Akash Srivastava on pursuing LL.M. in International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution from National University of Singapore

1. Please introduce yourself, your area of interest and LLM programme that you are currently pursuing.
I am Akash Srivastava, a 2016 graduate of Nirma University and an India-qualified lawyer. In July 2020, I will be graduating with a Master’s degree in International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution from the National University of Singapore.

I have an unceasing interest in international arbitration and dispute resolution, which peaked even before I was halfway through law school. Determined to forge a career in this field, I got involved in conferences, workshops and seminars organised by the likes of Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (India) and Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution, Mumbai. In further pursuance of this interest, I conducted research and undertook weighty internships throughout the five years of law school, and graduated with First Class Honours and a Distinction.

After graduating from law school, I worked for 3 years in the High Court, dealing in service law and arbitration-related matters. Once I had enough experience drafting and arguing matters at length, I recognized the importance of obtaining a Master’s degree in my area of interest. I knew that the top two universities offering arbitration and dispute resolution courses, with impeccable course-structures and world-renowned professors, were the National University of Singapore (‘NUS’) and the Geneva Center for International Dispute Settlement. Despite the latter being a reputable university, I never intended to study in Europe. As such, I only applied to NUS. However, because the chances of getting into NUS were slim, I also applied to universities in the United States, like NYU, Berkeley, UCLA,
USC. Even though their arbitration courses were not as highly rated, they were internationally recognised as top universities. I was fortunate to receive offers from all the US universities I applied to, but as soon as I received NUS’ offer, there was no looking back.

2. Can you share your ideas on how one should shape their profile during law school for higher studies from some of the world’s top universities?
Your profile should be tailored to reflect your interest in the field of law you want to pursue your higher studies in. If possible, your internships, publications, presentations and other curricular activities should be in your area of interest. This may be difficult to do in the early years of law school, because it is prudent to explore various areas of law in order to find your passion.

Therefore, my advice is to use the first two years of law school to explore the law, and use the remaining time to channel your energy in constructing a robust profile that will showcase your  dedication to work in that particular field.

3. What motivated you to pursue LLM in the chosen field of law? Any major hurdles you had to overcome?
I chose to pursue an LL.M. in international arbitration and dispute resolution because the field requires exposure. The LL.M. at NUS would allow me to learn in-depth about arbitration, be taught by some of the world’s most eminent practitioners in the field, and attend various networking events. I was certain that all of these elements combined would help propel me to the next stage of my career in this field.

One of the hurdles I personally had to overcome was leaving a stable work-life. It is far more difficult than it sounds to leave a job and uproot your entire life to move to another country for a year, to pursue education once again. However, after having weighed the pros and cons of pursuing an LL.M., I reached a decision that weighed substantially in favour of pursuing the degree.

In hindsight, this may be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have learnt and grown so much in such a short period of time, and this LL.M. will undoubtedly have a significant impact on my career.

4. According to you whether one should have any prior work experience before going for LLM or should they go directly after completing law school?
It’s up to the applicant. Having work experience might give your application a competitive edge, but you have as good a chance of receiving an offer being a fresh graduate if your academic credentials are up to the standard required by the university you are applying to.

Having said that, I personally believe that there are certain benefits to working for a few years before pursing your Master’s degree, which impacts not the strength of the application, but your career. You are able to approach the theories taught in a classroom with a more critical eye based on your practical experience in the field and you would be sure that the area you are pursuing a Master’s in, is the area you would like to develop a career in. Furthermore, you would be able to finance your studies, or at least part of it, from your savings.

5. When is the ideal time to set your mind on pursuing LLM? How did you decide on the college?
There is no ‘ideal’ time. Many people oftentimes feel the need to gain practical experience before going for a Master’s degree, because they believe it provides a certain perspective and clarity. Accordingly, if you want to work before pursuing an LL.M., that is perfectly fine, and is actually more common than we believe it to be. If you want to pursue an LL.M. straight after law school, maybe because you believe it’ll make your job applications in the future more appealing, that is fine too. It completely depends on you.

I’ve addressed my decision regarding my university in Answer 1.

6. Tell us something about the timeline of the application and the commitment it requires?
Apply early. Even though applying late may not necessarily hamper your chances of getting in, applying early increases the chances of receiving an early offer.

Ideally, applicants should start preparing six months before the deadline. This will involve tailoring their CV, writing their personal statement, and approaching professors and/or employers for recommendation letters. The later they start, the more difficult it becomes to get everything done up to the quality required, and collect all the relevant documents in time.

The commitment required is directly proportional to the number of universities they are applying to and the countries where these universities are located. For example, in Singapore, you need to apply and send the relevant documents to each university separately, but in the US, you send the relevant documents to the Law School Admissions Council (‘LSAC’), an organisation that collects, analyses and sends your application to your selected universities in the US. In any case, your personal statement should be tailored according to the university you’re applying to and therefore, the more universities you apply to, the more time it will take.

During this whole process, the most challenging period will be the wait for your results, as different universities have different timelines for giving offers. Be patient.

7. What should be kept in mind while writing SOPS, essays etc.? What according to you made your application stand out?
There are two main things to bear in mind. Firstly, my rule of thumb is to not look at samples of personal statements online. This will heavily influence your own personal statement, and affect its originality and uniqueness. These elements are key for personal statements; which is undoubtedly the most important document in your application.
Secondly, do not simply reproduce the contents of your CV in your statement, instead, write about how the specific course will advance your career, and how you can contribute to that particular university.

As for my application, frankly, I cannot speculate as to what made my application stand out, but I do know that I tried to design my personal statement to be as unique as possible, and give the most apt description of why I want to pursue the course.

8. Not quite related to the LLM, but how do you think Indian Law Schools can better equip their graduates to compete and excel on a global scale?
I believe one of the most important changes Indian Law Schools should implement, if possible, is to provide exchange programs with universities abroad, and training and internship opportunities with international law firms outside the country. These sorts of programs can provide students with an international perspective of the law. It is perfectly understandable that this is easier said than done, but the marked success of Indian Law Schools in international mooting competitions is a sign that this change will be an improvement to the current system.

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