Foreign Master Degree
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This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.

Once I was talking to a former student, who had by then a partner at a mid-sized law firm (yes, I have been doing this for the last 10 years, so some of my students have now made partners or have their own thriving law firms).

So this guy called me to ask if it makes sense for him to go and do an LLM or MBA. He had offers from multiple universities across the world. The one he was considering at the moment was an LLM from NUS. He had an interest in spending some time in Singapore because it may help him to build a network there and get some clients. 

Wonderful, but we should get down to the brass tacks. What is the cost of the course? INR 60 lakhs including reasonable living expenses for a year. Since he was on the other side of 30, he didn’t qualify for any substantial scholarship. 

He had the savings. 60 lakhs wasn’t a problem, especially because his annual income was over 50 lakhs at that point.

Wonderful. So your actual cost for taking one year off and studying LLM is around 1.1 Cr. What are the returns? I asked.

Networking with potential clients in Singapore. Great. But if you have a budget like this, do you really need to go to NUS for that networking? Leaving your work for a year? Would you even have enough time to network given that you will be busy with coursework?

What is in it for you?

Would the education you receive in the university make you a better lawyer? Are you convinced about that?

Will this result in you being able to charge higher rates to your clients? Can you get more salary from your firm?

The answers were in the negative. There was no certainty of any such thing.

If the objective is networking, what could be other ways to achieve that? Given that you are ready to put in a year and 1.1 Cr into building your brand, what would be the best use of that time and money? 

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Hiring research associates and writing a book or two that will resonate with potential clients? Distributing a thousand copies of that book to the Legal Heads of companies you want to impress?

Engaging a PR agent? A top PR agent would cost 6 lakhs a year and get you tons of coverage, speaking engagements. Why not get one?

How many trips to Singapore and maybe even organizing events would be possible in that budget? How many one-on-one meetings with prospective clients or law firms that could refer work? 

For 1.1 Cr you may even be able to open a small office in Singapore or find a best friend law firm to refer matters to. In that budget, I can create an amazing targeted blog with the best Singapore law content that would attract all of Singapore’s lawyers on a regular basis to read my content.

For 1.1 Cr he can certainly start his own law firm in a metro in India with style and resources that can help him to triple or quadruple his income in a few years.

It is safe to say that my former student was mindblown. He did not go for that LLM. He went to Harvard later, with a partial scholarship, after spending some money on improving his profile. He wrote that book, for instance.

Do not get me wrong. I am not against anyone doing foreign LLMs or MBA. I just want you to be mindful of your return on investment. What are you paying for? What is the game here? What are you expecting to get in return? Are those things aligned?

If yes, by all means, jump into getting that LLM. or MBA. Or whatever expensive degree you are aiming at. 

Sometimes it is beyond calculations, and I respect that too. For a lot of Indian lawyers, getting a degree from Oxbridge or Harvard is a matter of prestige or even family legacy. 

Sometimes it is truly about being a part of an amazing academic environment where you can elevate your own intellectual, social or other abilities. For some people, the dream of going to one of the world’s top universities is priceless and almost magical.

Just mind the bill that you are paying for it, and also the alternatives available. Never forget that there is an opportunity cost to everything. The popular options are often far more crowded, often subpar and usually not worth the hype. 

Like Christmas, Diwali or Durga Puja. You expect it to be life-changing, and while there is a lot of pomp and promises in the air, it rarely really touches you or brings the unbounded joy and celebration as we expect.

There is no fairy dust in a university degree that would really change your life. At the end of it all, you will find yourself back into the struggle on self-development, trying to move forward in life one step at a time.

However, I have seen some of my friends and later, students, pursue their master’s degrees with very specific purposes and achieve exactly those. Working in top international law firms, jobs at the UN, teaching in foreign universities of global repute – people have gone on to achieve great things at a global scale that would not have been possible without those degrees.

It has been my dream to study at Stanford or Harvard someday. However, I have a bigger commitment here at LawSikho that I cannot leave to pursue that dream. It is important to focus on what is truly important to us at this stage of our life. 

Are you clear about how you are going to take maximum advantage of your master’s degree if you ever went for it? Respond and share your ideas with me.

Takeaways:

  • Calculate your opportunity cost. What is your objective and what are the easiest and most certain ways to get there?
  • If you are going to do an LLM or MBA, remember that time will fly once you are on that journey. It may be the most expensive year of your life, so plan on what you are going to do and how exactly it will work out for you. Don’t just be sentimental and expect things to work out just because you are going to a great university.
  • Dreams need to be aligned with reality with careful adjustments. Steer clear of the hype.

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