Contributing Editor Sushmita Nair interviewed Sanjana Reddy, who enlightened the audience about pursuing LLM in IP Law from University of Edinburgh.
(Intrigued to watch the video? Find it here)
About the Guest
Sanjana is a graduate of the School of Law, Christ (Deemed to be University). She was the student convenor of the Intellectual Property Rights Studies Committee for the year 2018-19. She also represented the University of Edinburgh at the Oxford International IP Moot, 2021. She is additionally, the recipient of the Leadership in Student Opportunities Award from the University of Edinburgh. She is also an avid writer of fictional works.
Why Intellectual Property Law? What about this field made you want to take up LLM in IP?
In 1st year, many firms did not prefer it if we had chosen our specialisation. Christ University had certification courses for other departments, so I took up one of such courses on IP and it sparked my interest. It answered a lot of my questions as I used to write a many fan fictions and often noticed other authors write “We own nothing in this fan-fiction except the original characters we created” and that was always interesting. So small instances such as this made me choose IP and learn more about it.
Is an LLM really necessary?
I wanted to teach at some point of time in my life. I am very grateful for my teachers as they made a difference in my life. I have seen that students suffer under the guidance of bad teachers, especially when a student intends to build a career in that field. Hence, LLM became a necessity if I ever wanted to teach at some point of time in my life.
When is the right time to do an LLM?
My parents wanted me to do an LLM right away as it is only a one year course. It is also easier to get letters of recommendations. In many cases, the faculty has to submit the LOR through a portal and it is easier if you are present physically for that process. However, I would not recommend it because it is impossible to get a job if you don’t have jurisdiction in that area. Hence, write the bar council exam and get enrolled before doing an LLM.
For instance, in UK, you have to write the solicitor qualification exam to practice here and you cannot write that exam unless you have 2 years of experience or you need to be enrolled in your local bar. So I recommend people to work at least for 2-3 years before going for an LLM.
How was it to pursue this LLM during the rise of Covid-19 pandemic?
I had my offer letter from the University of Edinburgh, I spoke to my parents and they suggested that I start looking for jobs as well, but due to the pandemic, most businesses were downsizing, so there were not many job opportunities. My decision was therefore mostly based on practicality.
How did you choose your University and what factors did you consider before choosing it?
I applied to 5 universities, all of them specialising in IP. Few in Australia, UK and the US. All of them had extremely good programs. I choose UK, since job opportunities in the UK are better. As India is a common wealth country. The number of Law firms in UK are also more than compared to Australia. Also, there is no language problem as compared to Germany. Edinburgh is also really infamous. It has a great alumni body and is one of the top 50 Universities.
Did you take any external help with the application process?
No I did it all on my own. Many times the agencies cause issues for the students. They discourage them or don’t know what they are doing themselves. It’s easier to do it on your own, you can follow the instructions present on the University’s website. Take help from seniors, they will be of more help than any agency, since they know where you are coming from.
What was the eligibility criteria at Edinburgh?
You need to have scored more than 60%. They did not have a lot of requirements for your undergraduate degree to be in law. They just required you to have showed your interest in IP practically. It was easy for me, since I had all my internships in IP and my thesis was also in IP.
In Edinburgh, you didn’t submit a motivation letter. You have to answer 2 questions in 500 words each. One of them is about your motivation. This has about 30% of the total weightage of your application. Try to be as authentic as possible. The other question is about what you have done to be an ideal candidate for the course, which is essentially your CV. You have to write it in pros unlike in bullet points. An advantage for this is that, you can write things that you wouldn’t usually put on your CV. For example, things like your thesis subject matter, electives, etc.
The downside is that they take a long time to reply to your application, you should be able to hear from them in March if you apply in December.
Is academic excellence mandatory? Could internships and practical experience make up for the academics?
This is a place based question. In UK, they really value marks. You could have had a lot of internships and competitions on your CV, but they do value marks. In US and Australia they value practical exposure more. Continental Europe values both equally. If your marks is less than 60%, UK is not really an option.
How did you decide between TOFEL and IELTS? How did you prepare for it?
I had previously taken the TOFEL for my visa as I attended the WIPO Summer School in Geneva. I only applied to places that accepted TOFEL. It’s again mostly jurisdiction based as UK and most places in Europe accept IELTS and the US accepts TOFEL. Don’t give both of them.
I honestly didn’t prepare for the test. It was just reading, writing, verbal composition and listening. If your English is good enough, you don’t really need to prepare. You just need to calm down and take the exam. Most law students won’t have the problem.
Pursuing LLM can be a costly affair. Did you apply for any financial aid or scholarships? How can one do the same?
My year was lucky, a lot of us applied and many of us would have been eligible for funding, but many such fundings were withdrawn due to the pandemic. My parents had already decided that they were going to fund me. But yes, it is a very expensive affair and this is another reason why I suggest people get some work experience before coming for an LLM. Many scholarships like the Chevening scholarship require candidates to have some work experience.
The entire application process can take quite a toll on one’s mental health. How did you manage to keep yourself sane?
I think a part of the problem is that candidates exaggerate the fear in their minds. Don’t do that. If you want to apply to a foreign university, it's really simple and everything is given in a step by step manner. Answer all the questions to the best of your abilities, do not worry too much. The problem I have observed is that people over exaggerate the problem which affects their mental health.
Don’t take advice from people who haven’t done their LLM from a foreign university regarding studying abroad. I had a faculty member who emphasised that research papers mattered more than marks, but that was completely false advice.
Let’s talk about the final stage of the application procedure: the Visa Application phase.
My process was easy since Edinburgh was added to this scheme called “Tier 4 immigration scheme”. It meant that it made our application very simple. The UK government had conducted research and found out that ease of visa procedure was a key for students to consider a university. Hence, they tried to make the visa procedure simpler for students of certain institutions.
I was just required to give my offer letter, birth certificate and passport. Nothing else, due to this scheme. It took me about 4-6 weeks. It was absolutely smooth sailing.
Tell us about your course structure.
We had two semesters of teaching and one thesis break. Each program has one class per week and group activities or individual activities alternatively. Group activities would be like getting together and vetting a contract or maybe answering questions as a group or discussing problem scenarios. Individual activities would include writing a blog, doing a case study, etc. The seminars are all interactive and not like a lecture. We had a lot of course material and we had to read it and discuss it in class.
A thing about Edinburgh was their assessment methods, which were very diverse. There were essays, problem questions, blogs, and case studies, etc. So try and find universities that have that sort of an assortment in assessment as it improves your writing skills immensely.
A 10,000 word thesis is required to be submitted.
I would like to recommend those whose CVs don't reflect IP but a variety of interest in Law to take up the general LLM course so that they can choose to write their thesis in a combination of topics.
How different is the education system there, as compared to the one you were used to during your Undergrad course? Would you say that it is difficult to transition and adjust to the new system?
In masters, unlike undergrad, if you don’t read your pre-class readings, you are out. If you don’t know how to cite, there are some serious penalties. Example, if you don't cite properly, it could be a case of academic misconduct. They have an officer to deal with this. It makes you really anxious. It's very stressful as the quality of performance they expect is really high.So, your undergrad studies do not prepare you for it. It’s not hard but the quality of education is much higher, hence our performance is also required to be high.
The education system is really different. If you aren't interested, you can't fake an interest here. It will really show in the quality of your work. In undergrad, if your memory was good, you could do well based on memory. It just doesn’t work here as the professors can easily figure out if you actually know or you are just faking it.
Also we submit our papers online so they go through our assignments line by line. Since there are only 20-25 students per class, they go through every detail. They give you feedback for every small detail. The quality just improves drastically.
Since we don’t have retests here, they make us write formative assignments, where they grill you. They let us know that they would have failed us if we had submitted it for our final assignment. It makes you vigilant.
Formative assignments are like mock assignments. You got really high class critiques. If you take that critique, you get good marks in your finals.
As long as you can write original work in your undergrad, I think you will be fine.
How has been your experience of interacting with the faculty and students so far?
The faculty is really good, they are brilliant. Many of them have studied in some of the best universities, some of them have practiced in extremely tough jobs before. This is why I recommended LLM abroad because the quality of lecturers is high. You also get a really good peer group, so you can't slack off. You have to match their performance. You cannot do half-hearted work. You will mostly meet people from China, India and continental Europe.
Edinburgh is a beautiful place as well.
What choices did you make with regard to accommodation?
I don’t have any relatives in Edinburgh so I decided to take up student accommodation. The University was quite helpful. They help you with many things once you accept the offer. I chose a property that was slightly far away as it was more affordable. However, you can rent out your own place, share it with other classmates, etc, but it is more expensive. There are facebook groups to find flatmates as well.
If you are staying in a University owned property and become a resident assistant, you get a 75% fee waiver, which is a lot. Lots of opportunities, no need to worry about that. The accommodation is however not in the campus. I usually walk from my accommodation to the campus, but you could also take the bus.
Are post-grad students allowed to work? What kind of part-time job opportunities are available as an LLM student?
You are allowed to work for 20 hours in a week. However, the problem with that is they prefer EU citizens for desk jobs due to the visa. They prefer students who don't have work restrictions. Your opportunities for desk jobs are less. You will mostly get leg work. You can search within the University as well. I worked as a research assistant with my professor on a topic that I was interested in, as the research was funded, I got paid; but that is in no way the norm.
You also get very limited internship opportunities, as our system is very different. Part time internship in the legal field is not possible as firms already have full time trainees.
Does an LLM degree improve one’s job prospects? What is your take on it?
Nope, it doesn't. It really doesn't. What is valuable is your degree and qualification. If you want a job in the UK, you can write your local bar exam and then get a job in the UK, work there and sign up for LLM while working. By doing this, you are already drawing a salary and firms have a tie up with universities, and you might get a fee waiver.
I plan on returning to India, writing my bar exam and then returning to the UK to write the SQE.
What advice would you like to give to the prospective LLM candidates?
Don’t stress. It is not as intimidating as it may seem. Watch some Youtube videos on how to apply. Secondly, take the applications seriously. You have to constantly rework your application. Take help from your seniors. Really have an eye out for your finances.
If you do need help, please do contact me. I am more than happy to help.