Q&A with Chaya Baliga JD ’12, Associate Privacy Counsel, Google
At the start of the pandemic, Chaya Baliga JD ’12, associate privacy counsel at Google, says she and other Santa Clara Law alumni had an urge to feel useful and help others. So she launched an alumni mentorship program at Santa Clara Law that has connected more than 130 alumni with recent grads.
Tell us more about the Alumni Mentorship Program. How did the idea come about?
When shelter-in-place started and the reality of the pandemic settled in, a lot of my text groups with friends were panicking over childcare, uncertain upcoming event/vacation plans, worrying over the news, changes at friends’ law firms in terms of pay and benefits etc., but there were also a lot of conversations around gratitude and this urge to feel useful. Friends were making masks for healthcare workers and setting up fundraisers for those whose income was completely wiped out due to restrictions.
As graduations were canceled and schools confirmed cancellation of the rest of their in-person school year, a lot of my text groups pretty quickly turned to empathy for graduating classes of high school and college missing out on their best semester.
Among lawyer friends the discussion was a little different—a lot of us (especially those who graduated during or in the few years following the last big recession) remember that last semester of law school as an extremely stressful time.</p
Without any of the Covid-19 stress, I remember being at my mental and physical worst that last semester of law school. I had good grades, was involved in the High Tech Law Journal, had completed several internships, and led some student organizations. I exhausted myself over three years and had checked off all the boxes, but I still didn’t have any hope of a job lined up, and I was about to face the dreaded summer of the Bar exam. A lot of my lawyer friends had similar stories. We talked about how much more stressful it would be if we had graduated in 2020, with the uncertainty of when/where the Bar exam would be administered, as well as the law firm economy and how that would impact hiring of junior attorneys.
What did you do to make it happen? Who else worked with you on it?
With that “what can I do to help?” itch that a lot of us started to feel at the beginning of all this, I checked in with Santa Clara Law Professor Michelle Oberman to see if there were any extra mentorship programs or ways to help 2020 grads. After some back and forth with her and Rupa Bhandari JD ’05, Assistant Dean for the Office of Career Management, I set up a simple Google form to recruit potential mentors, posted a link on LinkedIn, and sent the form out to my Santa Clara Law alumni friends with a note encouraging them to send the link out to their friends and so on. The response was predictably enthusiastic—within a few days we had alumni signed up offering to mentor more than 100 students/new grads and at this point we have more than 130 alumni signed up, most of which have offered to mentor 2, 3, or more than 3 mentees.
Why did you feel inspired to start this program?
When I graduated and felt a bit hopeless looking to get my foot in the door of a law firm, I remember feeling so surprisingly supported by any Santa Clara Law alumni I was connected to via classmates, professors, or even cold calls. While we’re all dealing with some version of a tough time, virtual coffee dates and networking are far easier to schedule and fit in when everyone has far fewer actual social plans.
No matter what happens with the Bar exam or hiring, it will only help new grads to have connections in the legal field who can keep them in mind as positions open and vouch for them to connect them to companies/firms/orgs of interest.
What has most surprised you about developing and launching this program?
Santa Clara Law does a stellar job of creating a community so it isn’t surprising to me that alumni were interested and willing to help—but given that everyone is going through some challenges right now, it was heartwarming to see the number of alumni who not only signed up to mentor but offered to mentor three or more new grads. I hope new grads realize they have a giant, supportive network—not just to help get resumes through doors but to connect with and commiserate with as they face the challenges of being a 2020 grad and future challenges as an attorney.
How can more alumni get involved?
If you haven’t signed up to mentor, please do so! I’ve been involved in quite a few mentoring programs, many through Santa Clara Law, since graduating, and usually mentees are eager to reach out and set up calls and meetings. I think this year is different. We pushed through law school and had a luxurious sigh of relief after the Bar exam was over, but recent grads particularly are in a tunnel that keeps stretching with a reduced chance for social relief. I encourage mentors to set a calendar alert to check in with their mentees regularly—it’s sometimes difficult for students and recent grads to stay motivated and on track, and if this year has taught us anything, it’s that a little help can go a long way. I encourage mentors to be proactive and check in on not only how mentees are handling Bar prep and job searching, but how they’re doing. Keep a watchful eye out for new potential opportunities for your mentees and try to help connect new grads and students to your own connections so they can expand their networks while dealing with entering the profession remotely.