Reetu Vishwakarma recently completed an LL.M. from the Institute for Law & Finance at the Goethe University Frankfurt. A graduate of NLIU, Bhopal (’11), Reetu worked for seven years before embarking on the LL.M. In this interview, she talks about the advantages of this particular programme, working in Germany, and a whole lot more.
You worked for quite a while before taking up the LLM – what was the thought process behind enrolling for a master’s at this stage of your career?
There were a couple of factors that played a role. I personally believe that pursing masters after having a certain work experience has twofold benefits – it refines the areas of interests one may have and extends an applied perspective to an academic pursuit. The exposure one has to the industry, helps in providing context to the theory.
The last two and a half years that I spent in the Strategic Solutions Group at ICICI Bank, with the most passionate and wonderful team, and the mounting NPA crisis in the Indian market, I developed a very keen interest in finance. I feel an understanding of finance significantly enlarges the scope of contribution we make as lawyers, particularly in structuring deals. That was a driving factor for me to decide on what I wanted to pursue my masters in.
And once you had decided on a master's, how did you go about selecting where to apply?
I was looking for the most suitable LL.M courses in banking and finance. A dear friend who was also applying for masters that year told me about ILF and given my interest in finance, I was very intrigued with the course structure.
Since I was clear in what I sought from my masters, I applied only to a select few colleges.
What got you to narrow down on the Institute for Law & Finance?
The ILF offers courses in finance and economics in addition to banking and finance law. The course is designed in a way that even graduates from the business background can pursue it. It attempts to bring law and business graduates on the same page.
An opportunity to study finance along with banking and finance law made ILF my most preferred option.
How did you balance your full-time job and the application process? Any advice on the application itself?
Since I did not apply to many colleges, I did not find the application process too tedious. The ILF application process is fairly straight forward. A few colleges have a more demanding application process, primarily, due to the requirement of a written academic piece.
When I was applying, the legislative and regulatory space for banking and finance was very dynamic and there was a lot of academic discussions involved in daily work-life as well. So, that made the written piece less of a task.
For paperwork – my undergrad University (National Law Institute University, Bhopal) was very cooperative and everything could be managed through phones, emails and post (I didn’t have to visit the University for transcripts).
I suppose the advice would vary for applicants at different stages of their career and for applications for different colleges. At a general level, I could say – the applicants shouldn’t look at the application process as a mammoth task. Short-listing the colleges they wish to apply for is the primary step. What worked for me was spending time over weekends filling forms and writing SOPs (I kept noting down ideas as and when they occurred, and worked on it over the weekends). And, easier said than done, starting early is always a good idea.
How has the LLM experience been? What have been some of the most challenging aspects of the course? Also, am curious to know whether it was difficult to move from life as a professional to one of a student.
It has indeed been very exciting. The course structure at ILF allows you a lot of flexibility and lets the students tailor the course to their needs and liking. In the two semesters that we spend here, we need to complete twelve classroom courses, a master’s thesis and a mandatory internship.
While we need only twelve courses in order to successfully complete the course, the University enables one to enrol in and write exams for up to twenty courses. It is very fulfilling to have the option of taking away more than the mandatory courses.
Also, one can choose to divide the twelve courses between the two semesters as they like. For example, I decided to do fewer courses in the second semester and continue with my internship part-time. The mandatory internship is facilitated by the University and all the pertinent law-firms, banks and accounting firms in the German market are on the list we can apply to. Depending on the preference of the employers one has applied to, internships may work out in the winter semester break or after the summer semester.
The faculty includes many leading practicing professionals from the fraternity and some of the most imminent jurists and economists in Germany.
A challenging but exciting aspect of the course for me, certainly, was the finance and economics courses. I feel the fundamentals of finance and the European and global perspective to monetary policy and banking regulation have been very enriching.
I suppose the transit back to student life wasn’t difficult at all. One of the reasons could be the very practical approach the courses have. Also, the ten months are quite packed with classes, internship, seminars, conferences, new friends and weekend trips, and do not offer much time to miss work!
What is your reading of the German recruitment market when it comes to international lawyers?
That’s a very important question for people who would like to stay back after the course. While the market is not very open to international lawyers for various reasons (civil law, German-speaking clientele, traditional market – to list a few) it does accept lawyers qualified in the US, the UK, even Australia generously.
To speak for lawyers qualified in India, it is helpful if they are open to qualifying in one of the European jurisdictions (the UK, or Ireland for example).
One clear advantage an ILF graduate has is direct access to the market, thanks to the mandatory internship. Also, the prominent presence of international law firms and Brexit, only make the prospects for international lawyers in Germany better.
Lastly, any advice for the Indian legal professional who is considering a master’s abroad?
Masters courses are designed to impart specialisation in specific areas of law. What they do in addition to packing the academic nuances of the subject together is, they put one in touch with students and professionals, trained in different legal systems under markets and economies of varying features, pursing similar or intersecting interests.
It offers a very stimulating environment and widens the scope of both – learning and application manifold. And as I refer to enormous learnings, I must mention it isn’t all just law that one learns during masters.