Higher Studies

Navneet Brar, Masters candidate, University of Bristol, on scholarships, SOPs and higher studies

Navneet Brar graduated from University Institute of Legal Studies (UILS), Panjab University, Chandigarh, in 2012. She holds an LL.M in International Law from University of Bristol. She was also awarded a scholarship to pursue International Winter Course on Human Rights and Asia, at the Seoul National University. She is keen to pursue further research in “International Human Rights law or International Criminal law” this fall.

In this interview we speak to her about:

  • Studying in Bristol
  • The Indian legal education regime
  • Plans for the future

Tell us something about yourself.

Well, I would describe myself as someone with a sanguine disposition and one who is always striving to materialize her dreams. I believe in maintaining an open mind with an unprejudiced attitude.
In my spare time, I love to try my hands at photography. Besides that, what truly unwinds me is traveling and reading about new places and diverse cultures. In terms of my strengths, I think my independence and will power have always been the biggest boon to me. But I have a tendency to get stuck up on trivial details and loose time.


Tell us about your childhood and family.

Sports! That’s the first thing that strikes my mind. I have been a National level skater, State Volleyball player and also tried my hands at fencing, basketball, cross country racing. I was always into extra-curricular activities. So, quite evidently I was the kid seldom found in the classroom.
Regarding my parents, my father is a PCS officer working in the Punjab Co-operatives Department and my mother is a subject expert with the State Council of Educational Research and Training, Punjab. Thankfully, both of them have always been very open and supportive of whatever I wanted to pursue.


What made you pursue law?

Honestly, growing up, the legal field never crossed my mind. I have no one in my distant relatives involved in the legal profession. In fact after 12th grade, I had started undergraduate studies with Geography and History as my major. However, when I was towards the completion of my first year, I started feeling very dissatisfied with what I was doing. I discussed my concerns with my parents. A very good friend of mine, who was pursuing law at Symbiosis, Pune at that time hatched this idea to try the legal field. It sounded quite appealing and I took the plunge. So, here I am! Still very content with my decision.


How would you describe your five years of law school?

I started studying in UILS in 2007 and graduated in 2012. I must say I had a lot of fun during these five years. In fact, Panjab University was like a second home for me.

When I joined UILS, it was very new, as the first batch was still to graduate. In spite of that, the institution had made quite a good name for itself. As I look back now, it has come quite a long way in a very short while. With the new students bringing laurels to the institute each day, I expect to see UILS as one of the top law schools in the coming years.


Tell us about few legal luminaries or other persons that you highly admire.

I greatly admire Justice J.S. Verma. He truly was the face of judicial activism in India. Though he has always been the champion for the expansion of fundamental rights and women empowerment but I gained the utmost respect for his thought and ideas while I was working on my LL.M dissertation on criminalization of marital rape in India. The content of the comprehensive report which was submitted under his supervision is commendable!


When and how did you decide to do your LL.M?

Frankly, it wasn’t an instant decision. Over the law school years, I got a small taste of the litigation world while doing my internships. I had decided there on that I would instead like to go into academics and legal research. Even so, I always wanted to have an experience of studying in a foreign university.


How did you choose University of Bristol? What was the application procedure?

Well, firstly I was certain that I wanted to apply for UK only and secondly that I didn’t want to spend my masters living in London. The London part might confuse some people (it usually does!) but having lived in both London and Bristol, I would still never choose London!

Besides, University of Bristol is one of the top 30 universities in the world and Bristol Law School is also amongst the best law schools in UK. The application procedure is the standard as any of the UK universities. Applicants are required to have a minimum 2:1 degree and need to submit a Statement of Purpose along with two reference letters.
Image: Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, United Kingdom


How did it interest you to learn the nuances of International Law and Legal Studies?

During my days at UILS, Human Rights Law was one of my favorite subjects. Besides, I never studied public international law ‘formally’ as a subject during my undergrad but developed quite an interest through non-curriculum readings. So, I opted to do my specialization in it.


university-of-bristolTell us about the course structure and specialization of LL.M program at the University of Bristol.

Well, my study modules included International and European Immigration and Refugee Law, International Law and Human Rights, International Law and Armed Conflict and General Principles of International Law. Teaching includes tutorials and interactive small group seminars which are carried out each week. Marking was done on the basis of a written annual examination as well as written coursework, each depending upon the subjects of choice.


Was the academic year very taxing and rigorous? Was there ample time for extracurricular activities?

I think the best part about foreign universities is that they put fewer burdens on the students and instead encourage independent thought and self-motivated research. So, yes the academic year isn’t too intense and instead provides students ample time for independent research as well as extra-curricular activities.


Give us an insight into the extracurricular activities. Are there any clubs or societies?

Oh there are tons!! Usually in the fresher’s week, the universities organize fresher’s fairs where the freshers can approach the heads and members of societies and clubs available at the university. They all put up their respective stalls. These range from law, sports, cultural clubs to debate clubs; they are endless!


How diversified was your batch at University of Bristol?

It was quite multifarious. Apart from local British students, there were many from Greece, France, Cyprus, Kenya, Nigeria, Germany, Spain, St. Vincent, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Mongolia, Thailand, etc. Currently, most of my colleagues are either working in international law firms or practicing in their respective countries, while some of them have opted for further studies and research.


Tell us about your work experience.

During my undergrad, I was involved in various legal internships under established senior lawyers at Punjab & Haryana High Court. Besides that, I have also been a National Service Scheme volunteer for two years and also delivered lectures on drug de-addiction and HIV/AIDS. Thereafter, when I was doing the LL.M course I also tried my hands on part time work with River Island in Bristol.

After, finishing my LL.M I moved to London for a few months and worked as a fundraising officer at Pell & Bales. Through Pell & Bales, I got the chance to work on behalf of various organizations such as UNICEF, RSPCA, Cancer Research, British Red Cross, WWF, etc. It was the most humbling experience for me.


Did you have any Indians in your batch?

Contrary to the Indian students’ ratio in UK universities, we were just three Indians in the entire LL.M batch! However, there are different societies at UOB such as the ACS which bring together all the Indian students at the university for various cultural and religious celebrations. So, one doesn’t really feel too far away from home with all the festivities.


What is the status of placement and recruitment available for overseas students?

Placements! This is something that I have been asked by a lot of juniors. I hate to break it to them but ‘placements drives’ in the sense of what we have in India are not the same in UK. Yes, although hundreds of firms do visit the campuses but they do not offer direct placements. Such career conferences and seminars are good platforms for networking. An LL.M does not guarantee you a job in a firm in UK! One may apply for internships and has a fair chance of getting through. But, if one wants to work as a trainee/ solicitor in a firm you have to either undertake a LPC or pass QLTS.


Best/Worst things about University of Bristol?

I would only complain about the steep mountainous road called Park Street that one has to climb to get to classes! (Sorry, it’s just a common Bristolian joke!) Drollery apart, I think UOB has tons to offer to everyone. It has a very experienced and highly qualified faculty, with a great infrastructure to cater to everyone’s needs. It’s located in the heart of Bristol with everything just a short walk away. Besides that Bristol was voted as the best city to live in the UK this year!


How expensive was the degree at UOB?

Tuition fee for international students is almost three times that of what is charged for UK/EU students. So, yes it’s quite expensive keeping in mind that the tuition fee experiences a significant hike of up to 500 GBP each year. The fee generally ranges from 13,000 GBP to 18,000 GBP per year depending upon the choice of university.


Should consideration be paid to living expenses in the place where you are going to pursue LL.M?

Yes, definitely I would advise one to plan their expenses accordingly as the cost of living in UK is quite high, especially the rent.

But, thankfully there are plenty of part time opportunities available for international students both on campus as well as off campus. If one wishes to work, they must first apply for a National Insurance Number with the HMRC. The kind of part time employment ranges from paid internships in law firms to various on – campus opportunities. The on – campus opportunities generally offer a higher rate of pay from 8-10 GBP/hour. However, if one wishes to work off campus, there are abundant part time job opportunities to explore.


Tell us about the UOB scholarships program.

Each year, UOB offers a range of scholarships to international students. These scholarships provide assistance in the form of full/partial fee waivers to covering monthly living costs in the form of annual stipends. One can explore the forms of funding available at UOB by checking the following link: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/studentfunding/financial-help/search/

Tell us about the International Winter Course on Human Rights and Asia, at the Seoul National University.
I was awarded a full scholarship for the SNU course which covered the food and accommodation costs. The SNU was an intensive course which aimed at critically addressing Human Rights issues in Asia through various international human rights mechanisms (since there is an absence of a regional body apart from ASEAN).
The course was taught by an esteemed faculty comprising of UN Independent experts, members of UN Commissions, UN Special Rapporteurs and experienced professors from various universities, who shared their practical knowledge related to the field.
Besides, I got an opportunity to interact with students and professionals from all parts of the world regarding HR issues in their respective countries. More information can be found here : http://hrc.snu.ac.kr/eng/research/asia.php


How did you apply for the SNU Course?

I applied for the course on my own. Candidates were selected and respective scholarships were awarded on the basis of a candidates’ level of education/degree, field of specialization and any previous work/ volunteer experiences related to the theme of the course.


How are you going ahead with the application procedures for your PhD?

Yes, I want to pursue further research in International Human Rights law or International Criminal law. So, far I have submitted relative research proposals to various universities. Honestly, the application procedure can be quite taxing with all the writing samples, research proposals, reference letters, motivation letters that are to supplement the applications. And even though studentships are highly competitive, yet I’m being positive for a favorable reply.


Would you like to tell us about the universities you are targeting for your PhD?

PhD applications are a whole lot different because one needs to find an institution offering the similar area of research. So far, I have applied to Dublin City University, Ghent University, University of Liverpool, University of Sheffield and there are a couple more which I still have to finish with.


How do you expect your PhD to influence your further career goals?

I want to establish myself into academics as an avid legal specialist/researcher. A PhD opportunity would take me a step closer to my goal by giving me a chance to extend my knowledge and specialization in my desired field of law.


Would you say an LL.M abroad is worth the expenditure?

Yes, I agree an LL.M abroad quite truly can be a very expensive investment that may or may not rake out the same output in terms of remuneration. Therefore one should always give good thought and weigh all the pros and cons before taking the plunge. But, honestly if one can afford the expenses without any bursaries, it’s very much worth the entire exposure and experience.


Do you think that nowadays, some students do an LL.M because it seems the “right thing to do” and not because they know what they want to study or why they want to?

I won’t rule out that statement because it’s the truth in a few cases. I think it’s very important to be aware of the repercussions of such ‘casual’ steps as one might regret ‘wasting’ a considerable amount of time/money on something that they don’t put their heart into. It’s always good practice to have an open discussion with professors, professionals or parents when one is not sure about the next step.


What do most foreign universities look for among candidates?

Besides good academic potential, they desire candidates who are proactive and have significant practical experience in the form of internships or who have been involved in significant voluntary work.


What is the key ingredient of a well written SOP?

In my opinion, adding a personal touch to the SOP will definitely work in one’s advantage. All universities receive thousands of applications each year and they are always on the look for candidates who strike as different and interesting from rest of the lot. Thus, candidates should try to highlight their potential in a way that sets them apart from the rest.


Do you think that having your recommendation letters written from distant acquaintances with influential position may backfire against you while making your application?

It most certainly will backfire! Applicants should refrain from such practice as the universities consider a ‘strong recommendation’ to be from a referee who has known and closely supervised the applicant’s work for at least 12 months. Thus, the best option is to have recommendation letters from university professors or a significant employer.


After your experience abroad, why do you think LL.M in India is a little less sought after?

That’s quite a debatable topic actually. In my opinion, comparing both the education systems with each other won’t do justice to any of them. Both of them are incomparable, with each having its pros and cons. I agree however, that foreign universities appreciate and support innovative and individual thought process more.


Why do you think it is utmost important these days to have a LinkedIn account?

I think LinkedIn is a great source of networking and keeps users updated about the vast number of employment opportunities available. I think we are way past the newspaper classifieds era as they only cater to limited regions.
In my opinion, one should most definitely add the LinkedIn account URL in their CV! The reason being that majority of recruiters today use social media and especially LinkedIn to research candidates. However, one should refrain from doing so if their LinkedIn profiles are either not complete or blatantly mention the same things as their CV. In fact some of the foreign universities encourage for applicants to enlist their LinkedIn accounts while making applications. Personally, I remember making an application to one of the European universities and they actually had an option to make the application by connecting my LinkedIn account.


Do you think legal education in the country needs an overhaul?

Not an overhaul in the sense, but a few minor changes would be welcome. I think law schools in India should offer more international exposure to students along with introducing a practical course structure.


Do you think legal education continues to remain relatively inaccessible to several, owing to the fee structure?

Yes, I agree that many law schools nowadays are comparatively expensive. In my view, this applies more to law schools which are privately funded. But, some of them actually do provide better facilities and have established quite a good reputation amongst students as well as employers.


Do you think that the country’s law schools have a lack of adequate student representation in the decision making that affects the students?

Yes, I strongly feel that there is an absence of student legal bodies that have direct participation in decision making and putting forward the larger interests of law students.


Do you think it can help in improving the quality of law schools across India?

It most definitely will! I think the students know best about the short comings of their respective institutes or legal education system in India on the whole, as they are the ones at the receiving end of it.


Could you please share your feedback on SuperLawyer’s initiative?

I was introduced to this platform by my junior and interviewer. I’d like to say that SuperLawyer certainly has become a lucrative way for those who are in a fix to decide what path they have to choose ahead. From the experience and future expectations shared by others on this portal, it is a great one stop station for law students to have an insight into the academic, professional, scholarships. By sharing their relative experience, professionals are able to render effective career advice. So, it’s a very welcome initiative.

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