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Ivy League UPenn Lawyer shares her story with Nirali

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

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Manali Sangoi

Undergrad- Government Law College, Mumbai, BLS LL.B

Current Role - Real Estate & Disputes Lawyer at Wadia Ghandy and Co.

Apart from the courses I took, just being exposed to the sort of learning, thinking and the scholarship of professors took me a long way because even after the course is over I continue to go back and read articles that my professors write and read books that I managed to pick up while I was there and manage to keep in touch with all of that even after left.

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?

Hi, I am a lawyer. My practice areas are Real-Estate Transactional Work and

General Dispute Resolution- Litigation, and Arbitration. I graduated from Government Law College, Mumbai. I did the 5 years BLS LLB course and then I did my Masters in Law from the University of Pennsylvania Law School which is a 1-year program. I started working with a Boutique Litigation Real Estate and Law firm in my 3rd year of studies called Federal & Rashmikant in Mumbai. I worked with them until I went for my Masters and joined them again when I came back. Last year, I moved to a full-service firm Wadia Gandhy and company.

2. What was your undergraduate Major? What prompted you towards it?

My undergraduate was Law where I did the 5 year LLB course after my 12th Grade.

I love reading and writing and I have always been academically and research-oriented.I believe my aptitude lies in Logical & Analytical Reasoning so I thought that my interests and my aptitude align with the skillsets that you need to become a lawyer and that is why I decided to study law.

3. When and why did you decide to study abroad?

 Like I mentioned earlier, I have always had an academic bent of mine, I love studying and the law is a very academic subject in the sense that a lot of it is research-oriented where you need to understand concepts of jurisprudence, read articles written by scholars to truly go into the depth of what the subject is. When you study in India, the style of teaching and learning is very different compared to law schools abroad. I have been working since the 3rd year of college and I didn’t really have the academic training that I wanted in Mumbai. That is why I was keen to study in the US as American Law Schools are some of the best in the world and their style of teaching and the exposure that you get is unparalleled.

4. Did you receive a scholarship? Do you recommend any good organizations/institutions that provide for scholarships or financial aid?

I did not apply for scholarships or financial aid as I had been working for a while before I applied. So, I had sufficient funds of my own to fund my Masters.

5. Is it worth taking a loan to study abroad? How does one measure one’s ROI?

I cannot speak for the other majors like STEM, business or management, etc. For law, I can say that for anybody who is studying to become a lawyer would know that law is a very jurisdictional practice in the sense that no matter which part of the world, which country you would like to practice in, you need to have a license to practice there.

Also, most laws are local(unless one practices international arbitration, cross border MnA

or similar work), so they prefer a local lawyer than a foreign-trained lawyer. So, if you are using your degree as a means of getting a job in a different country,it is

advisable to do their Bachelor's in Law degree. If you are choosing to go abroad to do your masters and hope to get a job to recoup your investments, that is probably not the best way. If you do a Bachelor's in Law from a good school in the country you hope to work in then yes, definitely it is worth the investment. You will get a great job because legal jobs are extremely lucrative and they pay very well.

If you want to take a very big loan for Masters where a job is not guaranteed at the end of it, I would probably say no. But if you are doing a Bachelor's in Law and you want to start from scratch in the country of your choice, then it is worth it as you will get a job lucrative enough to pay off your loan in a couple of years at most. So, it really depends on how badly you want to practice law in a country you choose to study in. I will caveat this by saying that if your practice is international in nature- like international arbitration then it will be significantly easier in securing a job abroad after your Master's degree.

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? 

Like I said, US law schools are some of the best in the world. Their academia, their professors, their sheer scale, and the volume of resources that they have is unparalleled. My objective of doing the LLM was purely academic. So, I chose specifically to apply to US Universities.

My Process: I narrowed down my areas of interest which were Constitutional Law, Dispute Resolution and I looked at colleges whose courses were mostly oriented towards my areas of interest, which had excellent professors in those areas of interest.

For example, Columbia University is a very corporate law focused college. Not to say that they don’t have great courses in my area of interest, but it is more oriented towards finance and the corporate side. For example, NYU has a lot of focus on Human Rights, Social Justice-related courses, and clinics. So, I think that is what I was looking for when I short-listed my universities, the courses, and the professors primarily. 

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?

For Masters in American Universities, I would say that it is not one single thing that matters, everything matters. You need to have a good GPA or decent marks like a First-class if you are from a Mumbai or a Delhi University. You need to have good Letters of Recommendation. You need to have a well-rounded profile.

For example, if you have written papers if you have participated in moot court competitions if you have clerkships with Judges, all of these things go a long way in making a profile look well-rounded and demonstrate your interest in particular areas of law that you would like to study in the university you are applying in.

Your SoP I think, is the most important of all because your resume, your LoR’s will talk about the things you have done so far but the SoP talks about why you have chosen this path for yourself and what you intend to do in the future and why this particular course will help you achieve your future goal. So, I think it is a very personal, introspective piece of writing as opposed to just jotting down I did this and I want to do this. You have to go into why you chose this and how this university will help you.

8. Were you satisfied with your choice of university? What is your most and least favorite thing about the university experience?

I was very satisfied and I had a great time at the University of Pennsylvania. They had fantastic professors, a lot of interesting clinics, a lot of interesting courses, and a very interesting group of adjunct professors who came to teach and bring in real-world practical experience to class. For example, I took a class on commercial litigation strategy from a federal district judge-this was such an illuminating experience because he would share his experiences on actual cases and how judges look at strategy. Plus, they emphasized a lot on cross-disciplinary courses so taking courses with a design school, a business school, or a med-school which I think was great.

The University of Pennsylvania has a fabulous campus in West Philadelphia! You see a lot of students living in frat houses, on-campus, off-campus. You feel like you are a part of a community and I think that was the best part. The whole campus experience is amazing when nearly one part of the city is just your university and you see students! It becomes is so much easier to mingle with people, make friends, and network in an environment of that sort.

My Least favorite thing is going to be hard because I didn’t really have any complaints. But I would say getting on-campus jobs for F1 visa holders is quite tedious.

9. How was the Indian fraternity over there? How was the overall campus diversity?

UPenn is huge because apart from the undergraduate college, they have a lot of graduate schools. So, there is a lot of diversity in the sense that there are people from all over the world doing all sorts of courses there. Campus diversity is not a problem at all, they have a design school, business school, med school, vet school, dental school, law school, engineering school apart from the undergraduate college, etc.

The strength of the Indian fraternity is like a mixed bag depending on the school and course. For example, my LLM class was about 120 students and there were about 5 or 6 Indians and that is typically the strength of the Indian students they have every year in LL.M classes. For the J.D classes, it was slightly more. But most of them would be Indian Americans, very very few Indian students pursuing a J.D program there.

10. Tell us something about the faculty and resources which were there on campus.

As I said, the University of Pennsylvania Law Schools is one of the top 10 Law Schools, it is an Ivy League university so its faculty is first grade. You have access to so many schools and so many libraries in the campus, it is a gold-mine for somebody who wants to get into academia or just general research or intern with a professor, etc. The Law school itself has a lot of clinics that are really good. So, there are a lot of things you can do on campus to hone your CV apart from just attending classes.

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 course was very short, it was just for a year so I had to squeeze everything that I could in 10 months. I did try to make the most of it from day one, I tried to be as social as I could. Americans are very friendly and I made some life-long friends. The entire LL.M class was foreign students. So, everyone was new to the country and everybody wanted to make friends, fit in. It was easy to immediately build a network and immediately build a set of friends you could go out with, rely on, and build bonds that last for life. It was great from a social networking perspective.

Even academically I think it was one of the best years of my life. Academically it was an extremely enriching experience. Apart from the courses I took, just being exposed to the sort of learning, thinking and the scholarship of professors took me a long way because even after the course is over I continue to go back and read articles that my professors write and read books that I managed to pick up while I was there and manage to keep in touch with all of that even after left.

Extracurricular activities for the law school were the usual - Law Review, Moot Court. But also a lot of other societies and clubs focused on different areas of law. Apart from that, there are all sorts of activities that keep happening, all sorts of clubs from dance and music to debates and everything under the sun is up on offer at the university.

12.What were the career opportunities available? How does one manage to grab them?

If you do a JD or a Bachelors's in law, there is a very straight-jacketed systematic process for finding a job and 'Career Services' helps you through it. You do a Summer Internship at a law firm and 99 out of 100 times they offer you a pre-placement offer and that is how you get a job and I think nearly 99% of the batch of bachelor's JD class of Law get a job that way. It is very simple you just follow what 'Career Services' tell you.

But if you're an LLM and looking for a job, it is extremely difficult especially because getting hired in say, New-York which is a very tough job-market to crack in. it is even harder for someone holding a visa and someone holding a Foreign Degree in Law. So, you just have to throw everything on the wall and hope something sticks because it is usually 1% of the LLM class that manages to get a job and it is more of luck at the right time, right place sort of thing.

Just make sure you do everything you can, whether it is reaching out to alumni, networking at events, joining local associations, interning, doing pro-bono work, joining committees, literally any opportunity that you think can help you build a contact which can help you to get a job, you do it. That is the only way and then you hope it works out.

13.Tell us a little bit about your current job profile and work. 

I currently work in a full-service law firm in Bombay. I work in the real-estate team and I largely do transactional work in the real-estate sector and I do general dispute and litigation work. 

14.Any other suggestions or pieces of advice you would like to give students who are starting out the study abroad process?

If you are truly interested in practicing abroad, in a specific country, then instead of doing a Masters, I would suggest you invest your time and money in getting a Bachelors of Law Degree in that country because it would be a lot easier to form a network, to get a job, to be a part of the system earlier. It will help you set your base for a successful career in that country.

If you are just interested in taking a sabbatical or a just taking year off because you want to study for an academic aspiration, writing a paper, etc, and you are sure that you want to come back to India, then I think the LLM is a great way to spend one year away from your life. It is definitely quite expensive so I would not recommend someone to take a loan to do an LLM but if you can afford it, it is a great personal and academic endeavor. It will broaden your perspectives, it will expose you to a life you don’t know of, a whole world that you don’t know of, so it is definitely enriching.


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