Please tell us about yourself

First Person Accounts (FPA’s) are meant to provide a first-hand account of Indian law graduates who have pursued, or are currently pursuing, a post-graduate course (be it an LLM or otherwise) from different schools across the world.

In this FPA, I speak with Ankit Sharma who is currently pursuing an LLM at Cornell Law School. A graduate of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (Class of ’15), Ankit worked as a litigating lawyers for close to three years before deciding to embark on a post-graduate degree.

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What prompted you to consider an LLM after you had began working? Did you ever consider an LLM fresh out of your undergraduate course?

Being a first-generation lawyer with aspirations of building a career in litigation, I never thought of pursuing LL.M when I first graduated. I focused only on gaining practical knowledge and networking. However, after I started practising as a lawyer before High Court of Delhi and various Arbitral tribunals, I realised that the field of International Commercial Arbitration in India is still untapped and developing.

Therefore, I saw an opportunity to gain specialisation in the field and later use the skill-set in my home country.

How did you go about course selection? Why did you narrow down on Cornell? 

I took the decision to pursue LL.M after performing rigorous research and talking to LL.M alumnus. Keeping in mind the competitive legal market, it was important for me to gain specialisation and enhanced knowledge and therefore, I took the decision to pursue a degree in Master of Laws.

I received acceptance letters from University of California, Berkeley, and North-western and was waitlisted by the University of Virginia and NYU School of Law. Also, another factor that made me choose Cornell was that it had one of the lowest rate of acceptance, thereby, ensuring only the best candidates are admitted.

I specifically chose Cornell because it offers a tailor-made degree program in which the student has the leverage to assemble his course subjects and choose preferable electives. Cornell also has a smaller batch sizes with the best students in the world, being part of which is an opportunity in itself. Moreover, being an Ivy League college, Cornell is recognised world-wide and is renowned around the world including India.

“I specifically chose Cornell because it offers a tailor-made degree program in which the student has the leverage to assemble his course subjects and choose preferable electives.”

Did you apply for financial aid of any kind?

Yes, I had applied for financial aid in Northwestern and Cornell University along with that I had sent my application to Aga Khan Foundation.

I was able to receive $10,000 Fellowship from Northwestern University but was unable to get financial support from Cornell University or the Aga Khan Foundation.

In your opinion, how much time one should devote to the application process? Also, any advice on how to go about writing the statement of interest?

I think a prospective student should at least put in six months towards the admission application as it involves thorough research and several technicalities.

The Statement of Interest or Statement of Purpose is the most important step in an admission application. The SoP is an opportunity for a student to highlight additional information about his/her career which is not available in the Cover Letter or Resume. Hence, a student should begin the statement by his early childhood which would include his schooling and achievements in school. Thereafter, the statement should talk about the personal background of the applicant and describe what lead the applicant to choose law as a career field.

The applicant should describe why he likes a particular institution as compared to the other and how his skill-set would benefit the institution. The applicant should also very briefly explain his career objective and how it is linked with attaining higher education.

“The applicant should describe why he likes a particular institution as compared to the other and how his skill-set would benefit the institution. The applicant should also very briefly explain his career objective and how it is linked with attaining higher education.”

How has the LLM experience been thus far? 

The LL.M has been one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve had so far in my life. The educational system at Cornell is entirely different to what I had experience in India. The huge number of different courses that are offered by Cornell in both Fall and Spring semesters allow you to make your degree diverse by choosing a range of subjects.

My degree focus in the Fall Semester was on Alternate Dispute Resolution.

I had opted for subjects like International Commercial Arbitration, Advanced Issues in Mediation and Negotiation and Facilitation Seminars. Whereas in the spring semester, in order to increase my forte, I am studying more of corporate subjects Global M&A, International Laws and FDI, Venture Capital along with the art of Negotiation in business and sports.

Furthermore, the experience of being taught by some of the best professors in the world like Prof. John J. Barcelo III, Prof. Rocco Scanza, Prof. Muna B Ndulo and Prof. Michael L. Huyghue is remarkable.

I also have a deep interest in extra-curricular activities, and in the very beginning of the Semester, I was elected as the Secretary, LL.M Association and the Director of ADR Society which has been pleasantly overwhelming. Moreover, the knowledge gained by studying from the best professors in the world is something I will put to use for the rest of my life.

All in all, I would say that the LL.M experience is unparalleled and unmatched.

Lastly, any advice you would have for Indian law graduates looking to apply for an LLM abroad?

My advice for Indian law graduates would be to do thorough research before applying. Often there are large majority of students who wish to build a career in the country from where they pursued a master’s degree. However, in my experience, I have come across many students and alums who did not have the requisite information about the country of education, their work permits and also job prospects. Hence, it is my opinion that making an informed decision is better than a wrong decision.

Moreover, prospective students are often confused and face questions like does a foreign degree provide them better opportunities than an Indian degree? In fact, I was posed with the same issue during the time of admission.

My answer to this question would be Yes! Having attained a foreign degree not just builds your confidence and resume but also provides the student an edge amongst peers who have an Indian master’s degree. Some of the reasons for this are that firstly, pursuing a foreign degree is the first step towards entering a global employment market.

“Having attained a foreign degree not just builds your confidence and resume but also provides the student an edge amongst peers who have an Indian master’s degree.”

If a student pursues his/her master’s degree from a reputable university, then it is not only recognized in India or the country of education but all around the world. Secondly, often there are a lot of specialisations or courses that are offered by foreign universities which are not available in India.

Lastly, the professor and the teaching faculty at such institutions are world leaders in the field and are not restricted to a particular country. Therefore, to all the aspirants, I would say that despite the employment market facing a downfall, pursuing education goes a long way and has no downfalls!