Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Date : May 4, 2021
To : Young Lawyers


I sincerely thank Assoc. Prof. Umakanth Varottil, the director of Graduate Coursework Studies and the NUS Law Academy for taking the time to answer my questions about the importance of becoming familiar with Asian jurisdictions. DK


DK: Associate Professor Varottil, National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (NUS Law), sees itself as part of a global conversation about law study and practice. Could you please elaborate the NUS Law’s global perspective and how NUS Law infuses this perspective into its academic programs?


UV: NUS is Asia’s global law school, and our graduate programs are integral to that vision. Each year, we welcome students from several countries around the world. The sizeable diversity in our student population provides opportunities for students from varied legal cultures to learn from each other and maintain strong and enduring relationships. We offer a suite of nearly 120 courses each year for students to choose from depending upon their specialization. These are taught not only by NUS Law faculty who have been trained in multiple jurisdictions, but also by a number of visiting professors from leading law schools globally. Moreover, some of our graduate programs allow students to spend one semester in other global cities: Shanghai for the LLM in International Business Law, and Geneva for those undertaking the double degree program in the LLM in International Arbitration & Dispute Resolution.


DK:  Why is Singapore an ideal place to study or research law?


UV: Singapore is one of the most dynamic and open economies in the world, and the gateway for many multinational corporations to Asia. It has acquired the status of a legal hub in the region, especially in areas such as corporate and financial services law, maritime law and international arbitration and dispute resolution, thereby offering tremendous access to legal resources. It also provides a suitable vantage point for the study of Asia, including (when conditions will allow this again) enabling our students to travel in the region to obtain a firsthand experience of the Asian societies they learn about in a classroom setting.


DK: As you may know, Turkey has a civil law legal system. To become a lawyer in Turkey, students are required to complete a four-year Bachelor of Law (LLB) and complete a one-year internship (with a law firm and courts) following graduation. Why do you think a civil-law-trained lawyer should pursue an LLM degree from a Singapore law school?


UV: The practice of law has increasingly acquired international and cross-border overtones, with several international contracts governed by the law of jurisdictions steeped in the common law tradition. In such a global milieu, fields of law such as international arbitration and international trade call for a basic knowledge of common law even if a lawyer were to primarily practice in a civil law jurisdiction. Recognizing this reality, we at NUS Law ensure that students from a civil law jurisdiction, such as Turkey, obtain firm grounding in the common law by requiring them to take a course on the common law of contract. Similarly, students from civil law jurisdictions in some of our specialized corporate or business law programs are required to take a course on Elements of Company Law, taught primarily from a common law perspective. Students can also choose to take several advanced common law elective courses while at NUS Law. Although Singapore follows the common law system, several of its neighbors and trading partners practice civil law. Education at NUS Law, therefore, embraces the interplay of the two legal traditions in an increasingly globalized world.


DK: I understand that all students accepted to NUS Law are enrolled as LLM candidates and that they have the option to pursue specializations in different areas. Could you please tell us more about the various LLM specializations?


UV: The wide array of elective courses we offer our LLM students at NUS Law are structured around seven specializations. They are

  • Asian Legal Studies;
  • Corporate & Financial Services Law;
  • Intellectual Property & Technology Law;
  • International Arbitration & Dispute Resolution;
  • International & Comparative Law;
  • Maritime Law; and
  • International Business Law.

In order to obtain a specialization indicated on their degree scrolls, students will have to complete a minimum number of credits and, in some cases, compulsory modules as part of the requirement of the specialist LLM. Alternatively, students may opt from the outset to take any modules of their choice to graduate with an LLM degree with no specialization. The latter option affords maximum flexibility in course selection according to the student’s individual preferences and interests, subject of course to the availability of space in the different modules, especially the popular ones.


DK: Among such specializations, I would like to talk about three in more depth. International arbitration is an area of law that brings together academics and practitioners from all over the world and requires knowledge of various rules. Therefore, there is a need to acquire an in-depth understanding of different laws and practices of international arbitration and dispute resolution. What does the LLM in International Arbitration & Dispute Resolution specialization of NUS Law offer, given that Singapore is one of the world’s fastest emerging arbitration hubs?

Is there an opportunity for LLM candidates to focus on specialized topics such as energy disputes, construction disputes, etc.?

Could the LLM students have a chance to get exposed to global arbitration institutions such as Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC)? If yes, in what ways?


UV: Indeed, Singapore in one of the preferred and fastest growing arbitration hubs not only in Asia, but globally. The Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) has acquired a strong reputation. In fact, the number of cases handled by the SIAC increased by more than 100% in 2020 to 1,080 cases. At the same time, the LLM in International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution (IADR) prepares its students to arbitrate or deploy other means of dispute resolution anywhere in the world under applicable law or rules. The IADR program is able to attract world-renowned experts in the field such as Gary Born from the USA, Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler from Switzerland, and Bernard Hanotiau from Belgium as visiting professors. These visitors complement our qualified and experienced faculty members.

In addition to basic courses on international commercial arbitration and on international dispute settlement, NUS Law offers a carefully curated set of courses on topics as diverse as (i) China and International Arbitration, (ii) Comparative Evidence in International Arbitration, (iii) Conflict of Law in International Commercial Arbitration, (iv) Energy Arbitration, (v) International Arbitration & the New York Convention, (vi) Current Challenges to Investment Arbitration, (vii) Negotiation, and (viii) Mediation, among many other topics.

The students in the LLM (IADR) can also avail themselves of the opportunity to attend specialized talks in the field organized just for them.  For example, they have recently benefited from talks by representatives of the SIAC, of the ICC International Court of Arbitration, of the Singapore International Commercial Court, and by independent arbitrators who have practiced for years in Korea, Hong Kong, and London. This has been possible due to Singapore’s standing in the arbitration community and the availability of experienced personnel here. Of course, the program also enables students to obtain familiarity with the ICC Rules and the SIAC Rules.


DK: NUS Law also offers a double degree program with the University of Geneva in international dispute settlement. Could you please briefly explain this program?


UV: Under this double degree program, a student can spend one academic year at NUS Law and then six months at MIDS (Master in International Dispute Settlement) at the University of Geneva and obtain a double degree. NUS Law will nominate students who secure very good results in their first semester and they can apply to MIDS for admission. Students who obtain the double degree would have a solid training in arbitration and dispute settlement from both the Asian and European perspectives.


DK: Globalization has increased the need to learn about different legal regimes and proceedings. I know from my personal experience that Turkish law graduates tend to focus their studies on EU, UK, or US laws. However, with the increase in trade relations with Asian countries and with Singapore in particular, I think it has become necessary to focus on the laws of major Asian countries from a comparative law perspective. In what ways do you think the International & Comparative Law specialization would be beneficial for prospective applicants with a Turkish law background?


UV: Nearly 60% of the world population lives in Asia, which is also one of the fastest growing economic regions in the world. As a result, there is a significant economic and political shift toward Asia. It includes the large growth economies of China, India and Indonesia, the established economies of Japan and Korea, and leading financial centers such as Singapore and Hong Kong, among others. Hence, familiarity with Asian jurisdictions from a comparative perspective would add immense strengths to a modern lawyer’s repertoire of knowledge and skills and ensuring the required preparedness for the future.

The LLM in International & Comparative Law aims to prepare students for this “Asian Century”, as does the LLM in Asian Legal Studies. The programs enjoy a list of courses focusing on international and comparative law. Supplementing the strong comparative tradition of NUS Law, especially in Asia, are the Centre for Asian Legal Studies that supports the research of our faculty members on Asian law, and the Asian Law Institute that is a collection of various leading Asian law schools to foster Asian legal scholarship.


DK: Globalization is reshaping the market for legal services, especially in emerging economies. This trend has created the need for lawyers capable of practicing law in corporate law fields such as mergers & acquisitions, project finance, and securities. How would an LLM candidate benefit from the Corporate & Financial Services Law Program at NUS Law? Could you please tell us about the curriculum offerings of this specialization?


UV: With Singapore being a significant commercial hub in Asia and an attractive venue for doing business, NUS Law is in a unique position to offer courses as part of the specialization in Corporate & Financial Services Law (CFSL). The offerings span topics such as banking, corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions, securities regulation and corporate insolvency. While some courses focus on Singapore law, others cover leading Asian jurisdictions such as China, Japan and Indonesia, and yet others are more broad-based with universal application. The presence of top international law firms coupled with proactive corporate and financial regulators enable Singapore to play a pioneering role in innovative developments such as Fintech, cryptocurrency and real estate investment trusts (REITs), which make it a highly competitive market. A mix of academics and practitioners undertakes the teaching of courses in this field, which provides a spectrum of viewpoints to students, ranging from a strong theoretical foundation to advanced practical knowledge.


DK: Could you explain the LLM admissions process at NUS Law?


UV: We invite applications from mid-September until mid-November each year for the August intake in the following year. Prospective applicants must have an LLB degree and must meet our English language requirements. They can apply online and select the LLM specialization they prefer before mailing in required supporting documents such as academic transcripts, personal statement and CV for our consideration. We would request that two academic referees submit their reports through our online system. Admission to the LLM programs at NUS Law involves a highly competitive selection process that our Admissions Office painstakingly carries out. We will inform all applicants of the outcome via email. Between April and July, successful applicants can expect to hear from us on immigration, housing, curriculum, orientation and other details to prepare for their formal enrolment in August.


DK: Who would be an ideal LLM candidate for NUS Law?


UV: We are seeking candidates who have strong academic credentials in their undergraduate law program, a well-rounded personality, and a strong curiosity to learn and engage with complex legal issues holistically. Other strengths include internships, participation in moot court competitions, publications and even general traits such as volunteering work or demonstrated leadership skills. These could vary by specialization. In gauging the suitability of students for our LLM programs, we will refer to the personal statement, CV and the reports of the academic referees.


DK: What would be your advice for prospective applicants who wish to pursue an LLM program in NUS Law but have financial limitations?

UV: Fully recognizing that meritorious students may face financial limitations, NUS Law has instituted a limited number of scholarships for LLM students, although they cover only tuition fees and not housing or other living expenses. Prospective applicants in need of financial assistance must indicate on the application form that they wish to be considered for a scholarship, and include a scholarship statement as one of the supporting documents. The competition for scholarships is extremely keen. Therefore, we would advise applicants to ensure that they plan their finances carefully, and are able to secure alternative funding on their own in the event that they cannot secure any scholarships. Prospective applicants may refer to the FAQs on our website for more details.


DK: Are there any employment or internship opportunities for LLM students or graduates in Singapore?


UV: A majority of our LLM graduates would normally return to their home countries for career advancements. Some have chosen to remain and pursue their careers in Singapore. Employment opportunities available to LLM students are extremely competitive, and employers typically seek candidates with a strong academic record and relevant work experience. As in most of the rest of the world, the present environment for job seekers in a challenging one, especially given the travel and border restrictions as well as recent government measures to tighten requirements for work and dependent passes.

A number of our LLM students also undertake internships in Singapore each year. NUS TalentConnect is an online job portal which provides our students with direct access to internship and other job opportunities. International LLM students at NUS Law with a valid Student Pass are able to work or intern without having to apply for a work pass:

(a) full time during the university vacation periods; and

(b) for a maximum of 16 hours a week during term time.


DK: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented disruptions to our lives, and universities from all over the world must still adhere to many restrictions. What are the Fall 2021 plans of the NUS Law?


UV: Despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19 pandemic, NUS Law has been committed to fulfilling our education mission, and we have continued to hold classes as scheduled by providing remote learning resources to all students. Since January 2021, physical classes have commenced for courses that have no more than 50 students, and that too with strict social distancing and contact tracing requirements to ensure the safety of our students and staff. International LLM students have been able to travel to Singapore after obtaining special permission from the Immigration and Customs Authority of Singapore. For classes with students unable to travel to Singapore, we have offered the hybrid mode of delivery whereby students can choose to either be present in class in person or join the class through the online mode from their respective locations. While we generally expect similar arrangements to be in place for Fall 2021, much of the final decision will depend upon the turn the pandemic situation takes both in Singapore and other geographies from which our students hail.


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


UV: Undertaking an LLM is an important step in a law student’s educational journey. It can be an enriching experience both professionally and personally. Hence, students may wish to take into account various factors before narrowing down their options, including the specialization they wish to pursue, the geography in which they intended to study and the timing of their enrolment.

I thank you for this excellent opportunity to share some details about NUS Law’s LLM programs, and acknowledge the generous contribution of a number of my colleagues towards this effort. For more information, please feel free to write to us at lawGRADadm@nus.edu.sg.

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