All about an LLM – Part II
Merely possessing an LLM from abroad does not guarantee success in the Indian legal market. LLM aspirants should appreciate that in addition to an LLM degree, their work experience and educational credentials prior to the LLM play a crucial role in getting the desired opening. From an Indian law firm perspective, a foreign LLM degree may not help if you choose to come back to India immediately after the LLM program. A foreign LLM will be useful if it is coupled with work experience from an international law firm. A decade ago a foreign LLM was considered unique. But today a stand-alone LLM degree is not enough. In order to fully capitalize on the LLM, gaining admission to the Bar in the country from where the LLM degree has been obtained is strongly advised. Further, for those interested in the practice of law (litigation), pursuing an LLM from abroad is neither appealing nor a feasible option. The reason is that a good litigator needs to learn court-craft, argument and presentation skills, and these are skills which an LLM does not in particular focus on.
Breaking into foreign market not easy
Of late law schools of US, UK and Australia have become aggressive in recruiting LLM students from abroad, including India. Some law schools/colleges also try to convince the foreign students that jobs would be available in those countries once they complete the degree. A word of caution! Foreign LLM students face stiff competition in the foreign market as they compete with students who have obtained their first degree in law (equivalent of LLB) from that country. Unless foreign students find an opening which allows them to leverage their specific skills, the foreign LLM students are at a disadvantage when looking for jobs in the foreign jurisdiction. When it comes to finding a job in a foreign jurisdiction, an LLM from US coupled with New York Bar admission is much sought after amongst US law firms as well as those based in the Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore etc.
Those who have obtained a foreign LLM will tell you that taking a huge students’ loan is not the best way to finance an LLM. Reason is that in India student loans come with high interest unlike UK and USA. Besides, most banks require a collateral security and a third party guarantee. If you cannot finance your studies, then avoid bank loans. Instead, apply for all the available scholarships and take soft loans from family and friends. You will still pay off the loan but with zero interest and after you get a job.
Here are some pointers for financing an LLM:
- If you have a scholarship and need to take a small amount of loan, then it would be worthwhile to pursue the LLM.
- If you are planning on taking a big loan, then ensure that you have acquired substantial and specialized work experience in India before going for the LLM. This would help you to pay off the loan. With none or lesser work experience, it will be difficult to bear a huge loan especially after you return to India. The reason being that your pay package after the LLM will not increase dramatically. Also taking a big loan on the basis that you would get a job in the foreign jurisdiction is not wise since the risks involved are huge.
- If you are taking a loan and have family funds to pay off the loan easily, then you can consider doing the foreign LLM.
- If the financing aspect has not been sorted at your end, you could inform the law school and defer/ postpone your admission by one year. This would give you time to arrange your finances without losing your admission seat.
US or UK LLM
In US, an LLM degree is a rigorous one-year program. The thrust of an advanced degree in law is on thorough understanding of the nuances of law and its practice. Students are assigned readings prior to each lecture and are expected to have read and understood the assignment before the class. There is considerable amount of interaction as well with Professors calling upon students randomly and questioning them on the assigned readings. This “Socratic Method”, is followed by nearly every law school in US. An LLM from a university in UK can also be completed in one year. In the UK too, the LLM program is rigorous, taught in a variety of formats, including seminars, lectures and tutorials wherein students are expected to undertake assignments individually and in groups. Notably, the LLM programmes of most colleges of London University are taught by eminent academics and practitioners, offering an interdisciplinary approach.
From the employment perspective, students have often experienced that their options in UK post the LLM can be limited. Moreover, since UK has always had stricter immigration laws, Indian law students tend to prefer US over UK when it comes to pursuing an LLM. Having said that, with the recent downturn in the US economy, job opportunities have greatly reduced for foreign students as many employers are no longer willing to sponsor an H1B (work) visa, due to the added cost. And so now-a- days the decision of Indian law students to pursue an LLM tends to be based on whether it will add to their profile and knowledge base in a way that it improves their employment prospects in India.
Indian LLM: To Do or Not To Do
It has long been felt that for law firms an LLM from India is not a preferred qualification. Some say this might be so because Indian LLM programs are not geared or oriented towards a career in law firms and are more suited for those who are keen on academics. Although recently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has introduced one-year LLM programme in Indian universities from academic year 2013-14, it is feared that this move may dilute quality of the post graduate programme in the country. As far as the quality of curriculum and instruction is concerned, law schools admit that Indian LLM programs need to be more industry-oriented offering a more 'hands-on' or practical approach so that the value and the demand for an Indian LLM increases. Reportedly, miniscule percentage of the last few batches of LLM graduates from some of India’s top national law school secured jobs in top tier law firms and the majority had to opt for career in academics.
Ultimately, why one wants to do an LLM is a matter of personal choice. You may want to go abroad, or you may want to specialise in a specific subject, or you may choose to not pursue an LLM. Any which way, be sure to make an informed choice.
Richa Kachhwaha is Managing Editor at Live Law and you can follow her on Twitter.