Higher Studies

Seemantani Sharma on LL.M in Intellectual Property Rights from George Washington Univ Law School and work experience in IPR

Seemantani graduated from Amity Law School, New Delhi. Her interest in intellectual property grew while interning at Dua Associates and completing an online course from WIPO. After graduation, she worked at RSG Media System, an IT Company which builds software for world’s leading media and entertainment companies to maximise revenue from their content and advertising inventories, for a year before successfully applying to George Washington University Law School. She is currently pursuing her LL.M in IPR Laws. She has interned at the Recording Industry Association of America while pursuing her Masters. In this interview she talks about:

  • Interning with the Recording Industry Association of America
  • LL.M at George Washington University Law School
  • Tips on SOP, Recommendation Letter and scholarships

 

How did you gravitate towards law? Why law and not engineering or medical studies?

After my Xth boards, I decided to opt for science with mathematics as at that time I was very keen to make a career in biotechnology. This was primarily due to my love for biology. However, in between the examination period and before the board results were declared, I attended a few trial classes. I found physics to be extremely tough and beyond my comprehension. Hence, I decided to opt for commerce with mathematics since law was another career option I was exploring at that time. My incipient interest in law was further nurtured by my interaction with the renowned legal academic Professor N.R. Madhav Menon, who had come to my school to give a talk on “The Career Prospects of Law”. After talking to him, my tentative plans of pursuing law were reinforced despite the fact that I do not hail from a family of lawyers.

 

How would you describe your time at Amity Law School? What sort of internships did you do while in law school?

My time at Amity Law School, New Delhi were probably the best days of my life as it is there that I owe my foundational law school studies. However, in hindsight I do think that my law schools days could have been better had the pedagogy been slightly different. Having studied in the US, I find that the undue emphasis upon rote learning is plaguing the Indian education system. I personally find the idea of mugging up provisions from the bare act and reiterating the same in an exam quite redundant.

One thing I was very particular about were internships and made a point to intern in every summer break. In fact, there has not been any summer over which I did not work. This is primarily due to the sagacious advice of a dear family friend who is currently a partner at one of the magic circle law firms. She insisted that I should not spare any opportunity to work since at the end practical experience is all that mattered. My internships can be comparable to any other law student’s internships- the first year being the usual NGO internship followed by the Court and law firm internships. During my internships, I got to work on both contentious and non-contentious matters. And I must admit that these internships were instrumental in ruling out a corporate law career for myself.

As far as intellectual property is concerned, my first stint was while I was interning at Dua Associates at the end of my second year. I was asked to do some research on copyright piracy and infringement.  By then, I had not studied IP law since it was taught at my law school only in the third year. As a background reading for the research, my supervisor assigned me reading materials on copyright which I found to extremely interesting. My embryonic interest was further fuelled when I studied the subject in-depth in my law school and when I did an online course from WIPO.  All of this coupled with my work experience prompted me to specialise in Intellectual Property. Although I must confess that my research interest is not strictly IP law but intellectual property generally in all its facets.  I also find it particularly rewarding to study how intellectual property interacts with development economics.

 

After graduation, how did you secure your appointment at RSG Media System where you worked for one year? What does RSG do?

RSG Media Systems is an IT Company which builds software for the world’s leading media and entertainment companies to maximise revenue from their content and advertising inventories. I was recruited through campus whereby RSG held two rounds of interviews. I was a member of the legal team at RSG where I was primarily responsible for contract drafting, interpretation and licensing.

 

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Were you doubtful before joining George Washington University Law School? Why did you prefer Masters over your job?

Even before I started working, I was certain about going for a Masters as I had made up my mind in the final semester of LL.B. that I would be treading on the career path of legal academia. Hence, an LL.M. was the next logical step towards achieving that goal. Unlike in the US, where legal academics are not required to have an LL.M. in order to teach, this is not the case for India.  And as stated before, I found corporate law and a corporate environment to be extremely mundane. Thus, the decision to quit my job was instantaneous

 

How did you choose George Washington University over others? How did you go about choosing a university?

After a lot of research and talking to seniors, I realized that the best country to study intellectual property would be the US due to it being one of the highly innovative and industrialized countries of the world with the second largest number of patent filings next only to China.

The George Washington University Law School has a very solid reputation in Intellectual Property law in the U.S. It has consistently been ranked amongst the top 3 law schools for IP.  Besides this, I am also very keen in policy analysis. Washington D.C.-being the policy capital of the world was another reason for choosing GW Law. Therefore, when I received the acceptance letter, there was not a second thought about joining it despite the fact that I got through various other law schools in the US, UK and Singapore.

 

How did you go about writing your SOP? Are there any key factors which one should keep in mind before writing the SOP?

For an LL.M. applicant especially if someone is targeting the US Law Schools, an SOP could make or break the application. I must admit that while preparing my LL.M. applications, I found writing the SOP to be the most time consuming task. I started with reading a couple of SOP’s online and talking to alumni who were at that time pursuing their LL.M. from some of the top-notch law schools in the U.S. and taking tips from them on how to draft a perfect SOP. Then, I finally prepared 2-3 drafts, out of which my father shortlisted and edited one. After the draft was selected and edited, I forwarded it to Dr. Janice Brodman, who retired as Director, Centre for Innovative Technologies at the Education Developmental Center Inc. and has a vast experience in mentoring prospective law school applicants. I am highly indebted to her for her inputs as I think that it played a pivotal role in my application.

Coming to the key factors, I don’t think that I can do justice by listing down the key factors as I am no expert on drafting a perfect Statement of Purpose. Having said that, all that I can say from my experience is that a Statement of Purpose should “really have a purpose”!

 

How about recommendation letters? Who all recommended you to pursue LL.M?

Usually, most of the U.S. law schools ask for atleast one academic recommendation letter. This requirement can be waived if an applicant has been working since many years and is unable to procure an academic reference. Hence, to fulfil this requirement, I was recommended by the Director of my institution- Professor M.K. Balachandran (Professor of Eminence & Chair Professor for Chair for Law). I was also recommended by Special CBI Judge- Mr. Dharmesh Sharma who I worked with as an intern.

 

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What is your topic of research for LL.M? Why did you choose that subject for research?

I am focusing my research on the effectiveness of Traditional Knowledge Digital Library- which has been heralded as a revolutionary step to prevent the misappropriation and biopiracy of Indian traditional knowledge. I chose this topic in order to get a preliminary insight into the challenges faced by developing countries such as India for protecting their traditional knowledge which would serve as a foundation for pursuing doctoral studies in the future. Any mention about my LL.M. research is incomplete without acknowledging the mentorship provided to me by Dr. Usha C. Nair- Reichert, who as an Associate Professor of Economics at the School of Economics, Georgia Institute of Technology.

I intend to delve into India’s accession to the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity at the doctorate level.

 

Please tell us a little about your academic schedule and the general experience of studying abroad? How different do you think it is from the pedagogy that Indian Universities follow?

Coming from a non-national Law School, I found the academics at GW Law to be quite exhaustive. Academics here are not intrinsically challenging but merely time demanding. GW Law, like most of the US Law Schools adopts the Socratic method of classroom teaching- which essentially means that the Professors assign readings for each class. The students are expected to come prepared to the class and the classes progresses by way of discussion or/and question and answer session. Hence, it is quite futile to attend the class if you are unprepared. Moreover, the discussions are so interesting that it is difficult resisting participating in them.

On any given day, where I have three or more than three classes, I have to read atleast 100 pages for that day. Every morning, students get an email about the various events taking place at the law school. It is next to impossible to attend all of them and it’s a tough call to choose which ones to attend since all the events are par-excellence with some of the best lawyers and scholars in their respective fields coming to give a talk/presentation/seminar on a contemporary legal topic. Besides this, I keep extremely busy also because I work for 15 hours/week at the Recording Industry Association of America and for 10 hours/week as a Research Assistant to my Professor.

 

Does George Washington University provide students with scholarships? Are there any other institutions, which provide scholarships?

Yes, GW Law School provides the Thomas Buergenthal scholarship to international LL.M. students. Besides, there are other scholarships opportunities like the Inlanks Scholarship, K.C. Mahindra Scholarship & Microsoft Scholarship which prospective LL.M. applicants can explore.

Besides scholarships, prospective students can also explore the option of working on-campus in order to support themselves during the 9 month LL.M. period.  However, I will not recommend someone who has taken a lot of courses to work since academics here are very extensive and scoring a good grade is not a cakewalk. Ultimately, the decision to work is dependent upon one’s financial background and goals. I do work with my Professor as a research assistant but this is purely out of my desire to hone up my research skills. This is also in tune with my ultimate career goal of becoming a reputed legal academic.

 

You have recently worked at the Recording Industry Association of America. In what ways it was a different experience from Indian internships?

For the spring semester, I am working at the Recording Industry Association of America- which is the trade organization representing the recording industry in the US. The RIAA primarily serves and lobbies for the trade and legal interests of the record label and distributor companies of the US. During my internship, I got the opportunity to work on some really interesting and exciting issues primarily in the sphere of digital copyright policy. One of the most noteworthy assignments that I am currently working on, is preparing a policy document on “Why the ICANN i.e the International Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers should be held accountable for copyright infringement that takes place through its accrediting websites/ domain names”.

TheRIAA internship was different in many respects from the internships that I did in India. The most distinguishing thing that I found was the high level of involvement in the organization’s work and activities. Unlike Indian law firms and corporate houses, where confidential matters are usually not disclosed to an intern, this was not the case atleast at RIAA. There is a high level of trust factor between the supervisor and an intern. Further, this was my first real world experience on the way legal policy especially with respect to copyright law was drafted, negotiated and lobbied.

 

What is your view on the rapidly growing trend of Indian students pursuing their masters abroad? Do you think there is a resurgence of the brain drain?

It is a personal choice to pursue an LL.M. abroad depending upon ones finances and career goals. An international LL.M. particularly from the US is an expensive affair. Pursuing an LL.M. immediately after completing an LL.B does not have any perceived monetary benefits except if someone intends to foray into academia or a career in public policy.  Further, an international LL.M. is what you make out of it. If you want it to be a vacation, it can be a perfect holiday except an expensive one.

Having said, the exponential academic exposure and networking opportunities in an international setting sought to be gained during the LL.M. period from a high ranking US law school cannot be underestimated.  Hence, in my opinion prospective LL.M. applicants should weigh in all factors before deciding to opt for one.

I would not say that there is a resurgence of brain drain as most LL.M.’s do return back to India after the completion of LL.M. This is not necessarily out of choice but primarily due to the US legal job market being extremely competitive and tight. Many U.S. Law School LLM’s do stay back during the Optional Practical Training (OPT) period for a year in order to write a US Bar Exam or to gain practical experience. During the OPT period, one can undertake a short term assignment in the form of an internship at a law firm, think tank, policy organization or an  international organization which may ultimately culminate into a full-time job. Though, I must say that securing a H1B sponsorship for an international LL.M. student from India is not very easy.

 

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

As an aspiring academic, the learning and knowledge gaining process is life-long. Five years from now, I intend to give final touches to my doctoral thesis and prepare to submit the same.   My short term goal is to get a research and policy assistant position in an international think tank or in an academic setting in the US or elsewhere in the world before I head back to India.  My aim is to get an in-depth insight into the intersection of intellectual property with innovation policy and its influence in determining a developing country’s IP, technology and innovation policy.

 

Lastly, what would be your parting message for our readers?

I have not yet reached a stage where I am capable enough to give advice to anyone. However, I will reiterate one of Steve Jobs quotes which I truly believe in- “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of heart, you’ll know when you find it”.

There comes a stage in every law student’s academic life, where he/she is tempted to get into the rat race for the “BIG” law firm jobs. This is fine till the time the student is passionate about the subject and the job. However, don’t get swayed away by your peers if corporate law or “Big Law” is not your beckoning!

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