign law graduate or local law graduate, one needs a specific course like LPC/BPTC to become a solicitor/barrister, both of them being essential qualifications to practise as a lawyer in the UK which an LLM does not provide. Having some years of experience say 3-5 years, helps the employer in making decisions. The graduate can apply for a qualifying transfer exam in the UK known as QLTS after 2 years of experience in any commonwealth nation and receive a solicitor licence. 

Finally, certain areas of law which share common principles such as corporate, IPR, ADR, taxation find it easier to secure jobs after some years of experience. Further most universities abroad do not have placement cells, one is supposed to network and find a job on their own. Hence it is a great idea to do an LLM after certain years of experience only in case one wishes to migrate abroad.

How to identify a university that fits your needs?

Now that you have finally taken a call, it’s time you do some (a lot actually) research on which University you want to go and fulfils your expectations out of the course.

LLM by coursework or LLM by research?

An LLM usually runs in the above stated two kinds. Most of the law schools in the UK have an LLM by research program where you are expected to study a given number of modules (better known as subjects in India) followed by a dissertation (approximately 15,000 words, may vary from University to University) on an area of your interest under guided supervision.

On the other hand, most of the law schools in the USA and Asia have an LLM by coursework program wherein you are expected to choose a given number of modules. Some universities offer the option of completing a dissertation as well which will be counted as a part of your modules.

What is your field of interest?

Universities specialise in various programs and are popular for particular subjects due to various reasons. Establishment of a dedicated research centre, reputed faculty, prior existence of the program, global rankings are a few but not all indicators. Not all Universities are good at all courses. Similarly a University may have a high global ranking but may not necessarily have the best faculty or modules to offer for the subject you want to specialize in. It is advisable to start your research by visiting every potential University’s official website and browse through their faculties, module structure and last but definitely not the least examination pattern. See what suits you the best and prepare an initial list accordingly.

Having said that, it is also necessary to note that many Universities offer a general LLM program wherein you are not bound by the number of subjects in a particular area of law you are expected to take.

Module selection

This is more or less in furtherance of the above mentioned discussion. Researching on what kind of modules you would like to study is of utmost importance when it comes to finalizing the University you would like to apply to. Getting to choose your own list of modules is one of the best parts about foreign LLMs. So if my specialization is Intellectual Property & Technology law, I have also opted for a completely different module titled ‘Climate Change Law’. Additionally, you are given an opportunity to audit a module. Auditing a module would mean you are allowed to attend lectures but you will not be given credits for the same. The same comes handy given LLM courses are very short and an ideal candidate would want to make the most of the various courses offered in the given limited time and credits.

Some Universities have modules which require moot courts and practical exercises like mediation or mock arbitration (as per the field of law) in order to complete the credit requirements. Other universities like National University of Singapore have pro bono services running, wherein students are required to visit NGOs and self-help organizations to provide them with legal advice. Students are given modular credits for the same. Some universities follow the concept of intensives courses, wherein visiting faculties/practitioners/experts from other renowned Universities and Law Schools in the particular study of law visit for a short duration to take a rigorous course on a tight schedule (hence the name intensive). NUS also offers the Directed Research module which requires students to complete an 8,000 word research paper under a supervisor.

As far as UK law schools are particularly concerned, universities usually prefer the traditional pen paper examination for as much as 70 % of total weightage of marks. Some universities like King’s College London require students to complete a writing project (anything from 10,000 words to 15,000 words with varying credits) and undertake coursework for optional modules. On the other hand Queen Mary University of London assesses students by a mixture of formal examinations and coursework in taught modules in addition to more self-directed work in completing their respective dissertations (restricted to 10,000 words).

These details will always be listed out on the official websites and chances are that you may blink and miss them, due to which every other foreign LLM blog out there emphasises on good research before the commencement of the actual application.

Talk!

Above anything and everything else, talking to as many people as possible is something which you cannot ignore. Talk to current students in universities you are aiming for. They are the best source to understand the situation as far as applications and after course life is concerned. Ask questions, but only after doing your reasonable homework. Nobody may be interested in answering basic questions like the documentation requirement for application purposes. That kind of information is just a click away and is everywhere. If somebody has agreed to answer your queries, use that opportunity wisely to answer smart and intelligent questions. Fostering relationships go a long way, especially in the legal field which is a very close knit community.


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