Juan Cilliers is a counsel at the National Bar Council of South Africa and is a current student on Queen Mary Online’s LLM in International Dispute Resolution.
We spoke to Juan about his motivations for studying dispute resolution with Queen Mary, how he thinks the course will impact his career, and how he manages studying alongside a busy full-time job.
Can you tell us more about yourself and your background?
Juan: I was born and raised in South Africa and attended high school primarily in South Africa, but also in France and Germany. I completed my LLB degree in South Africa during 2017. I was then offered a position to volunteer for three months at an international nongovernmental organisation in India where I worked as part of a team of young international researchers to compile a research report.
The report was ultimately submitted to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in London during April 2018. I was then admitted as an Advocate (which is similar to a barrister or trial lawyer in other jurisdictions) in May 2018 and I have since specialised in commercial law.
What motivated you to study the International Dispute Resolutions LLM (online)?
Juan: Working as an Advocate I gained extensive knowledge of commercial litigation and was following the emergence of alternative dispute resolution specifically in South Africa. The chief justice of South Africa implemented mandatory alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in South African courts during 2019 in order to relieve the workload of domestic courts.
This sparked my interest to further my studies since I had a strong interest in commercial and international law and alternative dispute resolution. I did my own research and came across the International Dispute Resolution LLM at Queen Mary, whose School of International Arbitration is renowned worldwide. Their programme was exactly what I needed to shape my career according to my interests.
Why did you choose Queen Mary University of London?
Juan: The International Dispute Resolution programme offered by Queen Mary satisfied all the requirements that I set for myself in choosing an LLM. Due to the fierce competition in the legal profession, I needed to become specialised in a “niche” field of commercial law and gain a competitive advantage and to have exposure to alternative forms of dispute resolution on a broader scale and at a leading university.
Queen Mary’s online LLM programme made it easy for me to integrate my professional career and studies since its design meant I could study and work at the same time and on my own time.Visit our LLM page to watch a full video Q&A with Juan and find out more about the course:
How do you think the course will help you advance your career?
Juan: Alternative dispute resolution is still emerging in South Africa and international commercial and investment arbitration is still unknown to most practitioners and academics in South Africa. This opens up the possibility for me to become known as an expert on international dispute resolution locally and to be approached for assistance by universities, clients or government.
What networking opportunities are available to online students?
Juan: Queen Mary offers new students a platform called “Queen Mary Network Online” where students can connect with alumni who may already be working in the field they are studying in. The Centre for Commercial Law Studies and the School of International Arbitration also frequently invite students to virtual discussions and seminars where they can engage with practitioners and academics.
How has the course impacted you on a professional and personal level?
Juan: About six months after I started the Queen Mary International Dispute LLM a senior colleague heard that I completed the first course in International Commercial Arbitration and asked that I assist him with an arbitration where he was involved as lead counsel in a large construction dispute at the International Chamber of Commerce or the ICC.
This has helped me gain traction in my international commercial arbitration career and was valuable experience since I could combine theory and practice.
Personally, the programme has taught me how to manage my time and prioritise since I have developed an efficient schedule whereby I can work full time on my career and manage my studies at the same time.
How do you manage your time?
Juan: Time management is specific to each student according to their personal and work circumstances. I think it comes down to prioritisation. My work tasks either require that something needs to be done immediately or within a few days, weeks or months. I always insist on a deadline to avoid surprises.
If something needs to be done immediately, I will do it and set aside the less urgent work for a while and focus on my studies. Once I have covered my studies for the week and done the assignments when it is an assignment week, I will then work on other tasks that need to be done.
There are also many apps that help you manage your time and prioritise tasks and some of them are very useful.
I also think it is important not to lose hope if your time management strategy fails every now and then, if you quickly reorganise things you will end up achieving whatever needs to be done.
What skill set is required to be a successful student?
Juan: A student should find a source of motivation and always keep in mind the goal which is graduation, but more importantly, learning. Independence is very important. If you do not know something, you should first research the question and try to find the answer yourself since you have all the resources at your disposal.
Listening is also very important. Lecturers or other students may engage in more informal conversation during a lecture and in the process, you may pick up answers to future questions in assignments or exams. It is also important to reflect at every step of the learning process since this helps to recall information at a later stage.
Can you share any advice for students thinking of studying the LLM?
Juan: Yes. Students are required to do lots of reading for their programmes. I think it’s important to get used to this and to create an atmosphere that helps you get through the reading. I usually find a sunny spot in my home, sit down with my tablet and switch my phone to mute and take short breaks after each article that I’ve read.
It is also very useful to have a notepad so you can make a short note on what you’ve read and the name of the author and the title of the article because you will likely revisit the same article later when you write an assignment or exam.
What’s impressed you about the programme so far?
Juan: What has impressed me most are the lecturers and the tutors. They are typically both practitioners and academics or have experience in practice before becoming academics. Also, lecturers expect students to read before a lecture and the lecture tends to be conversational and the practical application of theories, doctrines or principles are often discussed.
Thank you to Juan for sharing his thoughts on the programme with us! You can start our International Dispute Resolution LLM this September and study part-time without interrupting your career. Speak to our experienced course adviser team to find out more: