Alumna develops learning platform for new lawyers

Nyssa Chopra '17

The messages came in at a trickle at first. One or two a day. Within the week, more emails and LinkedIn messages, then the floodgates opened. Friends, acquaintances, and mentees of UW Law School graduate and then-Microsoft IP attorney Nyssa P. Chopra ’17 shared their spring 2020 COVID-19 legal career nightmares: offers withdrawn, loans due and dreams suddenly deferred.

They had questions and needed advice: How to connect over virtual coffee? How to network in our virtual world? How to pivot to another type of law?

Almost overnight, Mentor in Law was born. Starting out as a biweekly newsletter, Mentor in Law has evolved into a global digital learning platform that provides professional development training, practical resources, and mentorship for law students, recent graduates, and early career lawyers, particularly those who are first-generation or from underrepresented groups.

Chopra, who is now a tech lawyer at Perkins Coie LLP, noted that this wasn’t necessarily a new need. It was just another odd gap exposed by COVID-19.

Closing the gap

With higher education in general, the space between studying a subject and doing the job can be wide. Internships, summer jobs and mentoring help close that gap and provide easier onboarding to a new career. Yet for some reason, Chopra said, the gap between law school, the bar exam and practicing the craft seems especially wide.

“The legal industry has always been slow to adapt to change, and legal education has been no different,” she said. “Our current world needs something different from a 21st century lawyer.”

“They need more business acumen, more collaboration and EQ skills, more tech savviness, more geopolitical awareness, and the list goes on,” she said. “Additionally, there are so many unspoken rules in the legal industry, which ends up disproportionately impacting first-generation and historically underrepresented minority groups. This is where wide access to information, as facilitated by technology and mentorship can greatly help in bridging the gap.”

Chopra experienced this firsthand and was already all-in on mentoring. Pre-COVID, she sandwiched calls and 1:1 virtual coffees into her busy Microsoft work week and found herself especially partial to young first generation lawyers who seemed to struggle with things like introduction letters.

“Some messages come across as entitled, terse and demanding,” she said. “Brevity is certainly appreciated and more likely to elicit a response, but there is an art to reaching out to people. Tone and word choice matter. Email etiquette and lessons in professionalism can go a long way in opening doors.”

A growing resource

Since the first newsletter in June 2020, Mentor in Law has grown in every possible way.  First, it no longer includes just Chopra’s experience.

“It’s great for me to provide my perspective,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it’s only one person. Different things resonate with different people. We need diversity of thought and backgrounds.”

The site now includes Q&As with practicing and non-practicing attorneys who explore new types of law and alternative careers. The global mentoring program includes mentors from Microsoft, Google, Amazon, fortune 500 companies, and top law firms; federal prosecutors; law professors; journalists; diplomats; Attorneys General; and more.

“We also recognize that some people learn better from watching videos or attending webinars instead of reading newsletters,” she said. “So we incorporated new mediums into the presentations and information. The platform now includes the written word, audio, video and visuals.”

“There are so many things you can do with a JD in our modern era that can even pay more than a typical big firm job,” Chopra said. “In Seattle, we have a huge tech industry and they need all types of backgrounds, so if you’re looking at that Privacy Program Manager position at Microsoft, for example, having a law degree can be a huge asset.”

There are just so many things to cover, she added: Digital branding for lawyers, networking for introverts, Blockchain for lawyers, the art of storytelling for lawyers for both litigators and transactional lawyers.

“I truly enjoy paying it forward and doing my part to diversify and demystify the legal industry. It gives me joy to share the same information that mentors have shared with me over the years. This is my way of giving back and creating that meaningful change in the legal industry.”