A Preliminary Guide To Higher Legal Education

A career in law opens many doors for aspirants in various industries such as healthcare, corporate, technology, real estate, entertainment, and many others. However, most Indian law students are asked to choose between the two most common career paths i.e., corporate job and litigation. As a result, they often end up limiting their growth and career opportunities. On the other hand, with the growing significance of pursuing higher legal education, there are some students who wish to pursue a master’s degree in Law, either in India or abroad. Some prefer to do it right after completing their first law degree while some do it after gaining two to five years of professional experience. In either case, there is no age bar to pursue higher legal education. But, unfortunately, due to absence of proper counsel, most of them fail to research when deciding on a place of study, university and most importantly area of specialisation (AoS).

A practical approach while choosing a country for studying abroad is to research its job market. This means that your country of choice should give you value in return; in terms of how it is perceived and ranked in the global legal job market.
In India, the pre-requisite to do an LL.M. is either taking the Common Law Admissions Test (CLAT) for the National Law Universities, the Symbiosis Entrance Exam for Symbiosis colleges across the country or the LSAT—India in case you wish to take admission in a LSAC Global Law Alliance College. In addition to that, it also requires a lot of time to choose a university because it may not offer an LL.M. in the area of specialisation that you are interested in. Also, if you intend to work in the same location as your LL.M. University, then that factor also leads to the question – Where would you be comfortable doing a job?

So, the first step is to choose an area of specialization and the country, and then shortlist universities based on the same, then, the next steps include understanding the application requirements, keeping a check on important dates, preparing necessary documents and the final step is completing the application process. This process is similar in most of the countries. 

Here are some general steps to follow to choose the right LL.M. program for you: -

I.    Why an LL.M.?
List your reasons to pursue an LL.M. or any other post-graduate law degree.

II.    Area of Specialisation (AoS) and shortlisting universities:
Choose an area of law that interests you and then extensively research on the universities that are renowned for offering a course on it. Moreover, it is advisable to read about the university, alumni activities, faculty directory etc. while shortlisting universities.

III.    Country (exclusively abroad, within India or both):
An LL.M. in India can certainly boost your profile. Job opportunities with MNCs, multi-national law firms and academia are a preferable option, if you have an LL.M. Nonetheless, research in this regard would make you better informed about opportunities both within and outside India. LL.M. in abroad, can open doors for job opportunities in the respective domestic job market. For e.g. an LL.M. in Europe puts you in a better position to be hired by EU establishments, companies, law firms etc. If this is what you wish to do, then additional research will provide you with the necessary tools to make an informed decision while choosing the right country for you.

IV.    Research:
In Europe, in addition to LL.M., an LL.M. Eur (Master of European Law) program is also offered by many European universities. This program is suitable for candidates looking to work in EU or European established institutions and even some international law firms because it also has an international focus. So, pursuing an LL.M. Eur can be a good option for higher education. Similarly, in the UK, France, Portugal, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Singapore and Australia, there are various LL.M. programs, and each have their own requirements. In the US and Canada, there is the J.D. program or the Juris Doctor degree which is a graduate-level law program offered for the purpose of practicing law within the United States. It is a foundational degree in law much like L.L.B. in India. However, you would need to have completed a bachelor’s degree to pursue a J.D. degree.

It is also essential that you research on application requirements of your shortlisted universities. Often, these requirements vary from university to university right from application deadlines, supporting documents to acceptable English proficiency test (IELTS or TOEFL).

V.    Organizing information:
Make a spread sheet for all the universities that you have found, in rows and their costs, location, scholarships, application deadline, job employment statistics and other program requirements in columns (this would be provided on the university’s website for each respective program). If it is a different program than the LL.M., then you must make a separate sheet for universities that offer that program, and it can also incorporate universities from different countries.
This is an efficient and a much easier way to go about organizing your research data than just having long paragraphs written on them.

VI.    Build your Resume:
What does each university require for their respective LL.M. or post-graduate law program? Every law student that I know, talks about having accomplishments on their resumes to stand out. But what are those accomplishments?
Well, it can include in the following way –

  • Extra-Curricular Activities: Music, Sports etc.
  • Co-Curricular Activities: This includes Debates, Moot Court competitions, workshops or seminars that add value to your legal education in a meaningful way.
  • Internship Experience: Interning with law firms or just having relevant work experience in your AoS helps in making you stand apart in your resume; if you are undecided on choosing an AoS, then just showing research, writing, communication and drafting skills through your internship experience and co-curricular activities is equally commendable.
  • Publications: If they are relevant to your AoS or just law in general, then having publications in reputed law journals shows that you have the writing skills that every lawyer needs.

For foreign universities, the application requirements for a respective program, including the Statement of Purpose, are listed on their official websites.

A statement of purpose is a short essay that highlights your educational background, academic and other curricular achievements, and goals. The essay gives an overview of your personality which helps the admissions panel at the university of your choice, to determine whether you are a good fit for the program and the university culture. You can start by introducing yourself and what you are hoping to achieve by writing this essay, in the first paragraph. Then, focus on what inspires you to pursue law and the reason for choosing the respective program. Next, you can talk about the contributions you would like to bring to the field by highlighting your achievements and what skills or lessons you learned from them. After that, you must tell them why you chose this program and this university and how you intend to derive value from it. Finally, in the last paragraph, you must indicate a career path of how this program will help you in achieving your goals.

VII.    Funds/Scholarships:
Scholarships and educational grants are available as an option if you do not have the financial means to pay for your education. Every university website has its own dedicated page giving you information about their scholarship programs, eligibility criteria, etc.

The Indian government also provides for scholarships to study for an LL.M. abroad but, most of them require you to come back to India after finishing your study.
While all of this may sound complicated, it ceases to be once you start your application process.  When that happens, you will have the opportunity to have direct communication with university officials and they will guide you through the process if you need assistance.

VIII.    Application Process:
After you are thorough with the research on area of specialization, destination universities, scholarship and application requirements, the final step would be successfully submitting your documents within mentioned deadlines. It is important to check for any latest updates on the destination university’s website.

These are some steps that you must follow if you decide to pursue an LL.M., a J.D., or any other post-graduate degree. The most essential aspect of your higher legal education journey is research. Once you do get accepted into a university, you should research about the alumni and their experience study in the university and then transitioning into the professional world. All of this is important because as a lawyer, your research skills help you distinguish yourself from countless other legal professionals.