Ms Rakshita Agarwal is currently pursuing Master of Laws (LLM) degree from the University of Cambridge. She graduated from National Law University Odisha (NLUO) in 2020 at the top of her class. She has been awarded seven university gold medals by NLUO in recognition of her academic performance. In the wake of COVID-19, she initiated the M.P. Migrant Workers Project focusing on the livelihood of returned migrant workers in COVID context.
She has been interviewed by Toshika Soni, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from NLUO.
1. How did you get interested in the field of international law?
I have always been interested in international relations and followed world politics closely even before entering law school. My first formal encounter with public international law as an academic discipline was when I participated in the 18th DM Harish Memorial GLC International Moot Court Competition. I still remember looking at Malcolm Shaw’s International Law textbook for the first time and being intimidated. But as I read along, I fell in love with the subject.
I then read public international law as a mandatory course in college which piqued my interest further. During my undergraduate studies, I tried to get a glimpse of as many branches of international law as possible – human rights law, trade law, investment law, refugee law, environmental law. This really helped me narrow down my interests while applying for my masters.
2. What do you think is the scope of an Indian student looking to pursue international law in their education and further, as a profession?
In my opinion, international law offers ample career choices provided you have some idea as to what you want to do and are interested in the type of work it entails. It is important to understand that public international law is a broad field in itself which primarily only gives an overview of the international legal system. At the postgraduate level, you are required to identify and specialise in specific branches of this broad field. You get to choose from a number of options, such as international environmental law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international trade and development, international human rights law, amongst others. Each of these fields offer career opportunities of their own. Depending on your chosen fields, you can go on to work with inter-governmental organisations, NGOs, State Governments, consultancies, and even MNCs.
3. Can you please talk about your formative years at National Law University Odisha and more recently, about your time at the University of Cambridge?
The time I spent at NLUO is irreplaceable. The friendships, classroom discussions, juggling between committees’ works, and evening walks around campus have been the defining moments for me. NLUO gave me a lot more than just academics – I remember participating in the most random competitions in our fests and having the most fun. I was surrounded by brilliant people across batches achieving great things, and yet nobody seemed to be in a rush. The place definitely taught me the importance of taking things easy and striving for a balanced life.
So far as my time at the University of Cambridge is concerned, I am about to complete 3 months here and it has already been quite a journey. Classes are definitely demanding and there is a lot to do academically, but each moment spent here is so enriching. People may be doing similar courses, but their end goals are varied – this tells you so much about individual thought processes and outlook towards life, and of course the unending possibilities. Cambridge has a lot to offer – both inside and out of classrooms, and I just hope I am able to make the most of my time here.
4. How did you understand the nuances of the process of LLM applications? What advice would you like to impart with our readers about the same?
In my opinion, LLM applications are not very complex but they do require sincere thinking and patience. At the beginning of my LLM applications, I reached out to people (seniors and sometimes people I found through LinkedIn) who attended one of my target universities or pursued similar courses. This helped me gain clarity with respect to the basics – the colleges and courses I wanted to apply for. Once the universities are shortlisted, the next step is to go through their websites properly as each university’s application process and document requirement vary slightly. For instance, applicants are generally required to take language tests (TOEFL/IELTS) and even the number of letter of recommendations required vary from university to university. Once all the basics are figured out, the last step is to just get started with the form. During my application process, I reached out to people whenever I faced any difficulties and everyone was always very willing to help.
For prospective applicants, it is always advisable to start early so that they have sufficient time to plan their activities in alignment with the application requirement. Starting early also gives you the much needed time to really research and think whether you want to go for an LLM (which I think is the most important as your level of conviction is reflected in your application).
5. What was the vision behind the M.P. Migrant Workers’ Project and what role did you play?
The Madhya Pradesh Migrant Workers’ Project is extremely close to my heart. The sudden nationwide lockdown announced in India (in March 2020) and consequent disruption of transport facilities meant that a large number of migrant workers were stuck in different States, far away from their families. An overwhelming majority of these workers depend on daily wages earned and sudden shut down of industries also meant that they lost their means of income and livelihood. As you may remember, images of migrant workers walking miles in desperate attempts to reach their hometowns started surfacing the internet, and many of them even lost their lives on their way back. The worst part was denial of basic rights to these migrant workers by the Government, and that was the time I conceived the idea of this project.
I initiated the Madhya Pradesh Migrant Workers’ Project in August 2020. We were closely following the turn of events, and realised that failure to maintain proper records capturing movements within informal sectors was the primary reason behind this crisis. The aim of this project was to record the fact of Indian migrant crisis in concrete numbers, to ascertain the extent of State aid made available for the employment of returned workers and to demand adequate action at places where negligible action was taken. We also saw this report as a means of filling data gaps in relation to the conditions of migrant workers and assessing the viability and successful implementation of various government schemes launched. We released an executive summary of our findings in November 2020, which was covered by prominent platforms like The Hindu. Finally, in August 2021, we released the final version of our report highlighting the need for pressing reforms in labour law framework vis-à-vis migrant workers.
Leading this project gave me some hope and made me realise that people are really willing to help. I attribute this success to our excellent volunteer base – close to 70 people, of different age groups and from different parts of India, who worked pro bono for the cause.
6. What do you think is the importance of legal research and using the right tools? How can law students equip themselves to become good researchers?
I think good research skills are quintessential for every profession, and more so for lawyers. The legal field is unique as legal provisions are often open to multiple interpretations. Hence to be persuasive, law students must ensure that their arguments are well researched and backed by credible sources. To sieve out most relevant excerpts from an ocean of information is an art and we definitely need the right tools for it. Every law student must be comfortable using most basic tools like SCC Online, HeinOnline and JSTOR as these narrow down the research scope to a great extent. But as they say, there are no shortcuts to success. Quality research requires inquisitiveness, patience, and commitment.
7. What do you think admissions’ officers look for in an ideal applicant? How can one streamline their journey at law school to fit the box?
Having gone through the process myself, I can safely say that there is no such concept as an “ideal application” or an “ideal applicant”. Every applicant and their journey is unique, and that is what matters. However, the admissions office does look for coherence and purpose in the applications – where the applicant is coming from, what the applicant intends to achieve, what has the applicant already done and how this degree will help them in realising their goals. The important part is to be convincing and candid in your statement of purpose.
So far as streamlining one’s journey is considered, it is always a good idea to broadly identify subjects of interest and try engaging in relevant activities. This is a strong way of showcasing your genuine interest for a particular subject.
8. Being a Rank 1 holder from your batch, what advice do you have for law students struggling with ascertaining relative importance to academics, internships, co-curriculars, etc.?
I strongly believe that academics are extremely important and play a huge role, especially if you want to go for higher education. For starters, most of the top-ranked universities require their applicants to meet certain academic threshold to have their applications considered. Furthermore, for fresh graduates, academic performance continues to be the most widely followed criteria by recruiters (law firms and offices, research centres) while sifting through applications. Having a decent academic record is thus like a qualifier and definitely makes things easier in all respects.
Having said that, the importance of internships and co-curriculars cannot be undermined. While academics do take precedence, having a “well-rounded CV” is also a requirement. More than a requirement, I view internships, co-curriculars and extra-curriculars as important experiences that shape you as a person and help in demystifying goals. These experiences can be extremely fun and unwinding, provided they are chosen wisely.
9. What is your take on “exhaustion of research”? How can one deal with it?
I believe that there is no end to research – thanks to the extensive and easily accessible resources at our disposal. You can keep going on and on, and still not “exhaust” all resources. For practical purposes, considering most of the legal work is time sensitive, lawyers should focus on finding conclusive, well-grounded support for their arguments rather than deep diving in all related search results. Standard procedure is to read the bare text of legislation, state the proposed interpretation and supplement the argument with latest case law positions. Despite there always being an option, going overboard with legal research is not the best approach. Identification of relevant provisions and application of latest findings to the factual matrix often does the work.
10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What are your professional goals after graduating from the University of Cambridge – LLM programme?
I have always wanted a career in academia and see that as the last stop of my professional journey. However, I want to do quite a few things before treading that path. On completion of my LLM programme, I intend to gain some additional fieldwork experience by working with international organisations, preferably active in the areas of international humanitarian law and international environmental law.