GW Law Alumni: An Intergenerational Commitment

May 23, 2023

Motivated. Loyal. Grateful.

By Sarah Kellogg

Motivated. Loyal. Grateful. For GW Law alumni, those three words define their relationship with their alma mater, even long after they’ve graduated and gone on to successful legal careers. Their commitment is unmistakable, and it has kindled a desire by many to give back to the law school with their most precious of resources—their time.

No law school can thrive without devoted alumni, a vast corps of graduates who support the school’s mission through financial and in-kind support. Alumni engagement programs are critical to building a lifelong association between school and graduate. Beyond financial contributions, the custom of giving extends to enlisting GW Law alumni in the business at hand—engaging, mentoring, and training current law students. The system has proven to be exceptionally effective, as alumni cycle back through the law school to help in numerous capacities with variable time requirements.

"Our talented GW Law alumni bring a high level of enthusiasm for giving back to the law school. Creating connections between our alumni and our current students enriches the students, the alumni, and the law school."

Dayna Bowen Matthew
GW Law Dean and Harold H. Greene Professor of Law


The George Washington Law Alumni Association (GWLAA) has become a key partner in not only attracting new students but also providing current students with mentoring and guidance. Just look at the standout contributions of alumni volunteers in FY 2022: 105 alumni served as adjunct professors at GW Law; 98 alumni volunteered as moot court judges; 121 alumni attended student/alumni events; and more than 70 alumni called admitted students in spring 2022 to encourage them to attend GW Law. Clearly, alumni volunteer contributions are adding up.

Assistant Dean David M. Johnson, who oversees GW Law’s pro bono and advocacy programs, including its adjunct faculty, of which many are alumni, says alumni are eager to find a way to contribute in significant and small ways. “There is a real sense of community among alumni volunteers,” he says. “They’re giving to the law school, but they don’t think of it as giving. It is a level of engagement, both with students and other alumni.”

An Abundance of Opportunity

Adam Bofill quote - “I’m not at the stage of my career where I can be contributing massive amounts of money to the school, so this is my way of trying to give back.”

GW Law offers alumni multiple opportunities to work with the school, whether joining advisory councils or serving on mock interview programs, judging a moot court competition, or becoming an adjunct faculty member. The focus of most of these programs is to bring alumni in direct contact with current students where they can share their knowledge and acumen.

Some of these opportunities come directly from GW Law or are offered in cooperation with the Student Bar Association (SBA) or the GWLAA. A good example of this kind of cooperation is the peer mentoring program for 1Ls, which brings the alumni office, the SBA, and the GWLAA together to support students.

In fact, a number of GW Law offices and programs, from the Center for Professional Development and Career Strategy ( Career Center) to the Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) to individual academic programs, are seeking to incorporate alumni into law school activities. “We have good communication lines,” says Laura E.P. Sheehan, manager of alumni career services in the Career Center. “We have invited alumni to present talks about the books they have published that were directly relevant to our current student body. In terms of mentorship programs, we are still very much in the nascent stages of getting that program up and running or reimagined,” she adds.

In August 2022, Scott Watkins, JD ’92, lectured about his recently published book, The Insider’s Guide to Law Firm Land, an inside view of how law firms operate and how law students can navigate the transition from law student to associate to partner. In September, GW Law hosted Samuel “Skip” Halpern, JD ’75, for a book talk on how to find joy in professional work. His book, Wellsprings of Work, Surprising Sources of Meaning and Motivation in Work, is being used by the Career Center to help students understand the relationship between work and well-being.

DAR, which actively recruits alumni and seeks new activities for alumni volunteers, is also partnering with the GWLAA this year to bring alumni to campus for special panels and alumni talks to strengthen connections between students, the law school, and alumni. “Our office is constantly working to secure alumni volunteers for a number of opportunities we currently have,” says Brent Vicino, GW Law’s executive director of constituent relations and development. “We are always looking for new ways to get our alumni involved and match them up with the needs of the various departments at GW Law.” The office also sought volunteers last year to serve as mentors for the newly created Open Door Scholars program, which offers scholarships to extraordinary students with serious financial need.

Strengthening Ties Through Mentorship

The importance of mentorship comes up time and again in discussions with alumni volunteers, many of whom feel that their own personal commitment to mentoring students reflects GW Law’s longstanding belief in the power of mentorship to help current students and recent graduates find their paths forward in the world.

For Susan Bastress, JD ’81, volunteering has allowed her to weave her decades of legal experience with mentorship through GW Law’s annual competitions. As a volunteer arbitrator in the Spanogle International Commercial Arbitration Competition for more than a decade, she has watched law students confront the challenges of advocating before a panel of arbitrators and offered them guidance through the process.

Bastress, who had a long tenure with Squire Patton Boggs, says the arbitration competition gives students a chance to experience judicial figures challenging their views and their knowledge of the law, up close and personal. It’s an ideal opportunity to experience the pressure of being well prepared when arguing to win a client’s case.

“When I’m at the school, during the breaks in oral arguments, it’s my chance to really talk to the students about what challenges they face,” says Bastress, who says she likes to push students to be creative in handling complex arbitration cases. “Even though the legal market is very different now than when I graduated, I am able to share my own experiences of being in a large DC law firm with international offices serving multinational clients. To me, giving students an understanding of the diverse opportunities available to them seems like a very worthy reason to have alums go back and interact with students.”

It is, says Assistant Dean Johnson, who oversees GW Law’s student competitions. Alumni can offer the kind of real-world experience that scholarship alone cannot always convey, and the competitions also give alumni a chance to reconnect every year. “Our alumni volunteers are giving their time on the weekends to do this. It does matter, and it does have an impact. It’s also fun to watch this all unfold and be a part of moot court,” he says. “You are teaching, but without having to grade all those exams.”

Moot court judge Justin Golart, JD ’12, encourages GW Law graduates to look for ways to volunteer. Golart had not participated in the Van Vleck Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition—GW Law’s premier advocacy contest—as a student, and he regretted not doing so. After all, it’s one of those rites of passage at the law school, so he was happy when Johnson welcomed Golart’s first time in a moot court as a judge.

“There’s a very high degree of satisfaction for me in contributing to GW Law,” says Golart, an associate at Troutman Pepper in Richmond, Va. “I feel very fortunate that GW accepted me as a transfer student, and that I got my law degree there. I definitely want to repay the school for the opportunity it gave me.”

That’s why Golart recommends alumni look for ways to give their time, noting that there are so many options. “I certainly encourage alumni to volunteer for GW Law,” he says. “But I also think we should look for something that we genuinely enjoy. Volunteering should be beneficial and meaningful, and fun.”

Stepping In and Stepping Up

For friends Jake Berdine, JD '15, Adam Bofill, JD '17, and Matthew Rosenberg, JD ’16, recruiting the next generation of legal scholars at GW Law has turned into a personal crusade of sorts. The three alumni

Matthew Rosenberg quote - “I think GW Law is a particularly special place when it comes to mentoring. You learn that you’re not going to make it unless you find a team that’s going to support you.”

volunteers are leading the Admitted Students Outreach Program, a subcommittee of the GWLAA Board, and rallying friends and GW Law graduates to help admitted students make their decisions about whether to attend the law school.

“When you’re having to make thousands of connections, that requires a large group of dedicated volunteers to help,” says Berdine, who is senior product counsel at OpenAI. “We’ve done a lot to streamline the process over the last seven years of the program and to require less of the volunteers’ time. And, I think, to make the program a lot more successful.”

Through the program, alumni volunteers contact admitted students and answer any questions they may have about GW Law, the university, the District of Columbia, or about going to law school, in general. The relationships that are formed can last a few minutes or live long past their original call, as volunteers offer their own insights and experiences about law school and post-law school life.

“This program showcases our terrific alumni community, which sets us apart from other schools,” says Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid Sophia Sim. “Our volunteers share what life was like as a GW Law student and what it’s like now as a practicing attorney. The alumni really come through for this program, but, to me, it’s a full-circle moment of alumni helping future members of our community.”

The program, which was launched in 2015 by Mike Lueptow, JD ’13, has been so effective that what started as a handful of volunteers speaking to a small percentage of the admitted students has morphed into a mega volunteer experience. Last year, more than 70 alumni volunteers connected with admitted students. This year, the goal is to enlist 300 alumni volunteers to reach out to every admitted student, about 2,000 students. Berdine says their data suggest an admitted student who is contacted by the alumni program team is significantly more likely to attend GW Law than those not contacted.

It’s been another unique way for alumni to support the law school. “I’m not at the stage of my career where I can be contributing massive amounts of money to the school, so this is my way of trying to give back,” says Bofill, who is an associate corporate counsel at Amazon. “It gives younger alumni a chance to contribute significantly to GW Law and make a difference.”

It also is an example of one of those rare initiatives where the program is fully operated by alumni in support of and consultation with the law school. The three-person leadership team handles all the alumni recruitment, scheduling, call matchmaking, and voluminous data and spreadsheets on their own.

“I think every one of us who has been successful in the law has done it with mentors,” says Rosenberg, an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in California. “And I think GW Law is a particularly special place when it comes to mentoring. You learn that you’re not going to make it unless you find a team that’s going to support you. I think we’ve found those same principles in this program.”

It’s a message that strikes a chord with most alumni volunteers who feel their time on campus was enriched by the alumni they met through programs, events, and courses. GW Law is already offering a robust range of volunteer opportunities to unlock engagement, but there is always the potential for more as the law school continues to look for ways to supplement its traditional volunteer efforts and create even more appealing programs for alumni of all ages.

If you are interested in becoming a GW Law volunteer or are looking to philanthropically support GW Law, please reach out to DAR at 202.994.6117 or [email protected].