Nancy Gunzenhauser Popper, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, was the featured guest on Inspiring Women, an interview show hosted by Laurie McGraw featuring inspiring women at the pinnacle of their careers and those who are just starting out. In this episode, Ms. Popper discusses being an attorney and new mother and the importance of her network as well as a supportive work environment.
Following is an excerpt:
Laurie: Today, we are speaking with Nancy Gunzenhauser Popper and she is an attorney at the very esteemed office of Epstein Becker Green, a law firm, and she has put her focus in her law practice on employment law. She counsels clients on compliance, she advises employers, conducts audits, prepares agreements, and the like. Nancy has been chosen by her peers as one of the Best Lawyers in America– the “One to Watch.” This happened as recently as earlier just this year, 2021. Nancy has her degree from Vanderbilt University, her law degree from Brooklyn Law School, and Nancy we’re really pleased to have you on Inspiring Womentoday. …
Laurie: … Let’s just get started. Maybe tell us a little bit more about your background, what do you focus on at Epstein Becker Green?
Nancy: … So I am an employment lawyer, but most of what I do is really serving as a day-to-day advisor and counselor on issues that come up in the workplace for our clients. So anything from how to hire people, how to manage leaves of absence, and most recently, and by recently I mean for about the past year or so, dealing with issues related to COVID-19 in the workplace and how that's not only disrupted our personal lives but also disrupted our professional lives. And how to react and bring people back to work or change the way we work. So, we've seen a little bit of everything and been chasing to stay up with the latest – as news really changes day-to-day on COVID-related issues. And that has really been what’s keeping me the most busy over the past year, work-related at least.
Laurie: Well, there's a lot going on there, and I have to believe everybody is sort of facing a whole wide variety of issues in the workforce and the ways in which we work are going to be changing out of the pandemic in as much as they've been changing while we've been in the pandemic.
Laurie: But let’s start with … why the law? There’s a lot of schooling involved, a lot of things to invest time in, but what interested you in the law and what brought you to Epstein Becker Green?
Nancy: So, I was the first attorney in my family. I didn't have the background of having any other attorneys who I knew. My mom worked as a paralegal for a period of time, so I had some sort of introduction … but I always knew that I enjoyed problem-solving. And being within the legal world always presents a variety of opportunities to look at different problems. While I was in college at Vanderbilt I had the opportunity to intern at a law firm to see if I actually liked it. I was also dabbling in potentially going into the world of finance – I had a math degree, which no other lawyer on the face of the Earth enjoys doing math …
Nancy: I tried out a lot of different things and realized that I was interested in going to law school. When I graduated it was at the height of the recession so law school was a pretty good next step for myself as well as a lot of others right around that time. So it was a pretty competitive year in looking at law school. But I decided to go to Brooklyn Law just because of the incredible opportunities that you have in New York City to get experience.
Nancy: When I was looking at other firms while in law school and thinking about where to go, I was drawn to Epstein Becker’s focus on employment law. Our firm really does two types of law and we have done them for a very long time – since the inception of the firm: healthcare law, which I know you spoke with one of my colleagues, Lynn Shapiro Snyder, about starting the healthcare practice at Epstein Becker (Green), as well as labor and employment law. And really the synergies between those two practices and how we work with a variety of different clients on a lot of the same issues.
Nancy: So, I had done an internship in law school that introduced me to employment law and knew that that's where I wanted to focus my practice. It’s just an incredibly interesting area of the law and one that is continually changing as we see legislation happening largely at the state and local level over the years affecting employers, affecting employee rights, and changing what the workplace looks like and what the future of work will look like. So when I was looking at different firms I knew I wanted to focus and labor employment and that drew me to EBG. I've actually been with Epstein Becker (Green) for my entire legal career, which is pretty rare among attorneys of my generation. I would say most people I know have bounced around quite a bit … but wonderful opportunities to focus within the areas of labor and employment that I enjoy – which is a lot of this counseling and compliance work as opposed to focusing solely on litigation – and it’s been an incredible place to learn and grow in how to become a lawyer, and become an employment lawyer, and how to work with our clients to create practical solutions for the day-to-day issues that are coming up.
Laurie: Sounds like you didn't necessarily know, you didn't wake up in 10th grade and say, “OK I want to be a lawyer.” You sort of discovered that you liked problem-solving and then you fell into it and you pursued it. You didn’t necessarily have role models pulling you into it, but then you also wanted to look at a career where you could be successful when you're dealing with a pretty competitive landscape – and most certainly the law is one of those places where many people can have excellent careers. But … not being a lawyer myself, but certainly knowing something about the profession of law, I think about things like, “Wow, that's a lot of hours that you have to put in to become a competent attorney, a competent legal professional.” So is that true for you? Is this a lot of hours? Is this a lot of time commitment on the job?
Nancy: Certainly any lawyer is going to be working a good number of hours. You know, this isn’t a job where you clock in at nine and you clock out at five with your one hour lunch break. That's just not generally how we work. And certainly during the pandemic the blur between “on the clock / off the clock” has gotten a little bit blurrier now that we're at home and we always have access … Long hours can be part of the job, but unlike a lot of other people I know who are in other areas of the law, or potentially at other firms, there is a pretty strong encouragement to have a life outside of work where we are at Epstein Becker (Green). We're not working all the time, but I don't mind working hard when I know what I'm working towards.
Nancy: We're trying to problem solve for our clients and it's not work just to be working. So I enjoy what I do and it doesn't make it seem so much like work, which is a really great way to be at this point in your career.
Laurie: Most women, “inspiring” and “aspiring” women, the foot to the gas pedal most of the time, but then finding ways to have some balance is a theme and something that sounds like is important to you, as well. It also seems like the younger generations – I'm assuming you're a GenY-er –
Nancy: I’m a proud millennial!
Laurie: OK! Well then, you are part of the some of the largest part of the workforce these days. As a proud millennial, that work life balance is a common theme. How do you keep that balance, I'm assuming it's important to you – you're just telling us that. How do you keep the balance in dealing with the virtual world where you do need to be … available at all times?
Nancy: … Well, just making what you want to do your priority at that moment. I have a lot of … with respect to time management, setting out times that I’m calling “my workday.” So I tend to start a little bit earlier. My husband and I welcomed our first child during the pandemic, so we're up early and we start our days and, at a certain point, I turn off so that I can spend some time with my family and eat dinner and then if I need to go back to it, I can clock back in later on during other times. But, I think it's really about understanding if you're able to step away and it's not something that's absolutely urgent then, take the time you set aside for yourself to focus on family … focus on other interests that you have. Trying to keep weekends actually as time off instead of working through it because it can just feel like another day when you’re home every single day. …