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Nidhi Jhawar on LLM in IP Law from WIPO & University of Turin

Founding Editor Poorvika Chandanam interviewed Nidhi Jhawar, who enlightened the audience about pursuing LLM in IP Law from WIPO & the University of Turin, Italy.

If you have questions like, “What’s it like to pursue LLM in Italy?” or “Will the LLM degree help me get a job?”, rest assured, because we have your answers. Take out your pens & notebooks and start writing away, because Nidhi has a lot to say!

(Intrigued to watch the video? Find it here )

About the guest:

An alumnus of SLS Pune, Nidhi fell in love with IP law while pursuing her BBA LLB course. In 2018, she went on to pursue her LLM in IP which is jointly offered by the WIPO Academy and the University of Turin, Italy. Armed with her LLM degree, she came back to India and is presently working as a Media & Entertainment lawyer at Naik & Naik Co., Mumbai. She frequently deals with the transactional, non-contentious and contractual aspects of the media & entertainment sector, film productions and ad films. Before joining Naik & Naik Co., she was a legal counsel at the Indian Music Industry (IMI). During her stint there, she led the legal team and advised on issues impacting the recorded music industry in India. Nidhi is a curious learner. Other than the work that she does, she enjoys coffee, dance and movies.

I thought we could start this Live Session with the most debated question among students. Do you think an LLM is important for any law student? What were your reasons for pursuing LLM, and why specifically in IP Law?

Firstly, reasons for pursuing an LLM really depend on what you are seeking to gain out of that LLM. It is very subjective and specific to different students. For me, it was more wide & extensive academic knowledge base to embark upon the journey that I had chosen to be my career. I would like to briefly tell you how I first became interested in IP. I was in my third year when I was doing the Oxford Price Media Moot Court Competition. That is when the seeds were sown and I was really interested in Media and Entertainment. This was something I had not come across before in law school because, as you know, the first two years of law school are more or less of general subjects. It is only in the third or fourth year that you actually start specializing. Post coming across the field of Media and Entertainment, there were a lot of publications and internships that I did which strengthened my interest in Media and Entertainment. There was also one major that I did in Media and Entertainment which is offered by Symbiosis. After doing this, I realized that IP is a broad umbrella and is significant in almost all fields. Be it trademarks, copyrights, industrial designs, your page IP Matters – everything. It is extremely relevant and I realized that I needed a more extensive knowledge base., which is why I decided to pursue my Masters in IP.

Pursuing LLM is something students do right after college. After finishing their LLB degree they get into a college for LLM. A few say that it is better if you have work experience and then do LLM. What is your take on that? I am curious to know.

That of course, a never-ending debate. My take is what you already know about, because I did pursue my Master's immediately. I would say, that is one decision which was timely and the right decision for me at that point in time. One was academic knowledge, but a very important reason for doing a Masters is actually what you are wanting to gain out of it: Do you want a job? Do you want that international exposure for yourself where you get to learn about different fields, different IP laws from different countries? There are a variety of factors which you have to weigh in. For me, the academic knowledge part clearly outweighed the rest and which is why I chose that.

I would say that choosing a University is the toughest decision. It’s like you said that making timely decisions is also important while at the same time, so is choosing the University. How did you do it - did you make a list of Universities? How did you figure out that you want to study at the WIPO & University of Turin?

Once I decided that I wanted to do LLM in IP, that was where the decision was made. The WIPO Academy - University of Turin was rated amongst the top Universities consistently for two or three years. While going about the University selection, there were a couple of factors for me: the faculty, the course modules and structure. For my reasons for pursuing a Master's, these two things worked really well for me. An added thing about it is that it is also economically viable because it was being offered by the WIPO, as compared to the other IP Master's programs. I believe that would be one decision for any graduate wanting to pursue their Master's later because you also have to consider the costs as to what you are getting back.

With regard to the eligibility criteria, are there specific restrictions on the University’s part? Any cut-off rate or anything?

I wouldn’t say a cut-off rate, honestly. I don’t think a lot of people know about this, but this LLM is open to any practitioner whatsoever – whether you are from business administration, or an engineer or a medical practitioner. IP has applications in different aspects, so this is one course where people from different fields are joining together. There are no eligibility criteria per se. But you have to have a graduate degree in any of the fields I listed right now. Another thing is, you must have a certain level of English proficiency as for instance, TOEFL or IELTS and you must have a certain score. I gave TOEFL before going for my Master's and the required score was 80 out of 120. For IELTS I believe it was 6.9. Of course, the University internally has its own structure about how they process everything.

Talking about the application procedure, I have heard a lot of people say that if you are applying to go abroad for studies, it is very hectic as there are minute things you may miss out on and you need proper guidance. Did you take any help from any agency or did you do it all by yourself? How was the whole procedure for you?

The time is very stressful so I would recommend that you start two or three months in advance. At that point of time, I did not take help from any agency. I am lucky to have a support system at home. My Pune family (my friends from Symbiosis) were extremely helpful. We figured it out on our own. Since WIPO & the University of Turin both offer this course, you can apply to WIPO as well to the University of Turin in order to be eligible. If you apply to WIPO, you also get considered for a scholarship automatically. There are a couple of documents that will come in handy especially for law students wishing to pursue their Masters right after graduation. Keep your transcripts handy. If you are in your 8th or 9th semester and applications start around December, then you can get transcripts till the last semester that you have your marksheets for. You can get a provisional degree from your college. My college is very cooperative in that aspect. We just got it done in a day or two. Your TOEFL score and motivation letter are something you need to keep handy, that is very basic.

Another huge thing while we are applying is the SOP and the LOR. Let us consider that most are considering doing LLM in IP. What do you think should go into the SOP ? How did you write your SOP?

The most difficult part about writing an SOP is actually putting pen to paper, especially if you are someone who wants everything to be perfect at one go. You just need to start writing, irrespective of how you want your SOP to turn out to be. This is one factor where you really need to push yourself that it’s okay, it doesn’t have to be perfect in one go. For this, you need some amount of time. It took me 2 or 3 months along with my college curriculum and everything else. I had a very clear picture from the beginning and it was all in my head. I don’t want to admit this, but I started writing 20 days before my deadline. But to be clear about things, I turned out to be lucky. Secondly, I happened to have a clear idea about what and why I want to do it. I wrote about media and entertainment, being a fashion lawyer. It's something that is very personal, it is your own journey. So I just put it all in my own words.

Do marks play an important role or do you think experience and extra-curriculars would balance it out if you have low marks?

Good is again very subjective. I could be good at 60 or 50 out of 100. What is considered to be decent, at least maybe 60-70% maybe you could say. But that is me speaking out of my experience. I would not say that this is the criteria of the University. What I would say really helps is having some extracurriculars as you mentioned. Also, if you given something to the society or maybe done some public or social service, that is also something which helps your application in standing out.

While talking about studying abroad, another thing to be considered is the Visa application and requirements. How did you work through the process? Did your college provide any support or you did it completely on your own?

The college was very supportive. In terms of deadlines, providing certificates, they were extremely cooperative. I wouldn’t say rigorous, but it is a time-consuming process. You have to get your degree and get it legalised. Then, you have to go to the HRD Department and need their sign-off. After that, you take it to the Italian embassy and it gives you a declaration of value. You need your transcripts and get your degree translated to English. These are all the things which take their own time. It is important to keep in mind that deadlines can be pushed. Especially given the current Covid situation where things are getting delayed, you should take ample time with you before starting the process.

Also talking about the financial aspect of this, did you apply for any scholarships like any fully paid scholarships or funding in college? How does that process work at Turin University since WIPO has its own scholarship?

If you apply to WIPO then you automatically get considered for a scholarship for the University of Turin, but you can also apply for a scholarship individually. There are two different portals for this. For a WIPO scholarship, there are different factors that they consider, it's hard to tell what really works. I would say that if you are someone who has indulged in social service and given back to society, then I believe there is a better chance of being selected for the scholarship. WIPO offers partial scholarships and full scholarships. Full scholarships are those that cover your travel cost, accommodation costs along with your living expenses, etc. I was lucky enough to receive funding from my family for LLM.

Did you face any rejections while applying to different universities?

Honestly, I had set my mind on WIPO, so I didn't really keep a backup. Having said that, I really don't think anyone should do that as it isn't ideal. It is important to have back-ups. I wanted to go to Turin University since it gave me such an international experience as there are people from different streams that come to WIPO,

How do you deal with rejections and how do you deal with the cultural shock, language barriers, etc?

I think WIPO was an extremely healthy environment to pursue my LLM. The language barrier is truly not much of an issue. All that's required is that there needs to be mutual respect for one another as our individual conditioning and backgrounds are different. The stereotypes and expectations from foreigners that we have do not really happen in reality. When I went for my LLM, what bound all of us together was our mutual respect for each other. I was one of the youngest in my batch and my opinion was also heard as much as anyone else's. There were people who had practical experience of working in USPTO for three years, IP advocates, etc, however, we always respected each other. It's a highly selective process as only 40 students are selected per batch from around the world, so there is much diversity. We still remain in touch.

Could you tell us more about your course structure and whether the course was taught based or research-based?

This course has an extremely unique structure. It spans over 9 months. It is divided into three parts. The first part is the distance learning course which is aimed at homogenising everybody’s IP knowledge since the students are from all around the world. An exam has to be given at the end of this course. These scores are considered for the final course. The next part entails face-to-face classes for 3.5 months. The classes take place from 9:30 AM-4:30 PM. In addition to this, we have tutorials from different professors which are necessary to be taken. This is where you will be interacting with your teachers. During this phase, we find out what our thesis should be about. We ideally should begin writing our thesis during this phase, and by the end of it, ⅓ of it must be done. You will also be required to present your thesis topic and progress. The third part is the thesis writing.

Could you let us know about your thesis work?

My thesis was actually based on Graffiti and street art protection and I did a comparative study with respect to UK, US and Indian laws. My inspiration came from this art event that took place by Banksy. We were discussing this topic in class one day and we spoke about street art protection and suddenly, this topic seemed interesting.

Our education system in India is different from that of any other country, how does one prepare for it?

It's not that different, honestly. If you are getting quality education there is a certain mindset that you go with. I didn't notice much difference. If we are talking specifically, then I noticed that the classes were more interactive and we had both academicians and professionals give us lectures.

How is the teaching faculty at the University of Turin?

They were always supportive of the new ideas that we had. During our second phase, we get to go to WIPO in Geneva for three-day sessions. There we can schedule meetings with different WIPO professionals to seek clarity. In general, both the professionals and the professors are extremely welcoming and encouraging. There is always that hesitation that comes with doing masters in a foreign country. I also faced this. I remember when I was about to present my thesis, even though I loved my topic, there was this hesitation I felt before presenting it. I actually froze while presenting and my professor said “You know this, you have to do this” and my friends were also very supportive and they made the environment comfortable enough for me to be able to express myself.

What choices did you make with regard to accommodation?

There is in-campus as well as off-campus accommodation available. I chose the on-campus accommodation. It was on the more expensive side as against finding accommodation outside, but this saved me a lot of time since I could get to the classes faster. The campus is built in such a way to get your creative juices flowing. We had spaces to meditate, go on walks, etc., you name it, we had it all on campus. The campus accommodation is quite good since you get your own single room.

Did you get to intern while you were pursuing your LLM? How was the work exposure?

During the distance-learning part, I did not intern. During the face-to-face session, there were a couple of internships that were available. WIPO, EUIPO offers several internships. You can become research assistants to your professors. There are different opportunities that do come up. I chose to not do them since it was an intense process of attending classes and preparing for them. Even after graduating, there are opportunities that the university keeps forwarding to us. The support is great.

How was it to come back to India after receiving a degree in LLM? Did you start applying for jobs right away? Does LLM improve your chances of being employed?

I wrote my thesis after I came back to India. My course ended on Feb 28th and I started applying to places before that. I got my offer before I submitted my thesis. I am honestly not sure if an LLM helps in getting a job, but it surely boosts your confidence. Apart from that, before going to LLM also I had many internships in the media and entertainment field, and I had also interned at Naik & Naik, where I work now. So, I am not sure. But I will say that it increases your chances for working abroad because right now it was my decision to work in India, but since IP is global, working abroad is possible.

What advice would you give to those who wish to pursue LLM at the WIPO & University of Turin?

Be very clear about the reason for doing an LLM. If you aren't clear about the reasons, then you will not be satisfied with the result. So, think long and hard before wanting to pursue LLM abroad. It of course adds value, but you have to weigh the pros and cons against each other. Don’t do it for the sake of it or because everybody else is doing it. Masters has been great to me and I would like to give a shout-out to my Turin family. It also adds greatly to personality development.

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