We are proud to announce that Sarath Mathew from the NUJS Class of 2020 has been admitted to the LL.M programme at Cambridge University. He has also been awarded the prestigious Prathiba Singh Cambridge Trust scholarship.
Considered to be one of the best law universities in the world, Faculty of Law, Cambridge University offers immense opportunities to make a difference in the world. It does this by challenging the brightest students and placing them in an intellectually rigorous environment. Their LL.M programme too is world-renowned and internationally-respected.
Mr. Mathew generously agreed to answer our questions regarding his LL.M course and application process. His interview is enriching and we hope that it offers perspective to law students at NUJS and otherwise.
Tell us about your undergraduate experience at WBNUJS
NUJS has definitely been the largest influence on my life so far. I came to college as a very sheltered kid, and is hopefully leaving as an adult who is ready for the world. NUJS gave me friends for life and thousands of small memories that I will cherish for life. I can’t list all of them here; but top mentions include doing my moots, my time at JILS, house visits with my very generous Bengali friend, ‘Arnab Ray’, and late-night poker games in the Acad Block.
The best thing in my opinion about NUJS is that it caters to everyone. If your main purpose in NUJS is improving your competency in law via learning research, drafting, and arguing, there are enough good teachers and seniors to train you in this; if you would rather have a more relaxed college experience with organizing tons of social events and travelling the country, NUJS lets you do this as well. I feel like I got a little both of these from NUJS and I am very grateful for it.
What motivated you to pursue an LLM? Was this always the plan or did you decide in your later law school years? Did you apply to multiple colleges or just Cambridge?
I had never thought of an LLM before joining college. I came into law school knowing only about the Corporate Law firms. So, that was the limit of my ambition so to speak. I feel that volunteering for the NUJS HSF Bridge Project was the first thing that made me think of doing an LLM. I had always been fond of teaching, but I realized how satisfying the activity can be during my time with the Project.
During my second and third year, I was incredibly conflicted between teaching and working with a law firm. I did an internship with a Tier 1 law firm at the end of my third year. The one month there showed me that I was not really cut out for the corporate life. So, from my fourth year, I finalized that I would be going into academia and that I would do an LLM after NUJS.
I applied to 6 other colleges apart from Cambridge – London School of Economics, National University of Singapore, University of Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and Yale. I was offered admission by LSE, NUS, and Cambridge.
Can you elaborate on the application process for Cambridge? How was the experience?
The Cambridge application process involves filling in some routine biographical information, getting two Letters of Recommendation, uploading your transcripts till date and your CV, clearing the TOEFL/IELTS, and writing a Personal Statement. For my 2020 October course, I had started preparations from March, 2019. This does not mean that I was giving three hours every-day for LLM applications for a year and a half. The work came in small patches. During March, I finalized the colleges that I am interested in and took note of the scholarships available in these colleges and the applicable timelines. In August, I gave my TOEFL. I filled in the actual applications from September – December, and I was occupied with admissions related work from July to September of this year.
With a bit of planning and time-management, I feel that LLM applications are not difficult at all; in fact, I found the process quite fun. It is a wonderful opportunity for self-reflection and thinking what exactly you want from life.
What advice would you give present undergraduate students to pursue an LLM especially with a scholarship?
I strongly feel that LLM preparation is long-term and takes the course of at least two to three years. So, I would recommend finalizing whether you will be applying at least by the end of your third year. Further, fortunately or unfortunately, marks are an important part of your LLM application especially if you are applying immediately following your undergraduate degree. If you are not in the top 15% percent of the batch, it might be more beneficial to work for 3-5 years before you apply for the LLM.
Apart from marks, I don’t think there is any other activity that is quintessential to your LLM application. So, please don’t opt out of an LLM application because you feel you don’t have enough publications or because you have not done enough moots. There is definitely no requirement that you have to be good at ‘everything’ to have a successful LLM application. In my view, the golden rule for co-curriculars is that you have to be great at what you claim you are passionate about. I claimed in my Personal Statement that I want to be a Professor. This means that I will have to show publications, instances where I have taught etcetera. In contrast, a person who might have claimed to be passionate about woman empowerment / gender justice would have to show more hands-on real-world achievements in their CV.
For scholarships, you have to do the marks + targeted co-curriculars to a better degree. It is similar mechanics as the LLM applications; you just have to be better than the other LLM students. I also feel that one must make an effort to apply to as many scholarships as possible to increase their chances. This again ties back to the importance of time management in your LLM applications as you will be applying to scholarships parallel to your main applications. If you leave applications to the last two weeks, you will not get time to apply to more than 2 or 3 additional scholarships which is not good.
TLDR: Study well and keep doing things that interest you.
Can you tell us more about the subjects you are pursuing? How will the present situation impact your LLM experience, will it be online or will you be joining soon?
I am doing an LLM in Commercial Law. I will be learning Intellectual Property, Law and Economics, International Commercial Taxation, and International Financial Law. I will be learning these subjects throughout the year; thus, it is not a semester based system as we are used to in NUJS. I guess this system is better to learn your courses in-depth. I am also looking forward to write a Thesis in any one of the courses that I take.
Pre-Covid, Cambridge LLM entailed two hours of lectures for each course per week. This is now changed to one hour of pre-recorded lectures available online and a one hour face to face discussion session. During the discussion, the students can discuss the lecture and the readings for the week with the Professor. I believe this is a very good compromise considering that there are students with health issues that preclude them from travelling to a foreign country as a result of Covid.
I reached Cambridge on September 11, 2020. It is a lovely town and I look forward to my time here.
What is the scope after completing an LLM?
From purely a career standpoint, an LLM is essential only for those going into academia. For most of the other professions, LLM does not open any additional doors especially in comparison with a premier Indian law school such as WBNUJS. Even from a pure legal competence standpoint, I do feel that NUJS does a good enough job in creating competent professionals. I do not see a substantial difference in legal competence between someone who does an LLM in commercial law and someone who uses that year in actual practice in a commercial court or with a law firm.
For most career paths, the place for LLM is as a tool for self-improvement. You meet people from an even more diverse pool and you see how systems work in countries other than India. This knowledge will hopefully allow you to have fresher ideas and better people’s skills / leadership skills when you start your career.
Can you tell us more about your future plans?
As I mentioned in a previous answer, I aspire to be a Professor. I hope to be teaching commercial law subjects. My long-term plan is to teach somewhere in Kerala as I can be closer to my home and my family. Before that, I want to get at least one year of practice in transactional law and also do my PhD. I would also be grateful if I get an opportunity to teach for a couple of years in NUJS before I settle in Kerala. Returning to one’s Alma Matter as a teacher is a matter of pride and joy for almost all academicians and I am definitely no different.
We thank Mr. Mathew for this interview and wish him the very best for his journey at Cambridge.