Alyssa Senzel: Giving Back Is a Priority

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By David O’Boyle
November 13, 2017

Alyssa Senzel With members in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, the D.C. Bar is beginning a regular feature to profile the people who make up our community. Read about your peers, their lives, and their work around the world.

Soon after graduating from law school, Alyssa Senzel, now deputy general counsel and compliance officer at Blackboard, took on a pro bono case with a colleague for a transgender woman who wanted to adopt her foster child. To this day her work when she was “just a baby lawyer,” as Senzel calls it, was one of the most meaningful experiences of her career.

“An agency within the D.C. government objected to the adoption,” says Senzel. “So we represented her, we went to trial, and we won.”

Nearly two decades after the case, the woman recently reached out to Senzel to tell her that her daughter had graduated from high school was now in college. “That was very rewarding,” says Senzel.

Throughout her career, Senzel has made it a priority to give back. She regularly volunteers with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center Advice & Referral Clinic as an employment law mentor. Almost every month, Senzel works with the attorney volunteers at the Clinic who have clients with employment law issues, providing them advice and game plans to assist their clients.

“I like the Clinic because it is a way to give back to the community in my area of expertise,” says Senzel. “My work with the Advice & Referral Clinic takes what I do for a living and makes it useful for those in need of help.”

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in U.S. history and environmental studies, Senzel worked in environmental consulting for a couple of years before attending the University of Virginia School of Law. Originally, she thought she would practice environmental law. But after joining the firm McKenna & Cuneo as an associate, she became part of the firm’s employment law team.

“I loved the immediacy and the problem-solving nature of employment law,” Senzel says. “I liked counseling my clients—getting on the phone with them and helping them solve an issue.”

Additionally, Senzel found she had a knack for conducting trainings, and found joy in public speaking on employment topics. “Public speaking is not something I ever thought I would be doing,” says Senzel. “But it became an enjoyable and meaningful part of my practice.”

The secret to becoming a good public speaker, according to Senzel, is repetition. “It’s not until you’ve done a program a whole lot of times that you feel as though you’ve really nailed it.”

Senzel moved to an in-house role at Blackboard, an educational technology company, in 2005. Having extensive experience at big law firms and as in-house counsel, Senzel says there are pluses to both environments.

“As in-house counsel, I very much enjoy being involved in strategic and business decisions in addition to purely legal matters. I also like not having to deal with billable hours. What I do miss about being at a larger firm is having the luxury of working with people who focus on the same areas of law that I do.”

Born into a family of runners, Senzel spends a lot of her free time running and biking, and even incorporating running into her commute to work a couple of times each week.

“Running is one of the main things I do that helps me clear my head and de-stress,” says Senzel. “I’m always more focused after I run. It’s not that I care about how fast I finish any race—and, to be clear, I am not fast at all—it’s the focus required to train for and complete a race.”

As an avid traveler, Senzel often opts for adventure trips involving hiking and biking. Her passport is marked with stamps from countries like Australia, Iceland, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, China, and Israel. A couple of her recent itineraries involve biking trips in Ireland and Provence, France.

“I like to experience new cultures,” Senzel says. “I like to get out and move.”

But Senzel doesn’t only travel to unwind or de-stress. She sometimes incorporates volunteer work into her trips, aiming to give back while visiting new places. In 2015 she went to Cuba for two weeks to volunteer and engage in conversational English practice with locals in a small village.

Similarly, Senzel incorporates volunteerism into her hobbies at home. Senzel raises money for and rides in the annual Bike MS fundraising ride. She also is a co-chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel National Capital Region’s team for the Lawyers Have Heart race.

When asked what motivates her to volunteer, Senzel says, “I want to use whatever skills and tools I have to help folks who need it.”