Legal Consultant Limelight: Patty Morrissy

In the war for top legal talent, large law firms and financial institutions along the East Coast gain a significant edge from strategic leaders like recruiter Patty Morrissy. Don’t take that from us, though. As Morrissy would advise: Do your due diligence before selecting a recruiter to work with you. Her remarkable experience ranges from being a recruitment leader for some of the nation’s highest-ranked law firms to guiding students’ careers out of law school. Her long tenure of building an organization’s legal talent has also included stints at a district attorney’s office and a global investment bank. Morrissy’s unique career path recently took another turn: After establishing the New York office of recruiting firm Macrae, Patty launched her own firm this year, known as  Morrissy Legal Search.

Lawdragon: Would you please describe your services in the legal search industry?

Patty Morrissy: I place senior-level lawyers, individually and in groups. I also have experience in law office openings, and in-house searches in the financial services sector, but partner placements in Big Law is my sweet spot. 

LD: How have you developed your current expertise?

PM: My network is unique in that I have recruited lawyers on the firm side for most of my career with some of the best firms out there:  Davis Polk, Paul Weiss and Sullivan & Cromwell.  As a result, I have built life-long relationships with some of the most successful lawyers, and more importantly for the candidates I represent, I possess unique insight into how law firms and law departments think and reach decisions.  After more than 30 years in the business, counseling lawyers on their careers is simply second nature to me.

LD: Which aspects about this work are most professionally satisfying? What do you like about working with lawyers?

PM: The best part of this business involves learning something new nearly every day. Senior-level lawyers have a unique perspective on the levers that drive our politics and economy, and speaking with them every day keeps me apprised in a way where I feel constantly on the cutting edge of business and political developments.

LD: Can you share with us any trends you are seeing in search and recruiting, in terms of what is keeping you busy these days?

PM: At a very high level, we are seeing the stratification of law firms become increasingly more pronounced. The war for talent has never been hotter. There are certainly economic forces at play resulting in, for instance, a robust M&A deal-making environment. But more than that, I believe firms learned an important lesson after the 2008 crash; that is, in the context of the pandemic, with uncertainty comes opportunity. And so what we're seeing now are firms working on highly strategic moves, such as office openings and key accretive hires. At the same time, I am also starting to see increased guarantees on compensation packages, which is great for the candidates, but also feels a bit like a bubble.

LD: Would you please tell us more about your career path? Did you work as a lawyer? What earlier jobs helped you navigate to recruiting?

PM: I started as a recruiting assistant at Davis Polk. Ultimately I served as Chief Recruiting Officer at both Sullivan & Cromwell and Paul Weiss, and as chief administrator for the legal and compliance department of Credit Suisse.  In addition,  I worked in the public sector heading Ken Thompson's legal hiring program after he was elected as Brooklyn District Attorney, and then served as associate dean of career services at Cardozo Law School. I have literally seen the recruiting business from every angle!

LD: In addition to those roles, was there a particular experience or mentor who helped shape the course of your professional life?

PM: I have been exceedingly fortunate to have worked with some of the best leaders in the legal industry. There are so many, but in particular I would name Pierre Gentin, Karen Patton Seymour, Rodge Cohen, Kelley Cornish, Jeh Johnson, and Brad Karp.  My professional life has been so enriched by these mentors, and I am extremely grateful to each of them for their ongoing friendship.

LD: How would you describe your style or philosophy as a partner-level recruiter? What characteristics does it take to thrive in your area?

PM: My style is highly professional, and I take great care in my work. In an industry where there is no barrier to entry, I work hard to maintain the reputation I have built over the past 30 years as someone who can be trusted. The other style element is that I love to hustle and win, which means finding solutions for both clients and candidates alike.

LD: What advice would you give potential clients in terms of how to most productively work with an outside recruiter?

PM: I would advise lawyers to check on the reputation of a recruiter before working with one. It's easy to pick up a call from a random recruiter, but – like any good lawyer would do – there should be due diligence. Unfortunately, not all recruiters are trustworthy and you need to be careful about who you select to represent you.

LD: You started your own business this year. Why did you decide to go out on your own instead of joining or staying with another company?

PM: Having my own company was always a dream of mine. It feels great at this stage of my career to work on my own terms.  And the sky's the limit! I hired a wonderful colleague, and we are having a great time. 

LD: There are many high-quality firms out there – what would you say is your unique selling message?

PM: By virtue of my career trajectory, I enjoy a very quick line into the most senior lawyers throughout the east coast. Few can match the access I am fortunate to enjoy.

LD: Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse of your work world! What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

PM: I am a painter – I mostly paint portraits, but also landscapes. It's a wonderful pastime. Of course I love spending time with my family as well – we're big travelers and have been looking forward to our first post-pandemic international sojourn this year.