In Her Own Words: NY Attorney Nancy Gunzenhauser Popper’s Whirlwind of a Pandemic


Nancy Gunzenhauser Popper, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, authored an article for Bizwomen’s “In Her Own Words” series that discusses her perspective on living in the age of the coronavirus, titled “Normal Is What You Make of It.”

Following is an excerpt:

In January 2020, as I began to read reports of a new illness, questions about business travel trickled in from our clients. As an employment lawyer who counsels clients on day-to-day issues, keeping an eye on what’s happening outside of the “legal news” is critical. Our firm began to advise clients on how to react to this novel virus, recalling guidance on other pandemics, such as Ebola and H1N1. My colleague and mentor stopped by my office in early February to see if I recalled the phrase “social distancing.” It was a new one to me.

In February, as the volume and urgency of questions intensified, I organized an internal working group of attorneys in our firm to brainstorm ideas and ensure consistent approaches to address what was now labeled as a coronavirus. By mid-March, our whole world turned upside down. As I took my last train ride out of Manhattan, after recording a webinar on how employers could prepare for Covid-19, it seemed clear that life was no longer normal. Things were closing down for two weeks, allegedly. By the end of the weekend, we were in full lockdown, and every single client, across every industry, was scrambling to figure out what came next.

With businesses forced to close and workforces either shuttered or shifted to fully remote, our work to help clients survive this crisis was only punctuated by meals and sleep. Weekends did not exist for months. I think my dog was the only one in our house happy to have us home full-time. Our firm went to work creating countless resources for our clients, as the pandemic touched on every aspect of their business. In that time, as we remarked on how things were different, we all settled into a new routine.

Just how much has changed in a year is remarkable. “Social distancing” is now a part of our lexicon, along with “pandemic,” “coronavirus,” “quarantine,” and “asymptomatic” (on Merriam-Webster’s top words of 2020). For me, this past year has brought personal and professional changes.

Our “pandemic baby” arrived in October. While I am among many others who have gone through pregnancy and having a newborn in the past year, complete with masked labor (do not recommend), solo doctor visits, and fewer post-birth visitors (maybe this one was a good change?), I still mourn for not getting to have the “normal” experience.

Professional change has come my way, as well. In November, while out on parental leave, I received news that I would be promoted to partner. It was thrilling and overwhelming at the same time. In my first few weeks back at work after leave, imposter syndrome hit hard. Slowly, I have been getting back into my groove. As may be expected, questions about Covid-19 have not slowed. Instead of asking how to get employees out of the office, I am now happily advising clients on how to bring those employees back in. I have learned more about vaccines than I ever thought I would. Our Covid-19 working group team has grown, and we’re continuing to provide thought leadership on the future of work.

As with every new experience across the past year, the need to adapt has been crucial. While things look quite different these days, with change comes a new normal. And normal is what you make of it.