As a part of the collaboration between IP Matters and TINNUTS, our Founding Editor Poorvika Chandanam interviewed Rafael Pereira, who shared his experience and knowledge about pursuing an LLM in IP Law from the University of California, Berkeley Law School. You can find the video here.
About the Guest Speaker:
Rafael Pereira is an intellectual property strategist, working at the intersection of law and business relating to technology, entertainment, arts, and culture. He is the managing partner of TINNUTS, a new age IP law firm, where he works with creators across disciplines and entrepreneurs across sectors. As a Berkeley Law graduate, Rafael has built a career as an entrepreneur, with multiple ventures in the creative industry in Southeast Asia.
Why IP? What made you choose intellectual property law in the first place and specialize in intellectual property law?
Well, I started off on a journey towards criminal law. To be honest, I found that I have a great passion for theater and drama in the courtroom, and I only found that on the criminal side, at least, and the civil side I wasn't interested at all. While I was in law school, I didn't do a moot, and my first kind of mooting experience was the Surana trial. And from that, you can tell that I was heavily inspired by criminal law and criminal practice. Even during my internships at the Bombay High Court I clerked with a judge who dealt with criminal matters. All through law school my teachers were pushing me to do something on the legal side of things. I was very focused on media and entertainment events and intellectual property of my own. I started my career in the events and entertainment industry about 13 years ago while I was in school. I started working with local community and music festivals, artists who were touring India and managed the hospitality, logistics, and the operational and production side of things back then, and I was doing this while I was in law school as well. And finally, my teachers pushed me to do something and experience the legal side of this BLS LLB degree that I was pursuing at Pravin Gandhi College of Law at the time. I said, let me choose criminal law because it was tangible. I could feel closer to the result/the solution of the entire criminal justice system. It was only much later, I think in my penultimate year (which is my fourth year), that I decided that, okay, you know, if I'm on the business side of IP I might as well also switch over to the legal side of it. So that's really when I made the switch. I focused a lot more on copyright and trademark, design; patents, not so much because I really didn't understand the subject matter at all at that point. I was also doing an internship at ASG (Additional Solicitor General) office in Mumbai at the Bombay High Court. I started dealing with a few matters on the civil side and I also dealt with a patent case. It was only then I understood patents better. That was when I made the switch completely and started the journey on IP.
When you chose LLM, was it a conscious decision that you made after LLB? Because a lot of law students are confused if LLM is required in the first place. They have this dilemma with regard to placements or, you know, if LLM even adds value to their resume? What is your take on pursuing LLM?
I'll answer your last question first. As we stand today at this point, no one, no potential employer, considers an LLM an asset. At this point, and that's, of course, there are many exceptions and I'm sure that there are employers who have LLM's themselves, and they value future employees or associates with LLM, but majorly across the board, no one really values or gives value to an LLM such that they would value someone with an LLM over someone who is an LLB, and so that's very important to know. I feel an LLM is more for yourself. It's for personal growth in terms of your network, your knowledge, and your perspective. And that's really why I did an LLM. For me, while I was in law school itself, in my fourth and fifth year, I was able to get my hands on a lot of agreements, which strictly speaking, I shouldn't have had my hands on, but no one else was looking at these agreements. These were agreements relating to concerts in India, some of the country's largest or some of the country's most renowned concerts and festivals that were happening. I was able to go through them and actually point out some stuff to some of my friends. Some of my clients, back at the time on the event side of things, not on the legal side of things because I wasn't practicing then but I noticed that while I was in law school and my first day out of law school, I saw the law of California that was governing these agreements and I had no clue what that is, and none of the people I spoke to in terms of my clients had a clue either. They were just signing these agreements without understanding how the law of California would affect the outcome of those agreements or a breach of any of the obligations under the agreement. And that's really when I said okay, that's it, I need to understand these laws, I need to understand IP better. And that's when I chose the LLM journey and I started looking for programs around intellectual property. At the same time I was looking for programs that would allow me to do faster and give enough care to my businesses through the year while of course, also covering all of the academic aspects and the International Collegiate experience that everyone looks forward to.
Is it necessary to gain certain work experience and then go and pursue LLM? What is your take on this? Is it good to continue studying right after LLB? Or do you think universities prefer students who have better work experience?
It really depends on the path that you're on, the university and the program that you're applying to. I'll give you a few examples - certain LLM's are meant only for executives. Northwestern has a program where you can complete your LLM in 4 months. A lot of people may just want to do that because they want the LLM degree, but that's strictly for executives. You need to have a certain amount of experience before going to make good off the cohort or the class that you're in. You want to be at least mentally on the same level as your classmates. And then there are others like there are some in Australia and Singapore and Hong Kong, that are purely structured for those on an academic track. So people wanting to study further focus on a particular topic in a field of law. Those are the programs that you can get into straight out of law school, and it is recommended that you do because then you can work with your supervisor on your thesis directly out of your lobby, you can structure your life and structure your career in that sense, from the get-go. You don't have to take a year off your LLB and figure things out and then wonder if you would like to do it. I mean, of course, that's fine as well. There are a lot of people who want to take a gap year to understand what they'd like to do further, and then go ahead and apply for LLM. And there are also programs like Yale that only have about 20 seats for the LLM program, but that's because it's purely focused on those who foresee a future in academia. And that's something I would recommend you to plan for maybe in your fourth or fifth year of law school and for those following the three-year degree program, you follow it in your second or third year. You need to start preparing yourself and as well as your application well in time as you need to be sure that you're going in. Once you've gone in, the classes are structured in an academic sense and it's not tough to switch over, but you need to be prepared for what you're reading.
Did you pursue an LLM right after your LLB degree?
Not right after I graduated with my LLB in 2016, and I did not apply in 2015. I applied to two programs in 2016. I was quite focused because only two programs suited my needs at the time - was Berkeley and Northwestern. But I knew in my 5th year and I wanted a few months to confirm whether what I had suspected was right. One major problem that I felt was that law school or college in India didn't really prepare me for the kinds of agreements that I was seeing. We are prepared for very anglicized forms of agreements and what I was seeing in practice was a very modular Americanized form of agreement. So that's why I also chose the law schools that I did. I didn't apply to the UK, Singapore, or Australia or anywhere else, because I also knew I wanted to come back and that India was my market. That's why I chose a Commonwealth country or common law country because it's a bit easier than going to, there's a lot of unlearning and learning that you have to do when you go to a civil law country. So, yeah, so that's why I chose the two law schools that I mentioned.
What was the application procedure like? Who did you approach specifically for your LORs, and how did you come up with your SOP?
Okay, so the application process, to be honest, I found it much easier than I thought it would be. Maybe it was because I was applying to two schools, but it was such that, for the US schools you have something called LSAC, it's a nice platform. It's a website and service where you are able to apply to multiple schools through one portal, and you can submit all your documents like the LORs or SOPs, transcripts, etc. What LSAC does is validate everything that you've submitted to ascertain the authenticity and then they certify that the copies that you've given are true and they distribute all the data to the universities to which you've applied to. And that makes it a lot easier rather than having to go individually and apply to each of the schools. So what I did was, I looked at all the schools that I was potentially interested in and their requirements in terms of their letters of recommendation. Most of these schools require a letter of recommendation from someone who is known to you academically - a teacher or professor, or lecturer, could be permanent faculty or adjunct faculty visiting faculty - anyone but someone who can only vouch for the academic side of your work and your ability to learn and contribute. I mean everyone has the perception that you want a professor who is the most qualified or the most renowned, but actually what you need is a professor who knows you well, who can really attest to what you have done. And that's, really what I would recommend - find a professor who knows your body of work, who's watched you grow, and let them write your letter of recommendation. Most of the time they will tell you to write it, and be prepared for that as well. And once you've done that, just go over it with them because sometimes they need to submit it directly. When I was applying all we had to do was upload a scan but now there is a process where the persons recommending have to upload the document themselves. Make sure the person who is giving you the letter of recommendation is also willing to go this extra step of uploading and things like that. For the academic letter of recommendation, make sure it talks about how you are academic-wise and how you have gone beyond academics to do other extracurricular activities if you have, and make sure they also explain why they think you will be an asset to the institution that you're applying to. Then comes to the professional side of things, it is important to get a letter of recommendation from a professional, could be a client, an employer, or a partner you're working with it, the senior you're working with on the litigation side, a judge - could really be anyone as long as they know your body of work, can vouch for your character and are willing to sign this thing and upload it. So most institutions ask you for a minimum of two and a maximum of four, of which, at least one needs to be from an academician. So just make sure that you get the professional one from someone who is relevant to your field, and is known for their practice in that field, as well.
Coming to the Statement of Purpose, each school, I believe, has certain questions they would like you to answer through your statement of purpose. So it's important that you look at those questions on their application site and then you weave them into your SOP. It's like how you're drafting agreements - it should be kind of around some major themes and you need to find a way to kind of answer these questions while addressing major themes. And then, the questions are taking those themes and answering those questions while retaining you for the medium. So that's what I would recommend, that you look at all the schools that you'd like to apply to. You will find that a lot or at least two or three questions will be common. They normally ask about a maximum of five questions that they would like you to answer in your SOP. But two or three questions from school to school will be common. Take those themes, make it a bit about yourself. And most importantly the question is, what do you aim to achieve after accomplishing this degree at the school. So that's what you should be thinking of before you start. You should have that answer.
To answer your first question I didn't work with any kind of agency or counselor or anyone like that. I didn't feel the need for it because I was applying to just a few schools and I figured out the LSAC process. Maybe today it's a bit different. I know, because recently I was checking out some of these services. I know that they really do help in terms of searching for schools and searching for programs and kind of making comparisons. So there are a few of them, I know one called Leverage Edu which I came across recently. I saw that what they were able to do is that they make a list of schools that offer the program that you want, and then they're able to compare the programs in terms of fees, how prestigious they are in terms of return on investment, and employability and immigration as well that any we're able to work in that country. So, I think that's a nice service to have. I didn't need it but maybe today if you feel confused, because it takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of effort to do it yourself. If you don't have the time if you're working at a firm or job. I'm sure you know that if you Google search “LLM” you've got some 3000 ads that show up first and then everything else. It's easy to go down the rabbit hole and to confuse yourself with what you want. I think some of these counselors could help if you feel that you're one of those habits. But personally, I didn't need it. And if you know what you want then I don't think you necessarily need someone to help you along the way.
What is the eligibility criteria at UC Berkeley? So what's the GPA requirement, and what do you think it gives more weightage to – is it publications or is it your extracurricular activities?
What's the GPA requirement, I'm not sure because I didn't have a great GPA. I went to the University of Mumbai as in Pravin Gandhi College of Law. We required 35 or 40 marks to pass, and maybe at max, I had a 55 in a good subject or something like that. I'm a pretty average student but I know now Berkeley is a lot more competitive. Now, a lot more students are applying from India. And Berkeley is all about diversity so if you make your case and you convince them through your SOP and your letters of recommendation that you're someone that they cannot do without in that class, you can get in because Berkeley gives equal weightage to academics as it does to the work experience, publications, and other aspects. They really want to know why you would like to be at Berkeley Law, the difference that you'd make at Berkeley Law, and to the world once you're out of Berkeley Law. And maybe that's why I was able to get in because, to be honest purely on my marks I don't think I'd get in anywhere. So more important than your GPA is that you have a well-rounded application, have a clear focus, and a clear purpose. If you look at the Ivy League's or the top two across the Atlantic - may be the Cambridge, and Oxford, UCL, LSE require you to have a much stronger academic base. They give a lot of weightage to that as well as they say on their website. For the Ivy League schools again, Harvard, Columbia, NYU all of them - they mention it on their website - they say we expect distinction and things like that so unless you're making up in other aspects you need to do academically well.
How did you finance your LLM? Did you apply for any external scholarships or did you get any scholarships inside UC Berkeley?
Yes, I did get funding from Berkeley law school itself. While I was applying for these different scholarships, I found out that Berkeley is all about inclusivity. So they want the class to be as inclusive as possible, and for that, they to take some progressive steps to give financial aid so the students are tempted. Berkeley, at the time, had the Asia outreach scholarship - it wasn't too much, but it was enough to make it worthwhile for me to give me the boost that I needed. I also received an offer of a scholarship from Northwestern. Although Northwestern did give a larger scholarship as it was private, I ended up choosing Berkeley.
In order to get a better chance at scholarships, you should apply early on so you get larger scholarships and there's maybe more room to negotiate, but later on, there's only a little bit of money left and that's when they can give you. So if you're looking for financial assistance from the school that you're applying to, it's important to apply early and get in so that they can make a decision on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Coming to external scholarships - I didn't apply to any because none of them really worked for me or didn't apply to my program, because I picked the executive track. Most Indian scholarships or even the US requires you to have a one-year academic course and this program didn't really fit into any of those brackets. And then of course, just like you need to have superb academic backing, a lot of these scholarships also require the same. So then we have to take the route of financing through banks and other institutions that are getting loans. What I will say is do not, as an Indian, do not take a loan from a foreign financer. They really can attract you with a low interest rate because they have much lower interest rates than the financial institutions in India and they allow you to design your monthly installments and things like that. But the problem is, you're going to pay back your loan in dollars, pounds, or whatever the currency is and the thing is, whatever the currency is, for better or for worse, it is always fluctuating.
What was your course structure at UC Berkeley like – was it thesis-based or paper-based?
I don't think I would have succeeded in a thesis-based course. I have a big problem with even the doctoral programs I've been looking at right now so that's why I mentioned Leverage Edu, and they don't help you with doctoral programs in case anyone's interested. I don't subscribe to the notion of how doctoral programs are currently structured. I feel they leave you a bit further from reality or a very academic model, and far from the application of your thesis. I'm sure there are 1000s of people who apply their findings to the real world. But more often than not, I think it's untrue today as the most bizarre hypotheses are made and then research is being done to support it. Anyway, let's not go down that rabbit hole. Yeah, I really didn't want a thesis program. I wanted more of a taught program. And the reason for that was I knew that in most of the schools I was applying to, the teaching methods were Socratic. Therefore, each student is left on their own to arrive at the conclusion themselves, so kind of the thought process behind the thesis as well. That's really why I was comfortable with doing a taught program at Berkeley. And as I knew, as long as I was able to choose my subjects, I didn't really want to focus on one topic. As such, I wanted to do something that was really American - master of all topics rather than a single specialty.
You did a professional track right, you were in an executive program? So how was your experience? Did you have people around you who were working? Did you undertake any part-time internship or get a good chance at networking? How was your overall experience?
It was a wonderful experience of my life. Very few experiences go into that bucket. And I think once you have that kind of experience you're always going to look for what tops that and look for more experiences like that so it's good to have that experience because then you have this fire or hunger to find more experiences. I know I'm being very meta right now. So, the possibility was, we have people from 40 plus countries. And the great thing about the executive track is that you're there for two summers, as opposed to one year. For me, it made a lot of sense I could work between the summers and I could take the summers off. It suited my needs in terms of time at that point as the summer, which is May June July, which is monsoon for India is summer for the US is the offseason or the lead period.
Coming to the class, because I stayed on for two summers – my first summer, there were people that were doing their second summer. And then my second summer, there were people doing their first. So all in all I met people from about 69 different countries, probably about 300 or so people over the two summers. Plus I got to interact with the LLM's who had stayed on to do the traditional track which is the one-year program, who had stayed back to take the California Bar before they gave it in June or July. And that's really brilliant because of the network it gives you. Today if I have a problem that relates to any of these countries, the answer is just a WhatsApp message away. You become a part of a larger community. If you reach out to anyone from Berkeley, it doesn't matter whether they've done law, calisthenics, or business, you know you have a connection which is Berkeley and they will always respond to you. We're called Berkeley Bears for a reason, we're very warm with one another.
One other thing about programs in the US is that the experience is very collegiate so you get the whole mascots, and your teams are very supportive, and you get immersed into this whole culture. I think that's how US programs differ from programs in other countries. It's a lot of the collegiate experience that is very different in the US and this is not just any one school, it's across the board. You get very involved in what your university or college stands for, and it doesn't matter how introverted you are. You're going to be flushed into that spirit.
There's one thing that I haven't answered that you asked about what the program is like and about my internships. Unfortunately, during the summer, most of the clinics were not functioning. Most of the student organizations weren't functioning but the thing is also that the executive programs are so intense, you have very little time to take up things other than the program itself. Executive programs are trying to do the same thing that students would do in a year, in like six months. Daily classes, being on campus from nine to five, with a break in between but we did make the most of our time there like I remember we organized two tours to the Tesla factory and it was like Disneyland for tech geeks. We also did a visit to the YouTube office and to the Salesforce office where we spoke about GDPR and discussed that in length and we also did something in Microsoft and Google. We had one of the Associate General Counsel from Facebook come and speak with us and we attended one of the cases where Facebook was the defendant, and then we did stuff that was non-law that you will only experience once in a lifetime. The difference between Berkeley and other colleges is Berkeley is very intertwined with the city as opposed to other colleges where you have a college town that's just out of the city. And you really have to travel to the city to experience or to do fun stuff outside of the college campus. Your campus is the city.
Why did you choose to come back to India? Did you try applying to any places there in the US, or were you clear that you have to come back to India and pursue IP law here?
I had no real plans to stay in the USA as India is my Market. For me, my thought process was that I needed to understand both markets. Somewhere in my head, I had this understanding that there was this boom of OTT and there was this second wave of the American companies entering into India with the media market that will change the dynamic in the market. I knew I wanted to come back. Moreover, there were also these businesses that I set up in India that I could have built divisions of arms for them in the US but the real market for them was also India. So I needed to have this understanding and then help these businesses grow with a global perspective. Before, whenever I looked at the problems it was from a very local perspective. When I went to the US, I got a global perspective. But when I came back, what I had was a glocal perspective. So that is something that you need today. It's what I would recommend you do your LLM for. It's mostly for perspective and personal growth.
The great thing for me at Berkeley Law was that it's the number one university for IP in the US. The faculty is rated number one, and don't let anyone from Stanford tell you otherwise. Because they are lying. You can look at the QS ranking or you can look at any ranking and it's number one for IP. I'll also tell you why the Stanford people can't tell you otherwise, it's because there's a faculty member from Berkeley who went over to Stanford and started their IP program. The reason why it is the best in the US, if not the world, is that your faculty members are at the forefront of both academia and practice. And in terms of academia, they are the ones writing the textbooks that you learn from, so if they're teaching you from a book, the book has their name on it.
Then, we also have professionals who come on as visiting faculty and adjunct faculty who come in and teach. I'll give you an example - privacy was a hot topic in 2018 because on the 25th of May, was when GDPR came into effect and it affected our lives so much that the rupee went up two whole points against the euro. I had the opportunity to study with professor Paul Schwartz at Berkeley who wrote and opined on HIPAA and COPPA and all of those privacy statutes in California and he was an advisor to the White House. That's why you should look at IP in Berkeley Law.
When did TINNUTS happen? And you said tinnitus is an acronym right, I'm curious to know what it is.
I started practicing right out of law school and started working with a lot of artists and a lot of promoters who were my clients already. After Berkeley, the profile of matters and clients grew. Then last year, during the pandemic, I formalized this practice with a few of my friends, partners, and advisors, really pushing me to do this. We planned to launch it in October-November last year but just as the pandemic hit on, I think everyone was so digitally engaged. We thought it was the best time to launch and that's why TINNUTS was launched. We are a full-service firm for the creative industry so that is the IP side, the business and contract transactions, immigration, personal and civil law matters. Nothing criminal is needed as yet, but if I need it, I believe I have some connections to help them out.
TINNUTS is an acronym for 'There Is Nothing New Under The Sun', so kind of ironic that we're IP first. But it's also to give an understanding to our clients that they don't own everything that they've created. From what they have created, they need to take a slice of cheese and put it on top of their creation, and they own what is in the cheese holes. TINNUTS is a great way of telling them that in five minutes. And we know how agreements change from country to country and what we need to look for in an agreement. And now we're also pushing the other associates and partners in the firm to maybe get their masters in law and continue their academic journey. Even if it's not a master's in law, it's just this continuing education process, and the need to keep learning because that's you know that's, fortunately, the field that we're in keeps changing and to keep your finger on the pulse at any moment.
What is the general advice you want to give students who want to pursue an LLM abroad?
The general advice I would say I would give is really think about why you want to do an LLM. A lot of time, we want to do an LLM because it's like an escape, you want out of a firm and you feel that LLM is going to give time for you to soul search and then come back to do what you want. Sometimes it may work, but for the most part, it doesn't, because what happens is in the lead up to your LLM, you're halfway between your work, and then LLM because you're thinking that work will come later and it takes a second priority. And then you go to your LLM to enjoy yourself, and study, work, and gain experience. Then if things don't work out in the US, you come back and think of making a switch to another career. In the US, it's tough to stay back, as you really have to prove your worth, especially in California, if someone's going to sponsor your H1B visa, you really need to be giving them a bang for their buck. You need to be doing 10 times what they're investing into and that's the tough part. You want an institution to give you a return on investment and here an employer is asking you for it. In the US, after you do your one year LLM you're eligible for an OPT for a year, and in the UK I think you'll get two years or three years depending on how long your program is, and across the world, it's really about proving your worth and networking throughout your program. And then once you're done with your program, hitting up all of those people speaking the same language, it's very important that you're in the know of current topics you have a good grasp of a topic, you are able to engage someone in a conversation around that topic and that's really the only way you're going to be able to secure a job there. I know only about 10% of a class at least for the past three years at Berkeley could stay back in California in the Bay Area. Silicon Valley is the toughest, most competitive place to be job hunting, And from that 10%, after that one year of OPT, probably 20 or 30% of that 10% were able to stay back and convince their employers that they should sponsor them for their H1B visas. This is the harsh reality. Therefore, be really sure of what you want out of this degree because it could be a great holiday, it could give you a great perspective, it will give you the network, but it is what you make out of it. Right, so it's a lot more about you than the program. You won't get a single rupee increase in salary because you have an LLM, so don't live under that assumption and don't enter the program or don't apply to the program without an option. That's my general advice, do it for yourself. When you need perspective when you feel you want to have some personal growth, grow your knowledge base, increase your intellectual capital, things like that.
Can you apply for the California bar after the LLM?
As long as you’re a lawyer in your home country, you can sit for the California bar. You don't need to complete your LLM in the US, to sit for the California bar. So if you have your certificate of practice in India, or your provisional admission certificate, or your Sanad, you can apply for the California bar. For the New York bar, I believe it's a bit different - you need to take a few subjects and your LLM does help you become eligible to apply to the New York Bar.