GWNY Students Provide Mutual Support at Pandemic's Epicenter

GWNY Morale Squad
April 27, 2020

Community spirit is in high supply among GW Law in New York (GWNY) program participants, where students are finding ways to help each other cope with fear and anxiety in the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GWNY Morale Squad is a student-led initiative to promote positivity, support, and resiliency as a combatant against disappointment and isolation during the coronavirus crisis. GWNY students hope to boost morale in their community, ease difficulties caused by the pandemic restrictions, and supplement the missed face-to-face interaction time with professors and each other.

Professor Lawrence A. Cunningham, Director of the GWNY program, lauded the students’ efforts to stand by one another during this challenging period. “This project has been commenced entirely by students facing among the greatest adversity from the crisis so far, with little money living in tiny crowded apartments they aren't free to leave.”

The GWNY program offers second and third-year GW Law students a semester-long immersion into the high-end world of New York's business and finance corporate practice. Through a combination of externships, classes, networking opportunities, and one-on-one mentorship with prominent alumni, students gain firsthand exposure to business and finance law practice and its professional demands.

Natalee Ball, Class of ’21 and a spring 2020 GWNY participant, was inspired to establish the Morale Square by her GWNY alumna mentor, Melanie Taylor, JD ’14, an associate in the Real Estate Department in Fried Frank’s New York office. Ms. Taylor told Ms. Ball about her department’s morale squad, which she said makes her feel more connected to her colleagues at a distance and brings joy and laughter during a tough time.

Ms. Ball thought it sounded like something the GWNY community could benefit from as well, so she and fellow spring 2020 GWNY participant, Leah Berman-Gestring, Class of ’21, decided to challenge GWNY students and professors to send responses and photos once or twice a week illustrating their lives during the pandemic. So far, they have received movie and book recommendations, photos of work-from-home views and quarantine buddies, and short summaries of best days or activities since the pandemic restrictions began.

Ms. Ball and Ms. Berman-Gestring plan to compile their responses into a PowerPoint presentation and share it with the small community of current GWNY students and professors. They also plan to organize virtual happy hours with students and professors and are discussing plans for future virtual small-group networking sessions. The majority of this semester’s 14 GWNY students are participating in the Morale Squad, along with two GWNY professors.

Through the Morale Squad, Ms. Ball hopes that GWNY students will gain a sense of community from a distance, the understanding that they are not alone, and the encouragement to remain resilient. She and Ms. Berman-Gestring plan to continue the group’s activities for as long as the pandemic restrictions are in place in New York City.

The current class of GWNY students also has compiled a group of essays reflecting on their professional experiences during the pandemic as part of Professor Cunningham’s Business Lawyering class. In the essays, many considered how the skills they developed during the semester may need adapting in a world of remote legal services. The collection of essays, titled “Adapting to Remote Law Practice through the Pandemic: Essays from the GWNY Business Lawyering Class,” has been published on SSRN

According to Ms. Ball, this opportunity allowed students to reflect on the important attributes of business lawyers and required them to thoroughly consider the issues business lawyers will confront during the pandemic restrictions. In addition to the essays, the students produced a slide deck providing context of how they adapted amid the pandemic.

Ms. Ball contends that GWNY fosters a tight-knit sense of community even in in “normal” times due to the small program size, students’ matching interests and career goals, and the program’s intensity. “It has been by far the best experience of my law school career,” she said.