Akshay Aurora on pursuing Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto

Mr. Akshay Aurora is a graduate from GLC Mumbai(Batch of 2017), post which he worked as an associate at Trilegal. Currently he is pursuing his JD from York University- Osgoode Hall Law School, Canada and is an intern at United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. He has been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Anjali Kumari who is currently pursuing her law from GLC Mumbai. 

1.Hey Akshay, thanks for agreeing for the interview. Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Well, my name’s Akshay. From a professional perspective, I’m a lawyer qualified to practice in India, and I’m currently pursuing a Juris Doctor at Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto. While my degree isn’t a focused one, I specialise in public law (both international and domestic) and constitutional law.

2. Can you tell us about your experience at GLC, Mumbai.

GLC was an interesting experience. From an academic perspective, GLC has some of the most brilliant professors I’ve interacted with – Professors Daswani, Pithawala, Shroff to name a few. Unfortunately, GLC is restrained by the pedagogy and assessment methodologies of the University of Mumbai, which focus on memory rather than the application of the law.

That being said, the absence of academic rigour at GLC gave me the time to pursue a number of opportunities to do a variety of things with my time. I spent a lot of my time at GLC participating in moot court competitions – I did the Jessup cup, and the DM Harish moot, and two others. I spent some time doing research and getting published (Fun fact: SCC published my first paper!). And like everyone at GLC, I also worked extensively, one of my student positions stretched over a year (with breaks of course). When you go to GLC, you’ll hear the classic “GLC is a buffet” line at least once, and it’s true – you can pick and choose whatever you’d like to make of your five years, all you need is the initiative.

3. You were an associate with Trilegal, then what made you quit your job and pursue JD in Canada?

While I loved working at Trilegal, I realised that I wanted to focus my energy on working in international law or some sort of public law. I realised that my opportunities to do this in India were severely limited. At the time of applying to law school, I was very interested in pursuing a career in refugee law, something that Canada is celebrated for internationally, this was also a major consideration for me.

Moreover, I was quite disheartened by the nature of practice in India – the deification of judges and senior lawyers, the delays, the red tape, it made me fairly disillusioned. I decided to move to Canada, so I could continue to be part of the English-speaking, common law world, but at the same time have the opportunity to explore and have tangible job opportunities in fields that I was interested in.

4. Please share your journey at Osgoode Hall Law School so far. How did you apply and what is the screening process?

Osgoode has been the most brilliant academic experience I’ve ever had. I’m now entering my final year, and I’m already pretty bummed out this journey’s coming to an end!

At Osgoode, I have the flexibility to pick and choose courses I like, with the exception of certain mandatory courses. This past term, I chose not to study in school, but work for the UN instead, and received credit for doing so! In a nutshell, Osgoode has let me do whatever it is I want to do with my law degree. I’ve also engaged myself in student politics, and I am the Chair of Osgoode’s Student Caucus.

I must say, though, that it wasn’t always this easy. Being a qualified lawyer and being treated like a first-year at law school was certainly hard. What was harder was adjusting to a whole new pedagogy and perspective of looking at the law. There is a uniquely Canadian perspective to approaching the law, with a heavy emphasis on social justice and a court’s equity jurisdiction, and it took me some time to adjust to this.

Coming to your application package – your JD application package will have the following things.

  1. Your LSAT score: While there isn’t a “cut-off” or a “rank-list”, your score helps you understand what schools you have a better shot of getting into, and is also something that admissions committees take into consideration.
  2. Your GPA: Students in India will have to get their credentials converted, through LSAC (for America) or WES (for Canada).
  3. Your personal statement: This is probably the most essential component of your package, in my opinion, especially if you’re doing a JD after an LLB. There needs to be a good cause for you to be doing law school again, and more specifically, at this school, in this country.
  4. Letters of Recommendation: People will often chase bigger names when trying to get their letters, but I don’t think this strategy is useful. My suggestion is to go for professors, employers who know you very well, who will talk about you in a personal tone. Admissions committees see thousands of “template” letters of recommendation, they can differentiate between a genuine one and a template.

5. How is a JD different from LLM and why did you opt for the former over the latter?

A JD is a first degree in law, but unlike in India, you can only enroll in a JD program in Canada and the USA after you’ve graduated from your Bachelors. An LLM is a second degree in law, once you’ve finished your JD. An LLM is viewed more as a stepping stone to academia (generally followed by a PhD) or a way to specialise in a niche field of law. The purpose of the LLM, then, is very different from a JD.

A JD is aimed at building a strong foundation in the law with core subjects like Contracts, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law etc. The JD program is the feeder to the legal job market and has a “practice-ready” component to it. For example, Osgoode has a bunch of “praxicum” courses such as Trial Advocacy or Advocacy at the International Criminal Court, which aim at equipping you with skills you’ll need out in the field. An LLM, on the other hand, is more theoretical.

I chose the JD because I wanted to practice law in Canada, and specifically practice as a barrister in Canada. I thought to myself – if it took my 5 years to receive a well-rounded legal education in India, on what basis could I study Canadian law for 10 months and think I’d be able to have the same depth of understanding? I also didn’t want to be disadvantaged when it came to hiring – in a contest between a JD student and an LLM student for the same jobs, all other things being equal, the JD student would triumph.

My choice was validated on several occasions during our recruitment process, where several large firms agreed that doing the JD was a better decision than doing the NCA qualification exams (another way to get licensed in Canada) or a 10-month LLM in Canadian law – it is much easier for employers to be sure of the person they’re hiring when they know the degree themselves! Moreover, there are limited entry points into the Canadian legal market – the 2nd year summer job recruit, and the 3rd year articling recruit. Outside these recruits, it is hard (though not impossible) to find an entry-point to the best firms, government offices or in-house legal teams. Lastly, having three years gives you the time to build connections and network, essential elements of a Canadian legal career.

6. How did you grab an internship at United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunal and what sort of exposure are you getting there.

Osgoode runs a program called the “International and Transnational Law Intensive Program”, which essentially allows you to work in the field of international law and receive academic credit for it (instead of doing a semester at school). My professors recommended working at the former-ICTR, but I wasn’t comfortable living in Tanzania. I applied to The Hague instead, which is the former-ICTY (both the ICTY and ICTR are now called the IRMCT.). I applied through the UN jobs portal (fair warning, the portal is really painful to navigate through). Soon enough, I was moving to The Hague!

Working at the ICTY was arguably the best legal experience I’ve ever had. I’ve worked with international law extensively and being a part of what is, in my opinion, one of the most impactful international tribunals in the world was a dream come true. I work with the Trial Division, in the Office of the Prosecutor, which is currently undertaking the prosecution of Jovica Staniši?; Franko Simatovi?. My work includes preparing for defence witnesses, research, consolidation of evidence, testimony analyses and several other tasks.

7. What are your future plans and where do you see yourself post completing your JD i.e. in the year 2021.

I will be joining McCarthy Tétrault LLP’s litigation team in June as a summer student. Traditionally summer students go on to join the same firm once they graduate as well. Hopefully, that’ll continue to be true.

8. Finally any advice for our readers.

Think out of the box. Your options are far from limited and do what you think is best for you. Several people told me doing the JD was a terrible idea, or that moving to Canada was a terrible idea, but I couldn’t be happier, and I’m glad I didn’t listen to anyone.

Don’t chase a prestigious law school just because it has a fancy name, having a reputed name does not mean having a reputed program – especially if you’re interested in a specific area of law.

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