Columbia Law School Student talks about Sop’s, Admissions and Studying Overseas with Nirali!
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
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Under Grad - St. Xavier's College - BA, Economics.
Under Grad 2- Government Law College, Mumbai - Bachelors of Law - LLB, Law
Post Grad - Columbia Law School - Doctor of Law - JD Law
Role - Winston & Strawn
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/conrad-noronha/
“Don’t lose clarity while trying to show-off your vocabulary. No one cares about how many big words you know. What is important is to get your idea across in a simple and clear fashion.”
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your Educational and Professional Background? Which college, company, and role did you work in to get you where you are today?
I am a final year J.D student at Columbia Law School. Before coming to Columbia I did my undergrad at St. Xaviers College in Economics after which I enrolled myself in Government Law College, Mumbai. While pursuing my LLB, I was a Litigation Trainee at a boutique Commercial Litigation law firm named Verus. I also had a short stint as a solo practitioner. I appeared in the Bombay High Court, Magistrate Courts, and in City Civil and Sessions Courts in Mumbai. Whilst at CLS, I have worked at the Federal Defenders Office in Sacramento, California, and at a Law Firm named Winston & Strawn which is an international law firm and a litigation powerhouse.
2. What was your undergraduate Major? What prompted you towards it?
My Undergraduate major was economics. I went into my undergrad thinking that I would major in Political Science but Economics mesmerized me. I realized a lot of politics is driven by economic decisions. The impact of international financial markets on creating wealth and capital for the erstwhile colonized people like ourselves and looking at how fiscal and monetary policy could alleviate the impacts that colonization had on capital creation interested me.
3. When and why did you decide to study abroad?
I decided to study abroad at the end of my first year at GLC and I had two motivating factors:
One, I had decided to study law primarily because I was interested in global economics which is affected by domestic legislation and regulation and by international treaties. Soon after getting into GLC, I realized that I would not be able to get into the international legal circles from GLC.
The other was the rising fascism in India. Indian society has been growing more intolerant. Especially as a first-generation professional and a minority, I knew that it would be hard to continue practicing in India. Also, I do realize these fascist policies have had a severely detrimental impact on the Indian economy. Unless India gets rid of this fascist trend, India’s economy is going to suffer a lot in the coming years. This motivated me to take a plunge and study abroad.
4. Did you receive a scholarship? Do you recommend any good organizations/institutions that provide for scholarships or financial aid?
I do not have a scholarship but I did get a pretty generous financial aid package from Columbia. I do not know of any scholarship organizations, unfortunately.
5. Is it worth taking a loan to study abroad? How does one measure one’s ROI?
It completely depends on your financial situation, the course that you want to do, and your ability to repay the loan after the course. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, I think all of these factors should be considered.
6. Why did you choose that particular course in this particular university/college for your studies abroad? What was the process you went through while choosing the university/college?
I looked at all the top law schools in the United States and I knew that I would come to the US only if I got into a top law school. When I analyzed the data, two law schools stood out to me - one was Stanford and the other was Columbia. This was because I primarily believe ‘Tech is the Future.’
We have entered a technology age and our generation is going to face a lot of challenges posed by technology. Stanford is known to be good at ‘Technology and the Law’, given its proximity to Silicon Valley. Columbia, on the other hand, is the most international of US law schools and has great faculty in technology-related legal disciplines.
I did an Early Decision(ED) with Columbia. So, when Columbia accepted me, I had to cancel all my other applications.
7. Any particular advice you would like to give for the application process from SOP Writing to Academic GPA to other things which you thought were important that helped you get into that course at that university?
Be authentic, do not BS. I think admission committees have a pretty good BS detector. I have edited a few of my friends’ SOP's and what I often see is that many people from India tend to use flowery language. What I would suggest is to make sure that whatever you are writing is clear and simple. Don’t lose clarity while trying to show-off your vocabulary. No one cares about how many big words you know. What is important is to get your idea across in a simple and clear fashion.
8. Were you satisfied with your choice of university? What is your most and least favorite thing about the university experience?
I was pretty satisfied with my choice. My most favorite thing about the Law School is the amount of opportunities and doors that a Columbia legal education opens up. I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing half the things that I can and potentially could do now, when I was in India.
My least favorite thing about Columbia Law School is that it is extremely expensive and they have increased tuition even during the pandemic. While almost all students are able to pay of their debts, either by securing high paying jobs or through CLS’s loan repayment assistance program for those working in social justice, the financial burden and anxiety that comes with the big loans is real.
9. How was the Indian fraternity over there? How was the overall campus diversity?
I take issue with the word ‘Indian fraternity’ because when we are abroad, we are part of a larger South Asian fraternity. Arbitrary geographic borders should not define who we are as individuals. What defines the South Asian community as a whole is our shared culture and heritage.
At Columbia, we do have a sizeable South Asian community which is pretty close-knit. But at CLS, you feel part of the larger law-school community. So though you do have a South-Asian affinity group to go to, you feel that you belong to a bigger and more diverse community of law students.
In terms of diversity as a whole, Columbia University and the Law School are both pretty diverse places. I think both CLS students and faculty engage in issues of race and the law. The recent media focus on the Black Lives Matter movement has influenced many students and faculty to continue to focus on legal issues pertaining to race.
10. Tell us something about the faculty and resources which were there on campus
So Columbia Law School has some incredible faculty. The most popular and famous one is obviously Amal Clooney who teaches International Human Rights along with Sarah Cleveland who was a member of the UN Humans Rights Commission. Kendall Thomas and Kimberlé Crenshaw are leading scholars of Critical Race Theory. Kimberlé Crenshaw is also a pioneer in the field of Intersectionality. Katherine M. Franke is a leader in gender and sexuality law. Columbia has a huge Antitrust faculty which includes Tim Wu who coined the term “Net Neutrality” and Lina Khan who has emerged as a new thought leader in the application of antitrust laws to big tech companies. In technology and the law, Eben Moglen is one of the strongest proponents of data privacy.
I took a class in WTO Trade Law with Petros C. Mavroidis who is an authority in WTO Law. In International Arbitration, I have taken classes with George A. Bermann and many other well-known International Arbitrators. My corporation's professor, Zohar Goshen was the chairman of Israel’s SEC. My civil procedure professor, Gerard E. Lynch is a very well renowned judge on the Second Circuit. My criminal law professor Bernard E. Harcourt has defended people on death row and is a leading voice for prison abolition. My property professor, Richard Briffault is a leading thought in Election Law. I might be missing many well-known faculty and even the not-so-famous professors are incredible. I think Columbia has top-notch faculty.
11. Tell us about your journey from the first semester to the last both academically and non-academically? What was campus life like? What were the extracurricular activities on campus?
My first year was very challenging since I didn’t know how to study in the American format. I hadn’t studied outside of India. I was also competing with some of the smartest and brightest people I have ever met. But by my 2nd year, I got the hang of it and was awarded the Harlan Fiske Stone Scholarship for my academic achievements, I was slightly short of getting the highest academic honor that Columbia offers in a given year.
On the Extra-Curricular side, I have been a Public Interest Honoree. I’ve had the opportunity to do some incredible Public Interest Work. I had the opportunity to travel to Palestine and work with an organization out there that reports to the UN HRC. I was also a staff member on the Journal of Transnational Law where I got to edit some great academic pieces.
I’ve also been a Research Assistant to Prof. George A. Bermann where I helped him edit a book for beginners in International Arbitration. I am currently a Research Assistant to Prof. Petros C. Mavroidis on International Trade Law. The project is confidential.
On the more fun side, I was a part of musical production called “Law Reveue” which puts up biannual parody shows. I was on the board of the South Asian Law Students Association where we organized an annual Diwali party called “Mela.” I was also a part of the Columbia International Arbitration Association where we organized speaker talks and an event called Columbia Arbitration Day which is one of the biggest conferences for International Arbitration in the United States. I now serve on the student senate where I advocate for my peers.
12. How is the quality of education compared to Indian institutes? What were the gaps in both the systems? How did you manage to cope?
The quality of education compared to Indian Education is far superior. I had the good privilege of studying at St.Xaviers College which I think was a really good undergrad institution but it didn’t have the academic rigor that, I think, educational institutions should have. Though, I learned a lot from my peers there. But at Columbia, I think the pedagogy is incredible. I really like the Socratic method of teaching which is commonly used in Law Schools in the United States. Though the method is not fun while you are a student in the class, I do think it is a great teaching technique. The way it works is that everyone has to read up before class and the professor calls on someone and then keeps asking them questions relating to the readings. Additionally, the professor also asks for your analysis, and questions your analysis. The whole process is designed to make you think of the nuances of the law. I think that is great.
13. What were the career opportunities available? How does one manage to grab them?
If you do a JD from Columbia Law School or one of the top law schools in the United States you are almost guaranteed to get a job, at least pre-covid. I think Columbia Law School has the highest placements amongst Law Schools out here.
There is an on-campus interview program called EIP where almost all big law firms come to interview students and almost every student who participates in EIP gets at least one offer. Even for people who do not get offers at EIP, there are a lot of other on-campus interview programs. For people who go into public interest or the clerkship routes, there is no dearth of opportunities and fellowships.
14. Tell us a little bit about your current job profile and work.
This summer I worked at a Law Firm named Winston & Strawn LLP which is a full-service international law firm. They made me an offer, so I’ll be working with them in their New York office after graduating. I have applied to be a part of their Litigation Team and in a couple of years, I will choose my specialized practice area.
My plan is to work in Transnational Disputes. That includes matters such as disputes between companies which cross jurisdictions or where companies being sued in multiple jurisdictions. It also involves investors suing states.
15. Any other suggestions or pieces of advice you would like to give students who are starting out the study abroad process?
I don’t think I am qualified to give any advice. My only suggestion would be to consider career opportunities after graduation, the immigration status in the country, and the value your education will bring to you. Do not follow the crowd. Our world is changing at such a fast pace and new opportunities emerge all the time.
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