How I Found Ideas for My Personal Statement for an LLM at Harvard: Part 3

Daria Levina

This post is a continuation of the series where I show how I found ideas and stories for my personal statement to Harvard. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Teaching at the Moscow State University

At the time of my LLM applications, I was doing a PhD at the Moscow State University and teaching the law of obligations to 3rd year students, a weekly class of two blocks, 90 minutes each.

It was extremely time- and effort-consuming. I’d prepare the entire week, and still feel likeI could have done more (180 minutes is a lot of time to fill!) Nonetheless, I loved it. I liked the students, I liked the conversations we had, and I learned a lot from that experience.

In the context of my application, I decided to connect it to coaching a team for the Concours Charles-Rousseau as it fit with my plan to transition to academia.

Note that I didn’t use the PhD experience itself. Although it was extremely valuable to me, I could not think how of it would move my argument forward. I felt it'd clutter the essay. I therefore only talked about it on my CV and the application form.

Noerr and other Work experiences

By the time I started my applications, I’d had a collection of diverse work experiences.

I’d done internships at the State Office for Registration in Moscow, the Association for International Arbitration in Brussels, and the Morgan Lewis’ office in Moscow. I’d also been working as an associate at Noerr, a German law firm, and as a research fellow at the Higher School of Economics.

It probably sounds like a lot. In my defense I can say I did all that on a sheer enthusiasm for law in its various expressions. By the time I decided to do an LLM I had a pretty good idea of what brought me the most joy.

I’m articulating this to highlight that everyone’s journey is different, and you don’t have to do as much before you apply. There is no condition (unless, of course, the program specifies that there is. I remember Chevening required people to have 2+ years of work experience to apply.) Many people come to an LLM already having work experience, and many people don’t. Either one is ok. I've had a lot of classmates who did LLMs right after their first law degree, and were able to secure jobs that they dreamed of. Focus on what you have. You do you.

Most of my work experiences were rich in terms of analytical work but not in terms of events. As I ideated, I struggled with making them more specific and using them to highlight my strengths. Also, there was no way I could use them all in an essay. It’d be too cluttered.

One of the most memorable projects I worked on concerned a European client who wanted to sell yoga mats in Russia. An EU Regulation prohibited the use of certain chemicals due to their carcinogenic effects, but the mats were already produced – so the company (naturally) decided to try and sell them to a different market, where people were less valuable.

Unfortunately, the Russian national regulations allowed for a higher concentration of that chemical. However, there was a UN Convention with a similar scope that Russia was a part of, and a protocol to the Convention was being negotiated that prohibited that same chemical. When working on that project, I felt like Erin Brockovich. It was also one of the few instances when as a lawyer I felt a lot of control – which lawyers don’t often do when they advise companies to do or not do something. The client ended up not distributing the mats on the Russian market.

Participating in a Russian banking law reform

As a research fellow at the Higher School of Economics, I worked on two projects for the Russian Central Bank, advising it on the reform of pledge and the transfer of title regimes. My recommendations were implemented into the new law, and I was later invited to work for the Central Bank but declined.

I was 23 at the time, and participating in a law reform was a pretty big deal. I really wanted to use that experience in my essay, especially because it spoke to the theme that I wove into the essay: about lawyers being perceived as advisers rather than decision-makers. I could have connected it to the a plan of becoming a policy- and lawmaker. And I did use it for the Cambridge LLM motivation letter. There, however, it was the only plan, plan A.

I initially included it in the Harvard essay as well. However, by the time I applied to Harvard (it was a year later; I secured admission to Cambridge but did not find sufficient funding), my goals for the future changed and evolved. My focus shifted to academia. I found that talking about law reform experience diverted attention from my main plan of effecting change through teaching, and overall it did not make the essay stronger. I therefore opted for excluding it from the essay. I did highlight this experience though on my CV and the application form.


This concludes the ideation part, ie. generating ideas about what to write about in your LLM personal statement based on your background and the things you've done in your life. In the next post, I demonstrate how I made decisions about what to include in my essay and what to leave out.